- 11 Crucial Tips For Procedure and Instruction Writing Success
This is part 3 of our 3-part series on creating procedures and instructions for your business. If you have read Part 1 and Part 2, then you should know all the benefits well-written documents can provide, plus why you should even consider creating procedures and instructions for your business in the first place.
There’s a big hurdle that prevents many of us from creating procedures and instructions for our business…
Do you know what that hurdle is?
That hurdle will trip you up every time you say to yourself:
“now is the time to build systems into my business…”
That hurdle is the notion that making procedures for your business and work instructions for your employees will be a huge and never ending project, taking too much time and resources that are better spent keeping your business moving forward.
If you think that hurdle is real and unavoidable, you are absolutely right.
Organizing, researching, creating, and getting employees involved and actually using documents and following processes can be a mountain-sized project. It’s exhausting.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Each of the tips I list below will help chip away at that mountain, and bring it’s size down to small chunks you can easily scale over.
The key to get as much value you can from as little work as possible. This would translate to:
“Create the simplest procedures and instructions as you can, yet detailed enough to for them to be effective.”
The procedure and work instruction creation tips below will help you do exactly that:
Tip 1: List out your reasons
Why do you want to create procedures and instructions in the first place? Write those reasons down and keep these reasons close so you can review them. Share them with your employee as well so they all know why this is important to you, them, and the business.
Tip 2: Start Small
Find one small process in your business that can be systematized with a procedure and work instruction. Going through the whole process of researching, documenting, getting feedback, and making the process official will help you get a sense of the effort involved to do more.
Tip 3 : Keep it simple
There are plenty of documents, manuals, standards, and books online providing deep discussions on how to create procedures and instructions:
- the “right way”
- the “official way”
- the “standard way”
I say skip all that.
Unless you need to meet standards like ISO 9001 or similar organizational requirements, don’t overcomplicate things. Just keep it simple. A set of general procedures for major areas of your business, and a set of step-by-step work instructions describing how jobs are performed in each of those areas is all you need. Having just this puts you far ahead of most other companies.
Like I mention in Part 1 of this series, you don’t even need to create procedures in the beginning…just create work instructions and build as you go. You’ll see pretty quick where similar instructions can be grouped together and you can form a general procedure from that.
Tip 4: Consistency
Whatever you decide on for the format or layout of your procedure and work instruction, stay consistent. Less mental energy will be used if all documents are in exactly the same format. There’s less ambiguity, and less searching for information.
What’s a good layout to use?
Tip 5: Get employee “buy-In”
Before you start creating procedures and instructions on your own, it’s best to get others involved to help create them. They know how to do their jobs, and asking them to help create the documents get them invested in the outcome. If you have several departments, each department can create their own instructions and procedures. This will also help expose places where things don’t work well together and can be corrected.
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Tip 6: Show, then tell.
If something can be better explained by a diagram, flowchart, or even hand drawn sketch, then try to include this as well. Sometimes explaining something can be ambiguous, but a simple drawing can make things much more clear and obvious.
Tip 7: Bullet points, ordered lists, headings
Simple bullet points and numbered lists can help break up lengthy yet necessary explanations in work instructions. You want your document to be:
- Read quickly
- Understood easily
- By anyone uses it
Now, wasn’t that bulleted list easy to read and understand?
Breaking up paragraphs with different text structures gives the reader a break. They can skim for the information they need instead of reading the whole document line by line searching and wasting time. Worse, the reader may skip reading portions of overly-long instructions altogether.
Tip 8: Use checklists…sparingly
A person can only keep about 7 things in their short term memory. Any more than that, and they are likely to forget something. Checklists work great for situations where a set of actions need to be complete before a job is done, and especially good for jobs where steps are often forgotten. The less an employee needs to remember, the more they can focus on their job.
You might be tempted to add checklists to more procedures than might be needed. It’s best to try a few on known problem areas and measure the results.
Checklists are not extra paper work, they are a reminder of what needs to be done. Make filling out the checklist part of the work instruction.
By the way, I’m making a simple way for workers to use work instructions and checklists during the job. Checkout the demo for more info.
Tip 9: Keep it short
After you write your first work instruction, I’m going to take an educated guess that your business systematization masterpiece is going to be likely twice as long as it needs to be. Go back and cut out and reword as much as you can to make it dead simple to read and understand.
Instructions should only be as long as they need to be. If there is extra information you feel should be included, add that to a “Notes” section of the instruction or procedure.
Having someone read your instruction who does not do the job (or even work for your company) is a way to test if your instruction is understandable at a basic level. Use small words and short sentences. Write in an active voice instead of passive. Here is an example:
Turn the wheel 1 full rotation clockwise to close the valve.
The wheel needs to be turned clockwise in 1 full rotation to close the value.
Tip 10: Create an index
You need a page that lists all your procedures, along with instructions that fall within each procedure. As you add new procedures, add these to this index document. Your index could be formatted like this:
- Procedure A
- Instruction A.1
- Instruction A.2
- Procedure B
- Instruction B.1
- Instruction B.2
Tip 11: Explain why
A procedure needs to clearly show why it’s there in the first place. The “Objective” section is often used to explain this. Having this section also frames the task or job so when the user needs to make a decision, they know what decision they make falls within the ‘why’ or objective. This gives them the ability to make good judgment calls when needed.
Most of these tips are common sense. You shouldn’t be too surprised. The key is to not let the creation process take over your and your employees lives. Keeping things simple, clear, obvious, and logical are critical to being successful.
This was part 3 of a 3 part series on creating procedures and instructions for your business. You can also read Part 1 where we discuss why create procedures and instructions in the first place and help address objections. In Part 2 we list and explain ten benefits of creating procedures and work instructions.
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Did you know?
We made some sample procedure and instruction templates for your business. Try out the templates and let me know how they work for you.
Did you know we are working on an Procedure and Work Instruction Creation tool to help contractors and service-based business owners?
You can have direct input on how the application will best fit your business. Click Here to Learn More.
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