My Answers from LinkedIn (First of an Occasional Series)

I have been an active participant in several LinkedIn groups, most of which are concerned with Technical Writing and Training and Development. (Note to LinkedIn: I have been waiting months for some groups to act on my request to join.) Every now and again, I actually get a blip on the radar as a “top influencer.”

But part of the fun of group participation is joining discussions, especially when the discussion is around some question a prospective tech writer or trainer has asked. Sometimes my answers are “liked,” many times other knowledgeable people jump in and add their wisdom and expand mine.

One day, it dawned on me that the questions in the discussions would make good blog post material, since many of the questions are common to instructional communicators. I will take the liberty to expand my answers here from what was posted on LinkedIn. So, as questions of interest arise, I will bring them to this forum. And of course I will try to drive as many of my LinkedIn friends over to the blog as possible.

What is the standard format/layout if you are going to document processes/procedures?

A “template” or format for documenting processes and procedures should be structured to aid the learner. There is no “official” template mandated by ISO, though some regulatory bodies may mandate a certain format. If you are writing in such a regulatory environment, you have to consider the regulatory body as a customer for the document, and meet their requirements. For those of you in such situations, you have my sincerest condolences.

For years I have used a format based on the OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) standard. I have found the format very useful regardless of whether the actual activity is PSM-controlled. In a nutshell, here is the format. This version is based on a procedure for a particular piece of equipment, though it can be altered for non-equipment focused processes:

1. Introduction–puts a fence around the subject matter, promises the document will focus on a specific task or set of activities

2. Equipment description–describes basic function of equipment, key components, safety features, limits of operation if they are applicable

3. Equipment controls–describes what each control, gauge, indicator, etc. does, how it is used.

4. Setup of the equipment*–describes how the equipment is set up; pre-checks of components, adjusting, getting everything ready for the run

5. Operating the equipment*–describes how each activity during actual equipment productive operation is performed

6. Response to upsets or problems*–what to do if equipment fails or operates outside of limits, how to recognize an escalating problem, how to mitigate, emergency response, restart after emergency response

7. Equipment shutdown*–how to bring equipment to a stopped condition, and have it in condition for its next use (cleaning, replacing parts if necessary), how to handle product resulting from process, paperwork.

* sections that include detailed activities, described in a sequence of numbered steps

This format is what I call “wading into progressively deeper water.” That means I share some information early, and each subsequent section builds on what has been presented before. In this manner, the learner builds a vocabulary and understanding of the equipment or concepts. The format is also very amenable to on-the-job training, as the
reading of the procedure sets the learner up for greater understanding of the hands-on training components, and allows the trainer to complete the hands-on portion while spending less of his/her time.

This is a summary of the discussion that appeared as an eight-part blog series called “The Procedure and Training,” where I expand on the sequence of information summarized above, and provide more useful information for the procedure developer.

I reiterate that there are multiple ways to develop and structure procedures. If someone has a system that works, I would not attempt to impose my will on their structure. But far more often, procedures are not achieving their desired outcomes, and structure is often one of the reasons the procedures are not working.

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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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