What Makes an Effective Procedures Writer? (Part 8)

We are discussing the characteristics of effective procedure writers, specifically those that go beyond the basics of the poll question on the Tech Writer group forum.

The second element of the effective procedure writer is the ability to differentiate between types of documents. There are a lot of documents in the workplace that get referred to as “procedures.” In many cases, the “procedure” is not a procedure at all.

Let’s look at an example “procedure:”

1. The receiving department receives, logs in and stores the raw material.

2. The kitting department pulls the materials required for the product, and delivers them to the production department.

3. The production department takes the parts and materials delivered by kitting, and assembles the finished product.

4. The quality department inspects the finished product, and delivers the good products to the shipping department.

5 . The shipping department packages the product, puts it on a pallet and stores it for customer delivery.

In many environments, even ISO-compliant ones, the example above would be considered a “procedure.” And as long as I can provide “objective evidence” that each department is performing the specified actions, I get a smiley-face from the auditor.

But the above is not a procedure. The “procedure” only talks about “who.” By definition, determining “who” does something is the domain of “policy.” Procedures deal with only one dimension of performance, and that is “how.” Does the policy need to be established? Yes, defining responsibility is essential to effective organizational function. But if my job is to do the work, do I need a document to tell me I do that job (and tells me who does the other jobs)? No I do not.

The ability to separate policy information from procedure information is a key to an effective organizational player. If you can do that, you make two camps happy: the “procedure folks” who need to know how to do the work, because they are no longer bogged down with information they don’t need, and the “policy folks” who need to control and optimize organizational function, because they are no longer bogged down with information they don’t need.

And, you will do yourself a great favor as a procedure writer by limiting the procedure document to that which is truly procedural in nature.

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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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