In Praise of Procedures! (Part 6)

Why does (or should) an operating procedure exist? The one and only reason I have identified is to facilitate learning of an activity.

Consider the following scenario: Joe is a new worker, and he is paired with Sheila, an experienced worker, to learn how to perform tasks in the department. Sheila has no document to work from, but has a lot of knowledge and is an excellent worker. So Sheila starts to “train” Joe. But what is she training Joe to do? Ideally, how to correctly do any and all of the tasks Joe will perform. But to what standard? As close as I can figure, to whatever standard Sheila has established for herself.

What if Sheila does not teach Joe everything? Then what? The reality in such a scenario is that Joe is completely at Sheila’s mercy in learning the job. If you have ever been in a situation where someone is training you, and they said, “Oops, I forgot to tell you this,” you should understand. What else did they forget to tell you?

The operating procedure, then, contains all of the content sufficient to transfer knowledge of task performance:

     It should contain everything the learner needs to learn

     It should contain everything the teacher needs to teach 

In essence, you can look at the procedure as a contract between the organization, trainer and trainee: it represents the organization’s assessment of the one current-state best way to perform the procedure. If the trainer has addressed all aspects covered in the procedure, he or she has done their job. If the trainee has learned all aspects covered in the procedure, he or she can be considered “trained” and equipped to perform the required tasks.

(Note: this is not to suggest that a task can be learned solely by reviewing the operating procedure. In my Seven-step Method to task training, the procedure is part of the process (a big part!) but not the whole process.)

An operating procedure is by its nature a training document. As such, it must fulfill its training intent. This is accomplished by the content and structure of the operating procedure. Simply put, any information not directly connected to performing the task should not be in an operating procedure. And identifying who is responsible to perform the procedure is not connected to successful task performance. Put that information back in the policy, where it belongs.

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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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