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.
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.
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.