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Benefits of Proceduralised Systems

Everything we do, at work or at play is a process driven task!  Fast.  Whether this is making a cup of tea (yes, there is a British Standard for this too!), mowing the lawn, feeding the dog or preparing a VAT return for HMRC.  In order to ensure that our processes are carried out efficiently, effectively and consistently, tasks must be performed in a sequential fashion – you couldn’t make a cup of tea without a teabag or a cup – so lets say that is the initialisation or pre-requisite stage, then the remainder of the steps are carried out until the end-product has been produced or completed.

Procedures are the documents that store these small step-by-step instructions in order to ensure that each time a task is carried out, it is done so correctly and consistently.  The more our procedures are written, stored, reviewed, updated and maintained; the better quality results our businesses would yield (and our worklives).  There is one problem:  People, for whatever reason just seem to hate paperwork – I, personally like it, but that is maybe because I can type quickly – some people just hate word processing and typing and/or computers so there is a massive resistance (especially in non-high-regulated businesses to go down this route).

I am going to raise 6 important purposes to adopting a procedural business system and explain them in the context of my experience to date:

A Written Approach to a Job or Task

Sitting in a room with X amount of colleagues and saying:  “Listen up, we have been doing A, B and C for some time now and as a result of a new computer/till/alarm system/supplier we are now going to do the task like X, Y and Z”.  If you have got 10 people in the room, you have got the potential for 10 slightly different variations on the new requirement.

So why have a procedure?  Because having a procedure allows each and every person to be able to do a specific job function in a pre-approved way.  No variations.  If someone is off work sick or on holiday – anyone can be trained (quickly) in the usage of the procedure – business continuity.

Consistently Producing the Same Results

If the procedure is found to have issues or problems, the people following the procedure can quickly identify the problem and obtain a resolution.  Without the procedure been there in the first place, there would be a risk that 10 people are performing 10 procedures and 9 of them could be wrong.  Wrong enough to cost money to the business or damage a reputation.  The procedure allows for consistency across the board and furthermore, makes the job more measurable rather than having some fast or slow; good or bad staff – a procedure allows the actual difficult and tediuous tasks to be easliy identified and allows management to assign certain roles to certain individuals with the relevant capabilities.

Mechanism for Resolving Errors and Living with Changes

In the event that an error is identified in a procedure, the procedure can be revised and released back into operations within a short space of time, meaning that the error or issue has been captured and the procedure aligned so that the business can cope in a quality assured fashion.  This creates an attention-to-detail environment and operators or users are more likely to apply due dilligence than they maybe would be without a structured framework in which to work.

Point of Reference for Communication

When describing a task to your workforce, it is easier to say that X,Y and Z in Procedure OFE-1009 should be assesed and updates recommended as a result of a new computer system installation by the end of week 34, as opposed to trying to descibe the issue you are alluding to, especially to non-technical staff.  Everyone knows what procedures are because they have already been trained in their operation (more of this later).  In addition, when multiple procedure are used (and it is strongly advised that they are) – when some tasks are required to include items from others, then the procedure can reference that operation explicitly, e.g.  Ensure all work surfaces are cleaned in accordance with OFE-1009, Section 15.0, Step 12.  Meaning that if, for example a Health & Safety Executive requirement causes an impact to your process, you only need to capture the change in the relevant location and not in every document.

Platform for Enhancing, Revising, Maintaining and Retiring Business Processes

Working with procedures, as mentioned above helps to instil a culture of due-dilligence and attention to detail.  This is imperative in a succesful business.  If people are familiar with reading, verifying and general being alert and not just ‘coasting’ by, then there is a good chance that general quality and the approach to quality assurance with also improve.  Create a culture of awareness, allow people to make changes in a structured way and communicate changes to the relevant users of the procedures.  Make sure the procedures are approved by management and some form of quality function and certainly never approved by the author (this is a conflict of interest and humans simply can’t always identify their own mistakes, typographical errors and so forth – I bet I don’t find any mistakes in this article but someone will and an email will be sent forthwith).

Training

It’s one thing having a set of procedures, but if nobody uses them properly, updates them or looks after them, then you’re pretty much in the same state as someone without any at all.  Training is about renting a conference room at the nearest 5 star hotel and sitting around the projector for 2 days, half asleep, half drunk from the night before.  When you have established your procedures, get everyone in a room and run through the procedure.  Get people to sign a training attendance form to confirm that they attended and understood and make sure they do as they agreed.  For larger, complex tasks sometimes a questionnaire of about 10 questions can be devised from the procedure to ensure everyone has took notice.  If a procedure is revised.  Make sure the new effective date allows for the users of the procedure to be informed of the changes and that all concerned parties take 10 minutes to read, understand and sign-off on their training record.  Make it clear that without been trained in a task that it should not be carried out.  After a little bit of policing this process, it will run itself.

I hope that this article has been a soft introduction to the benefits of proceduralising your operations and that, whatever the nature of your business you can benefit from these points.  If you don’t have a proceduralised set of processes or a quality system, bear it in mind.  You won’t need one if you have 2 people in your company, but as you grow, make sure at least the key elements of the business are written down and controlled.

Look out for our documentation practices articles to follow.

Author:

Mark Richardson
Director of Operations
Kestrel Life Sciences
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