Beginners Guide to Documenting Procedures

Most people know that in business we should document all our policies and procedures. It makes training new staff easier, and allows for easier delegation. But it’s about there that many people stop.

Today I’m going to share how we write many of our procedures with a couple of tools you probably already have.

I thought this would be a great topic to kick start the year with as coming out of the Christmas period we are all systems go as we migrate to a new database (ConnectWise), train up our new PA, design improved work flows, and do all this on the fly, so to speak.

Over the years the team and I have tried all form of Wiki’s, Sharepoint and databases to find the best way to store our company and technical procedures, but nothing has worked as well as using plain old, every computer in your business should have it, Microsoft Word.

That’s right. Super advanced tech right there. And if you’re using Windows 7, you have the ultimate companion tool that will make passing on your knowledge to others a dream come true – enter the Snipping Tool.

Back in the day, you either needed another program to take screenshots, or do some fancy CTRL+PRINT SCREEN combinations, but with the Snipping Tool you can literally pick the exact part of the screen you want, then add a highlighter, circle a few things, and plop that image straight into your Word document.

So here’s a few quick tips to get you started.

  1. Create a folder on your Company drive for Procedures.
  2. Depending on your business, you may wish to divide this down in to a Company, Administration and Technical sub-folder.
  3. Your Company sub-folder will have all your Company wide policies and procedures, like your Employee Handbook, Time Of Request Procedure, etc.
  4. Your Administration sub-folder will have all the procedures your Administration team will operate from.
  5. And your Technical (or alternative name) sub-folder will hold all the procedures that your day to day staff will use in their duties.

We went ahead and broke these folders down a bit more, so that it made it easier to find things and to know where to store them. This is up to you. The more organised the better, but if you start by adding 50 sub-folders straight away there’s an extremely high chance that someone is going to create a procedure for something that someone else has already written. And this is a huge waste of time.

Before I go on, it’s all well and good launching into the process of writing procedures, but you need to get your entire team on board with this policy. I’ve sat and drafted procedures with team members before (most of whom are no longer working for me) and then never seen the document they were meant to create.

You need to get buy in. You need everyone to see the value in doing this. The bottom line, yes it will take a little bit longer to do the first time, but if everyone documents what they know, and everyone else follows that documentation, everything you do, will be standardised, everyone will be more efficient, and there will be fewer headaches.

We all want less stress right?

A tip I took from Karl Palachuk, an amazing IT professional out of the States, is to run the procedure through your team and get each one of them to add to it and enhance it. I get the team to do this each time they use the document, so it’s an ongoing evolution.As Karl points out, some people might be happy with some pretty basic steps, whilst other people like to be very detailed.

I like to be very detailed.Ā In fact, I like to spell out my background logic for why we’re doing something a certain way, so as to help the person following my procedures understand our goal better, and to hopefully avoid them getting stuck and needing to ask questions. I want my team to be super efficient, whilst being super awesome.

The next part of getting everyone on board, is to introduce a company policy that “if it hasn’t been documented before, and you’re working on it, document it now”. It takes a bit of reminding at first, but soon enough you should find everyone is getting with the program.

Now for the fun stuff.

The very next time you are doing something that has not been documented, before you get started, open Word and on the first line of the document write 4 to 6 words which describe what the goal of this procedure is. ie: “Adding Customers to QuickBooks”; “Handling New Customer Enquiries”; “Setting up a new Hosted Exchange acccount”.

Next, SAVE the document. Find the most appropriate location for it and save it. Use the HEADING as the file name.

One of the beautiful things of modern computing is the ability to search. You and your team simply need to click on the Procedures folder and search. Whether you search on a single keyword, or a number of keywords, it doesn’t matter. Windows Search will scan the file names and contents of those Word documents and tell you which ones contain what you’re looking for. How awesome is that?

All you need to do now is work through whatever it is you are doing, and spell out the steps the individual should take, if they were to mirror you.

If you have Windows 7, open the snipping tool (go to your Start menu and in the search box type ‘snip’) and start taking screenshots of each page you are referencing. Use the highlight and marker tool to point the reader to specific areas that need attention.

You can never be too detailed.

Divide your document into sub sections if necessary.

At the bottom of your document put a section for revision history. Something along the lines of

Original Author: David Rudduck 23/01/2012
Outlined original draft. Stepped through procedure for migrating customer to hosted Exchange platform.

Encourage your team to update this section, if they update the document. For example.

Original Author: David Rudduck 21/01/2012
Outlined original draft. Stepped through procedure for migrating customer to hosted Exchange platform.
Updated By: Matthew Harrison 23/01/2012
Added screenshots to section on creating customer account. Highlighted the buttons that need to be clicked.

And so on and so forth. šŸ™‚

Not exactly rocket science I know, but any any step forward is a positive motion. We all have to start somewhere!

Now if you want to take it a step further, by a flip camera and start recording staff doing specific work functions andĀ narrateĀ the video.

If your industry involves a lot of manual work, or special craft, imagine the time you could save teaching new employees a technique, if you had it already recorded and narrated for them to watch and learn from?

Another great tool is a screen recording tool. I use Screenpresso, but there are lots out there, even a few good free ones.

Screenpresso allows me to record my entire computer screen, or a section of it. This way I can record the steps as I work in a particular program, or setup a particular device, then turn it into a video for my team or clients to watch later.

So with 2012 ahead of you, you now have no excuse to not be documenting your business. Just think how much easier your job would be, if everyone did things exactly how you wanted, every time.

Here’s to a successful 2012!

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