6 guidelines for procedure development

Procedures, and their corresponding policies, provide a clear roadmap for both the regular and infrequent operations of any organization.

June 4, 2021

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Organizations with a lot of personnel issues and quality problems can often point to a lack of clear procedures as the culprit. Procedures, and their corresponding policies, provide a clear roadmap for both the regular and infrequent operations of any organization. Organizations that don't have a roadmap will be lost regularly and frequently.

(Remember, policies are the rules your organization follows. Procedures are how you follow them.)

Successful organizations have that clear roadmap laid out for them. Organizations that make avoidable mistakes often don't have any policies or procedures in place that tell them how to deal with certain situations.

These can be important safety regulations, steps for creating proper passwords to maintain cybersecurity, or even how to deal with workplace bullying or harassment.

Policies and procedures ensure employees follow the necessary laws and regulations, and they help to guide everyone through what could otherwise be difficult decisions.

But if you don't have any procedures in place, you may want to develop some as soon as you can. Here are six procedure development guidelines to help you get started.

1. Start with the end in mind

Most procedures are written because we want to elicit a certain behavior. We want someone to do something in a certain way, not because we like processes and want to make sure people follow each step correctly, but because we have an end goal in mind.

For example, in a healthcare setting, there is a set procedure for disposing of sharps – needles, syringes, lancets – safely and properly. The procedure was set, not because the administrators like to make people follow specific steps, but because they want to keep hospital staff safe from bloodborne diseases. So a procedure was created to ensure maximum safety for anyone handling sharps.

When you develop your own procedures, you should follow this same procedure. Figure out what it is you want people to accomplish once the procedure is followed. What will they have accomplished once the procedure is completed?

Maybe you want to make sure they've met certain compliance standards. Or prevented a production failure. Or they prevented a security breach. Or they've ensured their safety during a task.

Your procedures should achieve that effect in the fewest number of steps possible.

2. Establish a format, create a template

Chances are you're going to be developing several processes and procedures, and it's important that everything is consistent in language, format, and appearance. So you should come up with a format that not only makes understanding the procedures simple, it makes your procedure development just as easy.

Next, create a template that you can just plug the various steps into. Follow that format every time as you're developing policies and procedures so everything looks the same. 

It's important because if people come to expect the procedures to follow a certain template, they'll always know how to spot the most important information and can quickly find a solution to an immediate problem.

3. Interview your subject matter experts

One mistake manufacturing managers often make is developing processes and procedures themselves without consulting the people who are actually the experts in the day-to-day operations: the people who are on the floor, actually using the machines, cleaning the spills, treating the patients, dealing with the public. As a result, the managers will spend all kinds of time and money developing procedures that no one follows because they're impractical, ineffective, and unproductive.

So set your ego aside and talk to the people who will actually be doing the procedures you're creating. If possible, get them on your procedure development team, even if it's just for a few weeks. Interview them and ask them to detail the steps they usually follow in their various procedures.

This is also helpful when updating your processes. Your subject matter experts can tell you whether the current procedures accurately reflect how they do things. They can help you include procedural changes for new equipment.

You can also find out if the rest of the staff is following the existing procedures or if they've developed their own way of doing things. If they have, does the new way achieve the same end goal, or can it cause problems with productivity, safety, or legal compliance? If it doesn't cause problems, adopt the new procedures. If you find that the new procedures can create bigger problems, maybe some training is in order.

4. Layout the process

This may seem to be an obvious step, but as you'll find when developing policies and procedures, you need to spell out the obvious steps. For one thing, what seems obvious to you may not seem so obvious to everyone else. You have to make the steps as clear and obvious as possible so everyone in the organization knows what to do in that situation.

So with your experts' help, develop a flowchart, list out each individual step, and get down to the barest, minutest details you can think of. You can always combine steps or skip the most obvious ones – "After you put on the right glove, put on the left glove" — but you want to be able to see each of the steps to know which ones you should keep and which ones you can drop.

5. Test and revise, test and revise

After you've written the steps, ask the people who will actually perform these tasks to try following the new procedures. Have them do it a few times to make sure that everything flows and that you didn't miss anything.

Based on their feedback, revise the procedures so they're identical to the real-life procedures they actually do. Or, if this is a new procedure for a new piece of equipment, make sure the procedure follows the proper steps to get the maximum performance out of it.

Test those revisions, make more revisions, and test them again. When you've covered everything, and the procedure follows the appropriate formatting, you're ready for the final step.

6. Approve, then publish

You should have already gotten leadership buy-in from the appropriate level of management, so now it's time to bring the completed procedures back to them for final approval. Get the right managers to sign off on the new procedures, and then distribute them to everyone who is affected by them.

If you're already using PowerDMS' policy management software, then you'll be able to upload the new procedures to your central repository. You can also tie it into the appropriate training modules that demonstrate how to execute the new processes. And you can even track the training efforts of the affected employees. Make sure they've read the new procedures, watched the appropriate training, taken the right assessments, and signed their acknowledgments.

By following these procedure development guidelines, you'll be able to create clear, easy-to-understand procedures that keep your coworkers safe, legally compliant, and free from legal and regulatory risk. The organization will run more smoothly and effectively, and they'll be protected from major problems and even lawsuits.

To learn more about how PowerDMS' software can help you write your various policies and procedures, or brainstorming additional procedure writing guidelines, request a free demo of our policy management system today. Or keep learning about writing policies and procedures in this comprehensive article.

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