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Stage 7. How to Test Standard Operating Procedures

In Part 7 in our series on writing Standard Operating Procedures we look at how to test the Procedures.

How to Test Procedures

The first question is who tests the procedure?

One of the risks of testing your own procedure is that you’ve become snowblind to how the process actually works and fail to see steps that need to be captured. Also, you may take things for granted which the reader needs to be aware of, such as security precautions or items that need to be in place for the procedure to work.

  • Print out the procedure. Try to avoid reading the procedure from the screen. Many users will have it in their hands when reading the instructions so put yourself in their shoes and see if it makes sense.
  • Start at the top and sequentially through the steps. Don’t lose patience and skip down to the next section.
  • Check who does what. Let’s say the procedure has a column (usually far right) for the person or IT system performing the action.For example, in Step 1, the user may enter a credit card number into the ATM. In Step 2, the ATM checks the card. Make sure that this column is correct for each step, especially if there are handovers between people and/or between IT systems.
  • Check off each step as you test the process. Make notes where there are conflicts or ambiguities that need to be clarified.
  • Check that the steps in the procedure agree with what should happen. Also, if the IT system generates a message, such as, ‘Enter your PIN number’, then check that this is captured correctly in the procedure.
  • Note any errors in the margin and add it to the procedure once you’ve finished.
  • Check every exceptions, warning or and multiple choice presented to the user. When users are offered choices, make sure you capture each choice is a separate section.
  • Check that the cells in the If Then tables present such material correctly. It should work like this; if the user does this, then he these step 1. Or, if the user does this, then follow these other steps.
  • Another way to test your procedure is to start at the end and work your way backwards. While this may not be practical for all procedures, try it where possible. It forces you to pay attention and uncovers errors that you may have overlooked when following the ‘logical sequence’ of events.

Getting Others To Test the Procedure

Finally, if possible, get someone who will perform the actual procedure to test it.

  • Sit down with them and observe how they perform the task. Things you took for granted or assumed the user would know, may stop the user in their tracks.
  • This could be something minor, such as a small font size (which the web designers think is trendy) but which makes the text almost unreadable.
  • Once the procedure has been tested, return it to the writer for them to accept the changes you have made. If there are a high level of errors or exceptions that warrant attention, schedule a meeting with your colleague and walk them through the points you’ve raised.

Using the Track Changes feature in MS Word is a simple and effective way to enter comments. To turn this on, click Tools, Track Changes. The recipient can accept or reject the changes and then save the final version with the correct text.

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