In Praise of Procedures! (Part 5)

The emphasis on a procedure should be how an activity is performed. Period. This assertion is based on years of procedure-writing experience and wrestling with why a procedure exists and what an organization desires to gain from a procedure.

In over a quarter-century of writing, I have come up with one and only one valid reason for an operating procedure to exist: to convey knowledge of an activity to the person who needs to learn it.  

Operating Procedure audience: the audience for an operating procedure consists of two primary groups: those learning to perform the activity and those teaching others how to perform the activity. This may seem like a shockingly limited audience, but in light of that one legitimate purpose for the procedure, that pretty much captures everyone.

Now, of course, auditors look at procedures (even policies masquerading as procedures). And many of you work in environments where customers like evidence that your organization has documented processes. I am happy that auditors and others may also look at the operating procedures, but operating procedures do not exist for them.

That last point is very critical, even if it seems obvious. The true audience of a procedure must determine the content of the procedure. In the early days of ISO-9000, a disturbing trend took place, in which organizations pared down the content of their procedures to make them “audit-friendly.” In making them audit-friendly, the procedures ceased to perform their original function. The irony is that, in trying to make procedures sufficiently bare-boned that auditors could not identify missteps and record them as findings, organizations subverted the intent of  a Quality Management System altogether, as if the principal aim of an audit is to avoid findings. I refer to that as “ISO schizophrenia.”

In the next post, we will look further at operating procedures in the context of their purpose.

About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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