Posted on Leave a comment

Stage 6 – How to Write Standard Operating Procedures

sop-write-first-sop

This is Part 6 in our series on writing Standard Operating Procedures. If you’ve missed the first five, sign up for the newsletter and the whole set of tutorials will be sent to you automatically.

How to Write Standard Operating Procedures

Next up, write the procedure. First, let’s take a deep breath and see where we are.

So far, we’ve:

  • Shared our vision with the Management team so they understand how all Departments, Business Units, Customers and Staff will benefit from this activity. Getting support from Management is crucial as their support will give the project the attention it deserves especially when you hit bottlenecks.
  • Defined a writing process for the procedure writers and those involved in all associated procedure-related activities, for example, testing that the procedures work as per the instructions. Note that some procedures can only be tested in a live environment and need to be managed with care.
  • Gathered the documents, process maps, flowcharts, and other material we needed to assess the procedure
    Interviewed those who use the procedure in a working environment, for example, the Call Centre staff if you’re writing Technical Support procedures.
  • Interviewed those who prepared the current procedure and asked for their recommendations on how it could be improved.
  • Collated all the material on the shared server (maybe password protected if you’re concerned that others are too curious about works in progress.)
  • Updated the Project Stakeholders every week with Status Reports.
  • Sent reminders to other parties that you will need time with their staff in the coming weeks. Always give advance notice. You’re colleagues have their schedules too.

Structure the Writing Project

Large companies have libraries of SOP templates for such projects. They will also have invested in Style Guides, Writing Manuals and other materials to assist their writing teams.

If you don’t have these, buy some professional Procedure templates on the web so you can hit the ground running. Make sure the templates work on your PCs, are easy to modify and within budget.

Of course, you can always create your own – choose whichever is most cost effective. Time lost is money lost. Use common sense and get started.

How to Write Procedures

This week we’ll look at how procedure writing at a high level. In the coming weeks, we will drill down and show you how to write procedures from scratch.

Before you start writing, do the following.

  • Naming Convention – Establish a Naming Convention for the documents. Think ahead. If you have 200 procedures to manage, what naming convention would work best to track the documents.
  • Web Friendly – Remember, SOPs may also be published to the Internet, so use a system that is intuitive and easy to follow. Don’t get too esoteric!
  • Share – Create a Shared Drive where all the writers can post the documents. Password protect the drive, if necessary.
  • Style Guides– Invest in Style Guides and other support material. Make sure there are enough copies to go around. Some will hog the guides and resist sharing.
  • Templates – Develop a set of easy-to-use templates. Don’t make them so complex that writers need to be trained to use them. Keep it simple and assume that others (non-team members) will use the same templates to update the procedures.

Tip: Number each procedure. Use Excel to record and track each procedure.

Tell me more about Naming Conventions!

Instead of calling the document, Health Procedure.doc, give it a more meaningful title. For example, ACME-Pharma-F-SOP-05052009.

ACME refers to the name of the company or client or project
Pharma refers to this division within the company
F refers to Final. D can be used for Draft.
SOP refers to the document type.
05052009 is the date the document was signed off.

Using a naming convention will allow you to retrieve documents faster, especially if you have multiple versions of the same document all with different sign off dates. You want to avoid making the reader open each document to determine the version numbers.

If you use MS Word, use the File, Properties option to add further information, such as keywords, Author name, and other comments.

Writing Your First Procedure

Procedures are instructions. So, put yourself in the user’s shoes and write from their perspective. In other words, unlike other types of documentation, you don’t need to give the reader very much background details.

Do the following:

  • Write in the Present tense. The user is performing the task NOW. Don’t write in the past, conditional or future tenses unless you have good reason to do so.
  • Avoid Ambiguity.
  • Be concise.
  • Use short words. This isn’t a romantic novel you’re writing. Keep the words short and get to the point.
  • Move from one step to the next in a logical manner. Steps should follow each other in a logical order.
  • Highlight Exceptions. Use a symbol to flag that this is an exception and how to handle it.
  • Highlight Warnings. Again, warn the user that caution must be used in this scenario. Warnings MUST stand out. Use a larger font or a warning icon.
  • Reduce the word count where possible without altering the meaning of the text.

Do Not:

  • Introduce acronyms without explaining what it means. What does OLA mean to you? I know but most folks don’t.
  • Be Vague. Don’t use the work ‘may’ if possible as it implies that the user can do something under certain conditions. Instead be positive and tell them what to do.
  • Get the sequence wrong. Steps have to be in the correct order.
  • List steps that should be numbered. What I mean is that some items can be listed, for example, a list of ingredients when cooking. But, you need to number the steps in the correct order so the cook can prepare the dish.

Finally, the process of writing a SOP requires the writer to consider all steps in the procedure and perform a risk assessment before work begins. The best approach to writing a SOP is to perform the procedure, write it and test it, write it again.

Number Each Step in the Procedure

Every procedure lists the actions that the reader must take. To keep things simple, we list the actions (aka steps) is sequential order. Start at 1 and work upwards.

Note that some Business Analysts prefer to start at 0 and continue from there. Starting at 0 is used in Project Management documentation and often crosses over to other business documents.

Which is Right?

What’s important is that you choose one style and be consistent. Don’t change styles. Make sure your co-writers also use the same numbering system.

Also, if you’re using MS Word to write the documents, you can take advantage of the automatic numbering system. If you opt to start at 0, create a unique Style for numbering the steps and use this instead.

One word of warning: if you share writing duties, you may have to remind the other writers to start at 0 instead of 1. I prefer to keep things simple and start all lists at 1.

Why Number Steps?

There’s a few reasons for this:

  • It ensure that the reader starts at the correct place.
    It removes any ambiguity or misunderstanding that could arise if the steps were not numbered.
    It ensures that the reader does not ‘interpret’ the procedure as he/she understand it and makes errors when performing the task
  • It ensures that there is an agreed way for all staff to perform the same task. While this may seem intuitive, in smaller companies staff may performs tasks in different ways as per their understanding, training and preferences. How you backup files may be very different than how your colleagues do it.

How About Exceptions?

There are different schools of thought on this. Number the steps starting at 1 and

Continue upwards, e.g. 2, 3, 4, etc.

Or

Use 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 for sub-steps.

Or

Use If Then Else tables for sub-steps.

If Then tables let you present information is a nice, attractive manner and lets the reader see the different options available to them in a grid format.

How do It Then Tables work?

A simple example is applying for a bank loan.

If Then And
If the value of the property is less than $500k Deposit 10% of value Minimum deposit is 50k.
If the value of the property is less than $700k Deposit 12% of value Minimum deposit is 70k.
If the value of the property is less than $900k Deposit 15% of value Minimum deposit is 90k.

The advantage of using an If Then table is that the user can drill-down and find the EXACT piece of information they need. For example, they need to know there is a 50k minimum deposit.

The alternative is to present the information as a list. While this may be easier for you to write (i.e. you don’t need to create tables) it is harder for the reader to locate the specific piece of information.

  • If the value of the property is less than $500k, you must deposit 10% of value and the minimum deposit is 50k.
  • If the value of the property is less than $700k, you must deposit 12% of value and the minimum deposit is 70k.
  • If the value of the property is less than $900k, you must deposit 15% of value and the minimum deposit is 90k.

They have to scan the entire sentence until the locate the information and then read the next line to compare one piece against the other. Not easy to do when you’re tired or in a crowded bank branch with small children running around.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll drill down and look at other ways to write your procedures.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how to test the procedure.

Posted on Leave a comment

Stage 5 – Analyzing Alternatives and Contingencies to the As Is Business Process

sop-as-is-process

Yesterday we looked at the Information Gathering Phase and described different ways you can get that information from Subject Matter Experts and those in the frontline who use the procedures.

Gathering Data For Procedures

In general, Business Analysts gather data through workshops and interviews. Emails work too but I prefer to see the white of their eyes.

You can also collect data from reading historical documents which may give more background to the project. These may include Specifications, Requirements and Flowcharts. Gather all these and hold them in a centralized location.

Does the Process Work?

As mentioned in the previous tutorial, we need to test the procedures (aka SOP) and determine if they work. Your goal at this point is to:

  • Determine if the procedure works as documented in the SOP.
  • Identify mistakes or anomalies that have crept into the material.
  • Determine if the procedure has been updated, version controlled, and also if multiple copies of the same SOP are in circulation. It’s not unusual for multiple copies of the same procedure to be in circulation if there is no known Document Owner or if there are no Version Controls in place.

Once you have captured the existing process, share your notes with the team members.

Looking at Alternatives To The Current Process

The next step is to look at alternative ways of performing this process and contingencies that need to be considered when developing the new process.

At this point, you should understand how the current process works. What you want to do is see:

  • Where it can be improved.
  • How the process can be streamlined so there are fewer activities, transactions, manual interactions required.
  • Who needs to be involved in the revised process.
  • What technologies are required to perform these tasks.
  • What parallel processes must be performed for the primary process to work correctly.
  • What sub-processes need to be developed to support the new process.

There are several ways to approach this. One is to look at the actors in the process, (for example, the Cashier) and see how his role could be streamlined.

  • What activities can be removed?
  • What activities could be collapsed into a single activity?
  • What tasks could be automated?
  • What activities could be changed so there are fewer activities later on.
  • What security measures need to be considered, for example, sharing information between department and/or with partners.

Here’s an example from the real world.

When I apply to have my credit card limit increased, the process works as follows:

  • Ivan contacts his Local Branch.
  • Local branch tells me to call another number. They can’t forward me for technical reasons.
  • Ivan called the Credit Card office.
  • Credit Card Dept ask me to fax in the paperwork, e.g. utility bill. They do not accept documents over the web. Oddly enough, you can apply for a credit card and even a mortgage over the web….
  • Credit Card Dept faxes this to Relationship Manager at Local Branch for verification purposes.
  • Local Branch forgets to process my application… Relationship Manager may have moved to different office.
  • Credit Card Dept don’t follow up.
  • Ivan calls Credit Card Dept to remind them to chase up Local Branch.
  • Ivan needs to send over the documents again.
  • Does Ivan do this? You know the answer, I’m sure.

OK, clearly this process could be improved if I could give the documents to my Local Branch  instead and if there was a reminder for the Credit Card Dept to follow-up if they did not hear back from the Local Branch. Otherwise, applications disappear into black hole.

FYI – actually, I did. While re-sending the documents was an inconvenience, I wanted to finish this task and move on to the next thing… which you can read about tomorrow.

Posted on Leave a comment

Stage 4 – Sherlock Holmes & The Tale of the Information Gathering Phase

sop-gather-information

This is the part I like the most about writing procedures. It involves walking around and getting to know those who work with the actual procedure and know how it works ‘warts and all’.

The Tale of the Information Gathering Phase

Walking around?

That’s right.

One of the mistakes many writers make is to work at their PC and assume that the knowledge they need will come to them. All they have to do is send out some emails, right?

Not really. You need to get out and make connections with people. Once they can put a ‘name to the face’, it gets easier to arrange meetings. You’re not a stranger anymore. They know who you are and why this project means so much to you.

Also, by going to their desk, you’re showing that you’re making the effort to reach out to them. It’s also harder to say No to a person when they are in front of you. Deleting emails is a lot easier.

What Information Are You Gathering?

Let’s think about this for a second. The end goal is to be able to:

To get to that point you have to do a Sherlock Holmes.

Do a Sherlock Holmes?

What I mean is you need to look at this procedure as neutrally as possible. Think of yourself looking for clues, trying to find information that will explain exactly how the process works.

Many business analysts, maybe new to this field, think they know how a process works after a quick assessment. When they get into how it works – and when eagle-eyed team members review the first draft – it becomes clear that the process needs to be re-examined.
To recap: the information gathering phase is where you go out and collect all the information you need to prepare the procedures.

Shouldn’t it be obvious what you need to capture?

Not really. If you ask ten people how to get from your house to the city centre, they’ll all give you different routes. Everyone knows different shortcuts, different schedules, and better ways to get from A to B.

It’s the same with writing procedures and work instructions.

You don’t write Procedures in a vacuum. Meet up with other people and ask them how the procedure works. Let’s say, as an example, that you’re writing procedures for a bank. You want to know how mortgages applications are processed.

This process will typically involve numerous activities, all handled by different people, many of which are performed by different functions and disparate IT systems.

To capture each step in the process means sitting down with those who understand each task.

There are two parts involved in capturing how a process works.

  1. Capture the As Is Process – The first is to ‘photograph’ how the actual process works. This is often called the ‘as-is’ process. In other words, you’re aim is to capture exactly how the process works, warts and all. You’re not concerned with finding faults, looking for improvements, or exploring alternative options. The as-is process shows how the process works, just as a photograph would.
  2. Define the To Be Process – The second is the ‘to-be’ process. This involves looking at alternative ways of performing the process and different contingencies you can take if/when a specific action occurred. Exploring the to-be process is often called process redesign or process reengineering.

However, to get to this point, you need to understand the ‘as-is’ process very clearly.

If you start the second step without going through the first, you’re likely to make assumptions or overlook factors that will undermine the accuracy of the process.

How to get started?

You can speed things along by arranging workshops with the necessary subject matter experts. It’s unlikely that all will be able to attend; don’t worry. Get as many into the workshop as possible and go through the processes.

Make sure you have:

  • Flip-boards
  • Overhead projectors and
  • Writing materials

If necessary, arrange for lunch to be delivered as this will give you more time with the attendees, instead of them splitting up for lunch. I’ve seen people go for lunch and not return for the afternoon session; do your best to keep them in the room. You mightn’t get a second chance.

If possible, get another team member to make notes as you’re running the workshop. You can compile these notes the next day and then circulate them to the attendees for their review.

Tip: Try to capture things while they are still fresh in your memory. If you leave it until tomorrow, you’re likely to forget large chunks of what you’ve heard. Give yourself an extra hour after the session to write up your notes.

What other suggestions do you have for this phase? What’s the best way to get information from those who are reluctant to share information? Why do you think they hold the information back?

Posted on Leave a comment

Stage 3 – Establishing SOP Writing Procedures

sop-writing-guidelines

The third stage of the procedure writing process involves setting up a framework whereby all the different writing activities are formalized.

This means that before the team starts writing the procedures, you can explain to them how the writing process to works and what is expected of each person.

SOP Writing Guidelines

To ensure that the procedures are written to the company standard, reviewed correctly, and reports are generated on time, establish a set of guidelines that shows each writer how the process works.

For example:

What is expected of each writer?

Not everyone is expected to write all the material. Some will develop process flows, while others may specialize in editing the documents or submitting them to the Document Management System.

How should they circulate the procedures?

Most documents will be written in MS Word or another writing tool. After the first draft is completed, is must be circulated for review. Show the writers how to do this, how to number the document correctly and how to use Track Changes.

What tools to use to write, edit and create the procedures?

If you use specialist tools for documenting the procedures, for example, open source tools, give each person adequate training and some best practices on how to use the product. You can save time over the long run by sharing this information upfront rather than expecting everyone to find out by themselves.

Likewise, make sure that all team members use the same version of the product to avoid backward compatibility issues. Procedures written in MS Word 2007 may not open in MS Word 2003, for example.

How to update the documents after each review?

During the Review Phase, each of the writers examines the draft document. What the writers look for on a low level are things like typos, incorrect spellings, and formatting issues. All of these are important to ensure that the presentation is correct, but really they need to go deeper.

For example?
They need to stress test the procedure so that the steps in the correct sequence, that there are no ambiguities, and that key steps have not been omitted. None of this has to do with presentation – it’s to do with accuracy.

  • Is the procedure correct in ALL respects?
  • Can the user use this procedure follow these instructions and achieve their goal?
  • Has the Reviewer explained exactly what needs to be changed to correct the document?

Also, the Reviewers must update the Change Log and show that it’s status is D fro Draft or R for under Review.

Other areas that we will examine in the coming weeks include:

  • How to file, store, and archive procedures?
  • How to work with the SMEs?
  • How to submit status reports?
  • How to arrange interviews?
  • Where they can find templates, style guides and other support material?

Do I have to do this? Shouldn’t they know how to do this already?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Not everyone on the team has the same level of experience that you do. Try to gauge their level of expertise (especially if you ‘inherit’ writers from other teams) and walk through how the documentation process works.

Ensure that the team understands their roles clearly. Ask them a few questions to test their knowledge and see if they are comfortable with their duties.

Once a week take a team member to lunch offsite and try to get a feel for how the project is working for them. As a team lead, you’re likely to get wrapped up with deadlines, reports and other duties. Spend time with your team and see where things are working and where they could be improved. Avoid gossiping about co-workers, that’s not the point. Instead ask them how the current process could be improved.

There’s always room for improvement, right?

Next up? How to gather information from Subject Matter Experts.

Posted on Leave a comment

Stage 2 – Organizing the Procedure Writing Team

sop-organise-writing-team

Yesterday we showed how to get support from the Management team for the Procedure Writing project. We looked at how you need to sell the importance of the quality procedures to the Executive team and how they in turn can pass this message down the line.

Now that we have that in place we can look at the Procedure Writing team. This involves gathering the best writers (or hiring freelance contractors) and then showing them how to write the procedures based on your style guides and SOP templates.

Create a Framework for the Writers

While this seems obvious, not all writer and process designers will have the same understanding that you have.

Also, as different writers will have different tasks, it makes sense to discuss what each writer is expected to do, what to share, and how to report their weekly progress.

Assume nothing. Communication everywhere.

Defining the Procedure Writing Team

The Procedure Writing Team may include some or all of the following:

  • Full-time Procedure writers, possible yourself, whose primary role is to gather data and write up the procedures.
  • Part-time writers, such as Technical Writers in other department, who will assist you when/where needed.
  • Subject Matter Experts who will provide the knowledge you need to write the procedures. For example, in a bank you may have specialists with in-depth knowledge of how the credit card process works. These will be the people to interview when gathering data on how the current process works and also how to improve the process.
  • Contractors who will be hired for specific pieces of work. This includes Technical Writers, Editors, Graphic Designers, Process Designers, Information Mappers, and others in the publishing field.
  • Consultants who will also be brought in for special projects, for example those with Compliance or Sarbanes Oxley knowledge.

Those are some of the roles that will be involved in the overall Procedure Writing lifecycle. In some cases, the same person may wear two ‘hats’ or more.

For example, I often wear the hat of the Project Manager, Writer and Business Analyst. Remember, the management don’t care what job title you give yourself as long as the procedures get written on time.

How do I establish the Procedure Writing Team?

As with any team, you need to allocate responsibilities to each task. This means thinking about who is best placed to:

  • Gather information
  • Interview specialists
  • Write the procedures
  • Design the process flow maps (if necessary)
  • Review the procedures
  • Update the revised documents
  • Test that the procedure is correct
  • Sign-off the final document and
  • Revise the procedures when there are changes to the business processes

Assigning Writing Tasks

Depending on the resources at your disposal, you may be able to allocate different people to these tasks or if you’re circumstances are more modest, you can allocate multiple tasks to the same person.

In some projects, I handled most all of these tasks except the sign-off. While this is not ideal, the reality for many companies is that there are not enough hands to manage the workload and you have to ‘improvise’.

Warning: don’t give writing and testing tasks to the same person. I know this sounds obvious but writers can’t (or shouldn’t!) be asked to test their own material. After writing hundreds of words explaining how the procedure works, you tend to get ‘snow blind‘ and can’t tell the woods from the trees, so to speak.

Procedure Writing Team: Key Roles

Most projects will require the following roles:

Procedure Writer

This person is responsible for:

  • Gathering source material, such as the existing procedures, processes, and work instructions
  • Interviewing those with knowledge of how the procedure works
  • Arranging workshops and sessions to explore the material with Subject Matter Experts
  • Writing the procedures in line with the company’s standards and templates
  • Circulating the procedure for review and
  • Ensuring that it gets signed-off.

Oddly enough, getting sign-off from the project stakeholders can be the hardest task.

Why?

Because getting people to approve a document means that they are now partly responsible for its quality. In projects where the SOPs are customer-facing, such as Health and Food related guidelines, it can be very hard to get the final sign-off.

Procedure Tester

This person is responsible for reviewing the procedure, which is usually sent to them by the Procedure writer.

You (as team lead or Procedure Writer) need to outline:

  • What is expected of them
  • How they should test the procedure
  • How to record errors in the document
  • How to flag contradictions and ambiguities
  • How to circulate the reviews to the writing team
  • How to escalate critical errors, for example, if the procedure is currently is use
  • How to close the testing cycle

Compliance Officer

Not all projects will require a Compliance Officer, for example, procedures to do with food handling or food safety would require the approval by a Health expert instead.

However, for procedures that involve banking, IT, government, security and data protection, this person must ensure that the material complies with the company’s

  • Security
  • Compliance and
  • Audit requirements

This is critical in pharmaceutical companies where procedures need to align to industry guidelines and official health standards. In the IT and Financial Services, business processes may need to comply with Sarbanes Oxley guidelines.

Process Mapper

This person takes the MS Word documents (i.e. the narratives) and creates a visual representation of how the process works. This is usually done is MS Visio or another diagramming package.

The Process Mapper will create:

  • Use Cases which show different business scenarios
  • Flowcharts that illustrate how transactions occur across different departments or different actors

These diagrams are very helpful during sessions and workshop when you want to improve an existing process. Seeing the process as opposed to reading how it works brings the process to life and lets us see how the process works.

Project Stakeholder

This person is typically the Line Manager or the Department Head who sponsored this activity. While this person may not read the procedures line by line, they will typically interview the writers, testers and compliance staff at the end of the project and quiz them on how they gathered the material, wrote the text and ensured that the procedures covers the most important areas.

For example, while minor errors, such as typos, may be overlooked by the auditors, if a procedure contravenes guidelines, such as Sarbanes Oxley controls, the company may fail the audit, which undermines the company’s credibility and is likely to lead to more intensive audits from here on. This person may also be responsible for allocating budgets to the project and ensuring that adequate funding is in place for the project (and/or writers) to succeed.

Next Steps

These are some of the roles you need to prepare your SOPs. Remember that there may be some overlap between different roles and the same person may have to perform multiple tasks.

Posted on Leave a comment

Stage 1 – Get Management Buy-In Before Writing Your Procedures

sop-management-buy-in

Yesterday we looked at what needs to be in place before you start writing your procedures. This involves getting the funding, creating a project plan, needs assessment and/or scope of work depending on how complexity of the assignment. Once you have the budget, the next stage is to get support from Management and to find someone at an executive level who will Champion the project.

Why You Need Management Support

Before you start the SOP development process, you need to ensure that you have some level of support from the Management team. Unless there is a commitment from the management layer, your team will have a hard time of it especially when they need to make demands on other co-workers’ time.

What you’re looking for is:

  • Budget and financial support to get the necessary human resources (e.g. technical writers) and technical resources (new licenses for MS Visio or other diagramming software)
  • Commitment from the board that this activity will be championed and the necessary support will be provided to drive the project.
  • Communications from the Management team to inform, update, cajole and direct its staff. Unless other departments highlight the importance of this activity, your team can be seen as an interruption into other’s schedule. To avoid this, work with the Management team and show there how this project benefits their Department. Also, you may need to ‘script’ some guidelines for these Departments to get the ball rolling.

While many colleagues may be willing to help, they may struggle to explain your goals to their colleagues and team members. For example, what your long-term goals are and how these relates to the company’s success.

Otherwise, you’re just writing a bunch of documents, right?

How do I get support from Management?

There are several ways to do this.

  • Emotional triggers – find ways to demonstrate that the SOPs work will improve the company, not from a financial perspective, but ways that will boost morale, increase employee satisfaction or provide some benefit to customers. Once you have found ways to hit the hot buttons, then getting the funding may not be so hard. The Heather Brothers book Switch gives some good examples of how to do this.
  • Demonstrate the benefits – after you’ve warmed them up and generated interest in the project, show them how and where the company will benefit with charts, diagrams and other materials that will appeal to the more logical part of their brains. Process flow diagrams are an excellent way to visualize how a business scenario works.

It’s all about winning hearts and minds!

Finding An Executive Champion

Many companies dedicate a high-level executive to ‘champion’ the SOP process. This ensures that the project is given the attention it deserves and that line managers give the procedure writers access to their staff when necessary.

While not every company will have an obvious champion, see if there is someone you can ‘butter up’ and help get the project started. See who would benefit most if there were accurate processes in place. Show them the cost savings, faster turnarounds, and other pain points that could be reduced.

But, I don’t know how to get started

If you are new to procedure writing, then it’s hard to know where to start. There seems to be some many tasks that need attention. Well, the first thing to do is talk to those who currently use the process. This is also called the As-Is process. In other words, this is how the process works  – warts and all – right now.

One of the barriers that procedure writers face is getting ‘face-time’ with those who understand how the procedure works and those who helped define the current as-is process. Sometimes they may have left the company and then you have to dig around as best you can.

If the original people are still there, try to contact them in person. Dont email them or leave a voicemail. Walk over to where they work and introduce yourself.

“Sorry, I’m too busy.”

You’ll hear this a lot. It’s understandable. They are already under pressure from other projects and don’t need another to-do added to their list.

Remember the Champion?

See if you can get the Champion to drop over and give them five minutes. If you can show the SME that they’re not doing this for you but for someone much higher up the food chain, they may be more willing to help.

Also, the Champion will ‘bend the arm’ of those who are holding up the project or slow to review the material, ensuring that the project is delivered on time.

As you can see, if you don’t have an executive sponsor, your team are likely to suffer at the hands of unhelpful colleagues. It can be very demoralizing for the procedure team to chase SMEs who drag their heels when reviewing the documents. This is likely to lead to the project missing its targets and running over budget.

Next Steps

Once you have backing from an executive level is becomes much easier to drive the project forward. The endorsement of a senior figure gives your team that clout to open doors and ‘encourage’ others to attend meetings.

Mentioning that the status reports go all the way to executive level is usually enough to motivate folks to attend workshops or give time to your team.

Tomorrow we will look at how to start putting your team together. We will also outline the skillsets they need and the type of non-writing activities involved in procedure writing.

Confused? It will all make sense tomorrow. See you then

Posted on Leave a comment

Stage 0 – Before You Start Writing Standard Operating Procedures

sop-before-start

Yesterday we looked at the lifecycle of writing Standard Operating Procedures. We outlined ten different stages in the writing process. What we’ll discuss today is what needs to be done before you start the actual writing. This includes the prep work necessary before the writing team is assembled and also other issues such as getting budgets, equipment and other resources.

Before you Start Writing Your Standard Operating Procedures

The process of developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) involves ten key stages. The approach we have used here is to assume that you are starting from scratch and want to develop your SOPs in a structured manner, so that you can share your style guide, templates, and naming conventions across the writing or those who will also be involved in the writing process.

What’s the first step?
The first thing to do is decide who will write the actual SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures).

I know this sounds obvious but in many companies there are no dedicated Procedure Writers and the task is often ‘shared’ with other team members. Some of these will be willing to help, others will resist or may not have the time to assist you.

Where do I find the Procedure Writers?

Tomorrow, we will look at how to get a budget for dedicated procedure writers or access to other professional writers in the organization, for example, technical writers who may be able to offer some:

  • Specialized writing skills
  • Proof-reading and peer reviews (you really shouldn’t proof your own work for obvious reasons)
  • Direction on how to setup the document management systems
  • Establishing naming conventions and
  • Procedure writing techniques

Getting a Budget

If you are responsible for this project, then you need to get funding. You can get this in different ways.

The first is to apply to the Finance Dept for the separate funding, for example, if this is a standalone project.

The second is to look for an extension or increase in current funding, for example, if you manage the Technical Communications Dept and need extra funding to hire new writers, contractors, designers, and also get licenses for new equipment and software.

Where to Start?

The bottom line is the cost. How much will it cost to document these procedures?

To get to that figure, you need to scope what’s involved. Here’s one approach.

  • Identify the number of existing procedures.
  • Estimate how long it will take to write each new procedure.
  • Estimate how long it will take to train new writing staff.
  • Estimate how long it will take to gather information and perform Needs Assessment.
  • Calculate the approximate number of days required to perform these tasks.
  • Based on Daily Rates, calculate how much each resource will cost the project.
  • Add costs for software licenses, equipment, and additional hardware.
  • Factor in 10% for unknown costs.

Once you have the project costs – or at least an estimate – send it to the Project Stakeholder. You can’t proceed until these are approved. Indeed, if the costs are higher than expected, you may want to be a more in-depth Needs Assessment to see what is involved and to define a Scope of Work document.

Ok, you got the funding, now what?

The next step is to set the wheels in motion. Contact the Procurement Dept and request the necessary software, hardware and equipment.

After this, look at:

  • Getting the necessary office space for the new team.
  • Make sure their PCs are setup
  • Software is loaded correctly
  • Passwords have been assigned to network drives
  • Swipe cards are created with the necessary access rights
  • Technical books and Style Guides are ordered.

Once you have these in place, you can arrange to bring in the writing team and start working on documenting the procedures.

Tomorrow we will look at organizing the Procedure Writing team and what’s involved in this activity.

Posted on Leave a comment

10 Step Plan For Writing Standard Operating Procedures

This week we start a series of articles on how to write Standard Operating Procedures (also called SOPs). The aim is to introduce the key concepts involved in:

  • Designing
  • Writing
  • Formatting
  • Testing and
  • Maintaining Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

These tutorials will look at how you can put together a team of writers who can write procedures to an acceptable level so that your company is better organised, both internally and customer-facing.

Learn more about this Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) template

Download this template – MS Word

Download this template – Apple iWork Pages

Is it for experts of beginners?

We’ll start with the fundamentals and then work our way up to more complicated areas. For example, we’ll look at how to get funding for your project, how to write technical writers and how to use naming conventions so that you can find document more easily once they have been archived.

10 Step Plan to Writing Standard Operating Procedures

The process of developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) involves ten steps.

The approach we will use is to assume that you are starting from scratch and want to develop your SOPs in a structured manner. This means that along with writing the SOPs, you will also have them written in a way that allows others to find them, update them and share them where necessary.

  • Organise the Procedure Writing Team
  • Get Support from Management
  • Define Team Procedures, Templates and Style Guides
  • Information Gathering Phase
  • Examine As-Is Processes
  • Explore To Be Processes
  • Write the Standard Operating Procedures
  • Test the Standard Operating Procedures
  • Sign-Off the Standard Operating Procedures
  • Release the SOPs
  • Maintain the SOPs

How about Style Guides and Templates?

We will also look at how to setup style guide, templates, and adopt naming conventions for all procedures.

What else will the course include?

Some of the other topics will include:

  • Role and Function of SOPs
  • How to conduct a Needs Assessment
  • How to implement SOPs
  • How to Evaluate SOPs
  • How to create SOP templates
  • How to format SOPs, Process, and Flowcharts
  • How to define a SOP

At the end of the course, we’ll share some free sample SOPs and other resources that will help you write your procedures.

That’s it for now.

From tomorrow, we will begin to walk you through the entire process and look at each step involved in creating your procedures.

Posted on 6 Comments

6 Examples of Standard Operating Procedures (with Office template)

One of the easiest way to write standard operating procedures is to see how others do it. What I’ve done this week is share 7 examples of different standard operating procedures examples (also called SOPs) so you can see how different organizations write, format, and design their own procedures. Over the coming weeks, we will analyze these documents and prepare a series of templates that will help you write SOPs for different industries and different sectors.

Here is the list:

1. FAO – Two examples of various categories of SOPs are given in the ensuing chapters.

www.fao.org/docrep/w7295e/w7295e04.htm

2. Biotechnology Program, Montgomery College – SOP

Sample Standard Operating Procedures. SOP. Formats. Doc. PDF (Requires Acrobat Reader ).

www.montgomerycollege.edu/Departments/biotechnology/sop.html

3. Safety Training Resources

www.ehs.uci.edu/programs/sop_library

4. Emergency Management Program Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

www.pandemicflu.va.gov/

5. Employee Training and Development

http://www.feedforward.com.au/sop_training.htm

6. Developing Effective Standard Operating Procedures

www.ansci.cornell.edu/pdfs/sopsdir.pdf

Let me know if you can recommend other quality SOPs that we can share with our readers.

Learn more about this Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) template

Download this template – MS Word

Download this template – Apple iWork Pages

Posted on Leave a comment

Business Process Design Tutorial # 1: Why, What & How?

business-process-design

At the end of the workshop, our client confessed, ‘I didn’t know our business worked like that’.

We’d come onsite and over three months mapped out the processes in his Finance, Sales and Operations Depts. For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of Business Analysis is discovering how a business works and then mapping it out in Visio.

Business Process Template – MS Word

Definition: What is a Business Process?

We write the process narratives in Word. In simple terms, business process design is a way of gathering related, structured activities (tasks) that serve a particular goal, usually for customer though it can also be for an IT system. The best way I’ve found to capture the business process is in flowcharts, which show the sequence of activities and where each task inter-relates.

I’ve learnt so much how business models work by taking a business apart, process by process, and seeing where it’s working best and where it needs some fine-tuning.

  • One definition of a business process is that it’s a ‘set of coordinated tasks and activities that will lead to accomplishing a specific organizational goal’ TechTarget’s Definition of Business Process. In addition, business process management (BPM) is a systematic approach to improving those processes.
  • The Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI) promotes the standardization of common business processes, as a means of furthering e-business and business-to-business (B2B) development. To realize end, it developed the Business Process Modeling Language (BPML), an Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based meta-language for modeling business processes.
  • A business process diagram let’s you illustrate activities that are designed to produce specific outputs. For example, if you worked for a bank, you might have a Credit Card application process.That shows what the customer needs to give in, what happens when the application is received, and what results are expected. The customer gets a new credit card or is rejected. You need to design processes for each these scenarios.

Visio Business Process templates

Business Process Example

Let’s look at an example of creating a process flow diagram for a Credit Card application. Like we said, business processes show how to capture (record) the order in which activities occur.

For example.

  1. Customer applies for credit card on the bank site
    Or
  2. Customer applies for credit card in the branch
    Or
  3. Customer applies for credit card at promotional event
    Then
  4. The credit card application is received electronically, but the email is wrong (separate process flow)
  5. The credit card application is received at main office, but address is missing (separate process flow)
  6. The credit card application is received at branch office who send it to head office (separate process flow) Then
  7. The customer gets a new credit card in the post
  8. The customer is offered a new credit card but has to come into the branch (with ID) to pick it up
  9. The customer is offered a new credit card but it send to the wrong address (printing error)
    Or
  10. The customer is rejected online.
  11. The customer is rejected at branch.
  12. The customer is rejected at sub-branch.

All of these scenarios need to be mapped correctly and, if necessary, form part of a new process. For example, the credit card rejection process. As a Business Analyst, you need to design business processes for each these scenarios.

Business Process Analysis

A process must have a start, inputs (documents or information) and outputs (reports/forms/results). At its most simple level, every process has a:

  1. Start – what triggers the process into action? I want a credit card.
  2. Middle – what goes on in the process? The different steps, including variations, business rules, and possible exceptions.
  3. End – what conditions are necessary to close the process? I got my plastic friend. Woohoo!

 

Business process modeling involves designing processes that add value by showing the transformation of inputs into useful outputs.

What inputs go into the Business Process?

Inputs are whatever enters something into the process, for example, the customer (a human resource) submits a credit card application. In another process, a HR system (equipment) may submit a report to anther IT system, maybe the SAP or Oracle databases. Inputs can be resources (people), materials, energy, and equipment (software).

In UML, a resource is an input to a business process and is consumed during the processing. For example, as each daily train service is run, the service resource is ‘used up’ as far as the process of recording actual train times is concerned. When mapping business processes, an Input link indicates that the resource is consumed in the processing procedure. For example, when customer orders are processed they are signed off and used only once per order.

What are Business Process Analysis outputs?

Outputs are the result, the end product, in the business cycle. Outputs may be a physical product (possibly used as an input to another process) or a service. Outputs are whatever is produced as a result of this action. While this seems obvious, remember that in complexes there may be two or more outputs. You need to decide which is the main output and relegate other outputs to sub-processes. More on sub-processes later.

As a Business Analyst, this means that in the credit card application, the outputs will be the Acceptance of the Credit Card request or a Rejection of the request. When designing the process map, make sure you cover all scenarios so the process flow and all intermediate activities are mapped.

Conclusion

A business process will typically produce one or more outputs to the business, either for internal use of to satisfy external requirements. Outputs may be a physical object (such as a report), a transformation of raw resources into a new arrangement (a daily schedule) or a business result such as completing a customer order.

Remember, business process A’s output may feed into business processes B, either as a requested item or a trigger to start new activities.

Next week, I’ll look at how to use Business Process design techniques for large Software Development projects. You might want to read this if you’re looking at ways to improve your department’s performance, outsource projects, or to improve your knowledge of process design.

Do you enjoy process design or designing flowcharts? Please share your thoughts or lessons learnt below.

About the Author: Ivan Walsh is a contributing editor to the Klariti Small Business Centre. Ivan also shares Business Plan Ideas for SMEs on his business blog. Follow him on Twitter

Posted on Leave a comment

How to Stop SOP Templates From Crashing

sop-templates-crashing

Is there anything worse than writing Standard Operating Procedures all afternoon and then… Word crashes! If your Microsoft Word files suddenly become huge and start crashing, here’s one way to fix it. I’ve creating some very large SOPs in Microsoft Word and learnt a few ways to control these documents.

microsoft-word-style-menu-clear-all

MS Word. Click top red arrow to expand/show the Style Menu.

And it’s not just business writers, in the world of technical publishing, Microsoft Word also gets a bad rap. Many feel that it’s unstable and crashing. It can also bloat in size until your operating system grinds to a halt.

the Problem with Bullet Lists & Large MS Word files

The first offender is Bullet Lists. If there is one thing that’s guaranteed to crash Microsoft Word, it’s bullet lists.

Here’s what tends to happen.

When you click a Bullet List from the Word toolbar, Word points this Bullet List to the Normal.dot file. In other words, it uses the default settings in Normal.dot and then applies these. Fine.

No problem! That’s what it’s supposed to do.

But….

If you cut and paste a Bulleted List from one business report into your working file, then Microsoft Word has a problem.

Which Bullet List is the Master Bullet List?

It can’t tell because suddenly you have two bullet lists in your document.

And…

If you add a third bullet style, maybe with nice styling or cool fonts, it has a nervous breakdown. Microsoft Word can’t tell which is which and begins to struggle.

How to stop Word Crashing & Losing your Business Proposal

Here’s what to do:

  1. Open Word and create a separate Style for each type of bullet lists you need. For example create a Bullet Regular, Bullet List Indent, Bullet Square and so on.
  2. When you need to use a bullet list, select the appropriate style from the Styles drop-down menu.
    This is the Home tab in Microsoft Word 2007.
  3. If you want to import a bullet list from another document,
    Copy the text into a blank document.
  4. Select it, and in the Style menu, select Clear All.
    NB: This removes all formatting.
  5. Paste it into the working document.
  6. Apply the correct style.

I know this seems like more work but it’s not. Just paste into a blank document, remove the formatting and then paste it in. Your files will stop crashing and will be easier to manage.

You can get a set of User Guide templates with pre-formatted style here.

In the next article, we’ll look at other ways to reduce large Microsoft Word files.

Let me know if you’ve any problem with this. Our Smart Business Tips page on Facebook is here.

About the Author: Ivan Walsh shares Business Planning Tips at Klariti. He also runs a Video Marketing Blog for videographers and video makers.

Posted on 3 Comments

29 Ways to Write SOP Procedures Faster

sop-procedure-writing-tips

Doing business in China has meant more business analysis, process design, proposal development, case studies and writing standard operating procedures.

As some friends on LinkedIn are also moving into business analysis and SOP writing, I thought I’d add a few tips here. While there is some overlap with technical writing, it does require a different mindset, for example, to understand the process flows and narratives that hold the procedure together.

This purpose of this article is to reminds us that our sales, marketing, business, and proposal development do not stand alone. It is all part of a larger process that involves planning, research, writing, editing, proofing, submission and acceptance.

This list gives 37 ways to improve your next set of procedures.

Scroll through it and tell me what I missed.

  1. Show that your procedure is logical and organized
  2. Make the information easy to find.
  3. Include a table of contents for procedures over 10 pages in length
  4. Ensure that your procedure is in compliance with the Security guidelines.
  5. Arrange material in order of priority to the reader
  6. Arrange everything in the order that’s most important to the client
  7. Arrange the procedure in accordance with the user’s requirements
  8. Number pages and sections consecutively; do not re-number each section
  9. Use headings that make sense to your readers. See Audience Analysis template.
  10. Each section title should stress the main benefits
  11. Each section title should help readers orient themselves
  12. If possible, express the key point of the section in the headline, or immediately after it.
  13. Highlight important points
  14. You can emphasize the most positive points by using bold, underlining, different fonts, spacing, titles, bullets and summaries
  15. Write all action steps. Don’t skip anything.
  16. Avoid banal headings and titles
  17. Rather than say “Development Section,” say “Ten Ways to Improve Your Processes”
  18. Use action verbs in heads, especially verbs that stress a benefit for the client
  19. Avoid boilerplate text.
  20. Avoid hype, padding and other self-congratulatory drivel. Remember that the proposal is a legal document that becomes part of the contract if you win
  21. By giving specific details and quantifying the benefits whenever possible
  22. Don’t just say that you will comply with a requirement — say how we’ll do so
  23. Use a strong closing statement
  24. Avoid business cliché’s
  25. Avoid hackneyed openings and closings that clients have read a thousand times. Avoid “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for considering the enclosed . . .” Get to the point: “Here is your proposal.” Avoid “If you have any questions, please feel free to call.” That closing has been done to death, so avoid it and write something more genuine.
  26. Make your procedure easy to understand
  27. Use the same terms and jargon that appear in all SOPs. Don’t try to impress the client with your own special brand of buzzwords or TLA (three-letter acronyms)
  28. Use simple, direct language
  29. Close your business documents on a high note. Don’t be too humble. A little confidence never hurt!

What did I miss?

About the Author: Ivan Walsh is a Beijing-based business writer. He shares business writing tips for smart people at Klariti

Posted on Leave a comment

Proposal & RFP Writing Tips

I see it all the time. And perhaps you do too. Letters and proposals that bury the price at the very end of the document. By explaining all the benefits in the first few pages and then leaving the price for last, people believe that buyers will be pleasantly surprised when they see how much it will cost.


In actual fact, it doesn’t work that way.

Think about it. What do you do as a buyer?

I know I flick through the document until I find the price. Then, if it’s more than I want to pay, I put the document away, never to be seen again. I don’t bother going back and reading from the beginning.

Instead, what well written proposals do is tell the person up-front, how much something will cost. That way the reader doesn’t need to go digging.

They see how much it is, have an instant reaction to the amount and THEN … if it’s more expensive than they thought, they’ll keep reading through the document to look for ways to justify the price in their own mind.

Why is it more expensive?

What special results does it achieve?

What claims do they have to back up the price?

I’ve tested it many dozens of times in our own campaigns and proposals, and with clients. Every single time we test it, putting the price up front wins “hands down”.

Here are two more tips on price …

1. Never say “price” or “cost” in your document. Instead, use the word “investment”.

It may sound like a little thing but it has a major psychological effect on your reader.

The word “cost” makes the reader feel like it is an expense they need to shell out for. Conversely, the word “investment” makes them feel like it is an investment that will give them a considerable pay back.

2. Never say “Your investment in the xyz widget is $1235”. Instead say, “Your investment in the xyz widget is $1235 which includes 14 refills (valued at $xxx), a lifetime replacement guarantee, free lifetime technical support etc. etc.”

See what we’ve done here. By ending a sentence with the price, you give them time to pause and reflect on the monetary amount.

Instead, by mentioning the price, then in the same breath giving a brief snapshot of what it includes, your reader instantly makes an association between the price and the return they will have on their investment.

In other words, the buyer makes a purchasing decision based on value for money and NOT on the actual cost.

Makes sense, doesn’t it!

Kris Mills of Words that Sell is a seasoned copywriting professional and author of “How to Create a Sales Explosion With Every Ad and Letter You Write”. More information on this popular guide can be found at http://www.synergie.com.au/explosion.htm or check out more of Kris’ many copywriting articles at www.advicegalore.com.
Kris@wordsthatsell.com.au

Posted on 1 Comment

Proposal Writing Tips

I see it all the time. And perhaps you do too.
Letters and proposals that bury the price at the very end of the document. By
explaining all the benefits in the first few pages and then leaving the price
for last, people believe that buyers will be pleasantly surprised when they see
how much it will cost.

In actual fact, it doesn’t work that way.

Think about it. What do you do as a buyer?

I know I flick through the document until I
find the price. Then, if it’s more than I want to pay, I put the document away,
never to be seen again. I don’t bother going back and reading from the
beginning.

Instead, what well written proposals do is tell the person up-front, how much
something will cost. That way the reader doesn’t need to go digging.

They see how much it is, have an instant reaction to the amount and THEN … if
it’s more expensive than they thought, they’ll keep reading through the document
to look for ways to justify the price in their own mind.

Why is it more expensive?

What special results does it achieve?

What claims do they have to back up the price?

I’ve tested it many dozens of times in our own campaigns and proposals, and with
clients. Every single time we test it, putting the price up front wins “hands
down”.

Here are two more tips on price …

1. Never say “price” or “cost” in
your document. Instead, use the word “investment”.

It may sound like a little thing but it has a
major psychological effect on your reader.

The word “cost” makes the reader feel like it is an expense they need to shell
out for. Conversely, the word “investment” makes them feel like it is an
investment that will give them a considerable pay back.

2. Never say “Your investment in
the xyz widget is $1235”. Instead say, “Your investment in the xyz widget is
$1235 which includes 14 refills (valued at $xxx), a lifetime replacement
guarantee, free lifetime technical support etc. etc.”

See what we’ve done here. By ending a sentence
with the price, you give them time to pause and reflect on the monetary amount.

Instead, by mentioning the price, then in the same breath giving a brief
snapshot of what it includes, your reader instantly makes an association between
the price and the return they will have on their investment.

In other words, the buyer makes a purchasing decision based on value for money
and NOT on the actual cost.

Makes sense, doesn’t it!

Kris Mills of Words that Sell is a seasoned copywriting professional and author of “How to Create a Sales Explosion With
Every Ad and Letter You Write”. More information on this popular guide can be
found at http://www.synergie.com.au/explosion.htm or check out more of Kris’
many copywriting articles at
www.advicegalore.com.


Kris@wordsthatsell.com.au

Posted on 2 Comments

Procedures Writing Guidelines

Illustration of a scribe writing
Image via Wikipedia

A Standard Operating Procedure is a set of instructions having the force of a directive, covering those features of operations that lend themselves to a definite or standardized procedure without loss of effectiveness.

Standard Operating Policies and Procedures can be effective catalysts to drive performance improvement and improve organizational results. Most quality systems are based on its standard operating procedures (SOPs).

With that in mind, you might want to consider the following points when writing your standard operating procedures (SOPs): Continue reading Procedures Writing Guidelines

Posted on Leave a comment

Process Design – Tips for Helping Your Team Adapt

Prime hi-tech project manager organizing tool,...
Image by Geodog via Flickr

So you have decided to adopt a more formal process for getting your projects done, congratulations.

It is a good decision that will help you better manage your projects, make your team more efficient and improve your chances of coming in on schedule and on budget. Continue reading Process Design – Tips for Helping Your Team Adapt