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.

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