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How to Write Shorter (SOP) Procedures (with 5 examples)

How can you write procedures so that readers can perform the task correctly, the first time and every time?

Most procedure writers make the mistake of adding too much information, and cluttering up the text, or leaving critical information out, so the reader can not perform the task. In this tutorial, let’s look at how to reduce the word count and refine the text.

  • Write directly. Speak to the person reading the procedure. You don’t need to the ‘the user’ all the time. The reader is the user.
  • Reduce verbose text.

When I first started on this article, I wrote:

Procedures need to be written in such a way that the reader can follow the task.

Then I changed it from passive to active phrasing. Here’s what you get:

Write your procedures so readers can perform tasks correctly.

Remember, this type of phrasing doesn’t suit all types of procedures but keep it in mind. You don’t have to slavishly write in the passive voice. If appropriate, use the active voice. The word count shrinks immediately.

Learn more about this Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) template

Download this template – MS Word

Download this template – Apple iWork Pages

Procedure Writing Guidelines

Here are five practical ways you can improve your procedure documents.

#1 Use bullets or text blocks

Instead of writing large blocks of explanatory text, distill the information into short bullet points. If you cannot boil down the text to a series or bullets, i.e. highlight the key points, you may need to step back and gain a better understanding of the task.

#2 Use informative headings

In general, most procedures will have heading for pre-requisites, how to perform the task, and next steps. Use these to orient the reader and reduce ‘bridging’ text between sections.

#3 Avoid redundant lead sentences

Lead sentences introduce the procedure. Most are redundant. Examples of lead sentences are:

[heading] Printing the page

[lead sentence] To print the page, follow these steps:

[procedure] Step 1. Click this button to do this.

In this example, the lead sentence adds no value. The reader will typically skims over this and go straight to the first step. So, if they’re ignoring this text, what’s the justification in keeping it?

However, if you need to provide explanatory information in advance, such as a warning or recommendation, then include it here. Otherwise, it’s hard to justify.

#4 Merge steps

For example, if you have three steps as follows:

  • Click the Print button.
  • Click the Yes button.
  • Click the Ok button.

You could merge this into one line.

  • Click the Print button, Yes button, then the Ok button.

Or

  • Click Print, Yes, then Ok.

Most users will get this.

#5 Condense Information

Shorten the text but make sure nothing is lost.

  • Cross-reference. If writing online procedures, for example for a Help system, consider linking to support information instead of embedding it in the procedure. This streamlines the text. Users who need more information, can find it on the related pages.
  • Introductory text. Orient the reader but avoid starting the obvious and repeating yourself. Instead, provide business rich information, for example, the benefit of performing this procedure and where it is performed. Keep this short. Focus on benefits to the reader.
  • Remove clutter. Avoid using marketing terms and clichés, such as easy-to-use, intuitive, and robust. Focus on specifics. What will the user learn to do if they perform this procedure? Remove jargon and industry terms. Mostly these can be deleted without impacting the integrity of the procedure.
  • Use short words. It’s fine to say get instead of procure, to say fix instead of resolve, and end instead of terminate. Quite often we default to words with Greek or Latin origins to give the text more gravity. The reader doesn’t care. They simply want to know how to perform the task and move on.
  • Use white space. This may not reduce the word count, but try to lay out the text so it flows, helps the reader identify the key points, and can scan quicker.
  • Write to be scanned. With more information going online, and with more information read on mobile devices, write to be scanned. Your readers may not be printing out pages anymore but logging into a Help site and using keywords to find a specific issue. Once they find it, they scan the page looking for the answer. With this in mind, use headings, keywords, bullet lists, and short words.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to good procedure writing. Use this checklist as a reference and adapt each item to your materials. Any questions, drop me a line.

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5 Procedure Writing Guidelines (with sample template)

Want to improve your procedure writing? Today we look at five simple ways to sharpen your SOPs. Let’s look at five terms frequently used in procedure manuals, instructional guides, and process design.

5 Procedure Writing Guidelines

In procedures, the following five words are often used incorrectly. To avoid these mistakes, do as follows”

  • Button Names – avoid using the, button name, or icon name. Write “Click Print.” Instead of “Click the Print button.”
  • Turn on/off – use ‘turn on’ or ‘turn off’ when activating or deactivating a command. Use Click to turn something on or off, for example: To turn on Web view, click Web.
  • Click OK – don’t write “Click OK” at the end of a procedure if it’s obvious that you must click OK to complete it.
  • When to use From – if your procedures refer to a keyboard, use ‘from’ to highlight the menu from where you can choose a command. For example, say “From the File menu, choose Print.”
  • When to use On – use ‘on’ to highlight where the command or option starts: “On the File menu, click Print.”

What other terms or phrases are often written incorrectly in procedures? Let me know and we’ll discuss it in a future blog post.

Learn more about this Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) template

Download this template – MS Word

Download this template – Apple iWork Pages

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How to Write the ‘Benefits’ Section in Procedures

Before you start writing your procedure, give some thought to how this will benefit them both from a personal and business level. In other words, you can encourage the reader to use your procedures if you describe the ways their life will be easier if they follow the steps exactly as you have written them. Make sense?

Here’s a few examples.

  1. Business – describe how performing this procedure will benefit your business, for example, from an operational point of view, interacting with customers, or improving your quality of service.
  2. Drivers – if possible, connect this procedure to a business driver or customer request. For example, if customers complained that they wanted invoices delivered as PDFs, then highlight this in the benefit section as this illustrates your responsiveness to customer concerns and also helps the reader understand the purpose of adopting the procedure. It also helps other procedure writer maintain the SOP as it gives them some context.
  3. Productivity – give an example of how this procedure makes their life easier, for example, allowing them to complete a task faster, reducing the number of steps, or gives them more options. These type of benefits warm up the reader and encourage them to read the procedure more carefully. Why? Because they will anticipate that the procedure will remove current obstacles and impediments, making their working day more pleasant. And who doesn’t want that?
  4. Time Savers – everyone is looking for ways to shave a few minutes off their day. Identify the number one benefit this procedure will offer in terms of time saving. In general, procedures help you simplify tasks and clarify how tasks should be performed.

Look for ways to emphasize these in the benefit section but keep it simple. Don’t distract the reader from their main purpose, which is to perform the task. However, a few sentences at the start helps orient them, place things in context, and creates an expectation of how the procedure will help them perform their tasks.

If appropriate, give a short example, but keep this brief. You can also consider having a follow on section – ie what to do next – at the end of the procedure, suggesting what the reader should do next.

If you are creating online help, you can add these under the For More Information section.

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SOP Writing: How To Number Procedures Correctly

sop-number-procedures

When writing procedures, should you write one or 1?

It’s a small detail but how you use numbers in SOPs influences how others interpret your instructions and perform tasks correctly. In some situations, you should use one whereas in others 1 is the correct word to use. So, which one should you use? And where?

Let’s look at four ways you can write numbers correctly and also some mistakes to avoid.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) Template

Adding Numerical Information to SOPs

Unlike other types of documents, you need to be very exact when providing information in procedure manuals.

After all, the person using the manual may be in an emergency situation, struggling to install an application, and under stress. You don’t want to compound the problem by writing vague or ambiguous text.

Here’s how to write clear instructions when you need to provide numerical information.

1. Using spelled-out numbers

In this example, we look at when to use a ‘spelled out’ number, for example, two instead of 2.

Here’s the rule:

Use spelled-out numbers when one number – WITHOUT a specified unit of measure – is followed by one WITH a unit of measure.

For example:

Use: “Turn on one 3.25 kV bus.”

Do not use: “Turn on 1 3.25 kV bus.”

In the second example, it’s hard to tell if it’s one 3.25 or 13.25. The first example is much easier to read. It’s the 3.25 kV bus you need to turn on, right?

2. Use of spelled-out numbers with emphasis.

Along the same lines, use spelled-out numbers when a number, typically a single digit number, is
emphasized.

Do

“Use one of the following:”

Don’t

“Use 1 of the following:”

In the second example, the use of 1 feels incorrect. The problem here is that, although the information is technical valid, the reader will slow down and possible re-read this section.

“Why do they say, ‘Use 1…’ ”

3. Use Arabic numbers to present numerical information

In the final example, this construction

“Reduce speed by 10 kilometers.”

Is preferred to:

“Reduce speed by ten kilometers.”

In the first example, the number 10 is stands out from the text and highlights to the readers, ‘Look, you need to slow down by 10 kilometers.’

In the second example, it doesn’t have the same affect.

4. Consistency

Be consistent when using Arabic numbers (e.g., 0, 1, 2, 3) and spelled-out numbers (e.g., zero, one, two, three). Don’t get ‘creative’ and start changing the numbering system throughout the document.

Conclusion

Help the reader become familiar with your writing style and format. Don’t spring surprises!

One way to do this when writing procedures is to remove any possible misunderstanding from your instructions. In other words, look at the numbering systems you’re using and ask yourself if the person reading this could be confused by the way you’re written it.

If the numbers could be misunderstood, then revise the text and use numbers that clarify how the process works.

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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.

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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.

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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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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

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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.

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29 Ways to Write SOP Procedures Faster

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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

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Procedures Writing Guidelines

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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