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Should the person who does the job write the procedure?

The popular wisdom about writing procedures used to be: “the person who does the job should write the procedure” and some people still believe it. Certainly the person who does the job should be the person who tells how it is done. They should be the one who performs it for the person writing the procedure, but oftentimes the person who does the job and is good at the job, does not have the skills required to write a good procedure.

Writing a good procedure is not simply a matter of “telling how it is done.” Yes it is a sequential set of steps, but how to write those steps, and knowing what to include and what to leave out requires considerable skill.

What makes a good procedure? A good procedure does the job it is intended to do. What job do we want it to do? For the small business owner, often you want procedures so that the business can function without you, so that you can focus on growing the business. You may also want to write procedures to figure out just what it is you do, because the business has grown organically and is no longer structured. Or you may simply want to train new people and you’re not sure what they need to know. For the manager in a business large or small, you want consistency in how processes are performed, so that customers receive a uniform quality product or service ensuring you always meet their expectations. When staff move on, you want to capture their expertise and pass it on seamlessly to the next employee. To meet all of these requirements, a good procedure defines the steps of the process clearly and concisely, in the order that they are performed, captures tips about quality and safety,  and is easily followed by a person who may be new to the organisation.

When creating procedures, you have a couple of options. You can train your people up with the skills to write procedures, or you can get someone in who already has the skills to write procedures. If your people have good computer, writing and communication skills, they can learn to write procedures in a reasonable timeframe. You will then need to allow them time off doing the job to write the procedures, because good procedures do take time to write. This is a fantastic way to develop your people. But don’t expect that people who are good at their job instinctively know how to communicate their expertise in writing. Expect that they will need coaching, guidance and time to hone their skills. If you don’t have that time or your people don’t have that expertise or interest to learn, a skilled technical writer can capture best practice and write user-friendly procedures by watching your top people perform the job and asking relevant questions.