It still shocks me, after 15 plus years supporting organizations, suppliers, and distributors operating in regulated business, to see lack of written procedures to support operations and to assist the people doing the work. Most organizations have ways of doing things and operate under established work practices to “Make it happen.” Sometimes, when the organization is small or young (like Startups), work practices might be sufficient or appropriate. Now, if your organization is growing, you might pay attention to which work practices should be deployed as formal written procedures, also known as documented procedures.  

A work practice encompasses the repetition of an activity or process. Work practices frequently performed are usually referred to as a procedure; to an extent, the organization professed it has a procedure in place to perform certain activity or process. Work practices usually are transferred from one person, who knows and understands the practice, to the other learning his or her ways. But what happens if the person with the knowledge is not available? Leaves the organization? Suddenly retires? The knowledge is gone…What if your organization operates in a regulated industry?

A procedure is a defined method to perform a task, activity, or process. Usually, a written document exists, describing the steps to be followed to perform the task, activity, or process. Some benefits of having defined written procedures are:

Meet regulations – Written procedures are usually required by related agencies, laws, and standards to operate in regulated industries.

Standardization – Helps to formalize a similar way of doing things in the organization.

Errors/Mistakes – Decrease the probability of deviating from a desired practice.

Training – Ease the transfer of knowledge and helps in the understanding of what is needed to be covered in a training. What do I need to teach? Training is crucial in the deployment (implementation) of a procedure. If the procedure is developed and deployment lacks training, then it will fail its intent.

Accountability – Knowing what to do and what is expected (clear expectations) is a big part of people’s accountability. Procedures can support some of that.  Accountability is a vast subject. I might write about that, separately, in the future…

Continuous Improvement – A defined process is easier to map out, understand, and improve.

There are drawbacks of written procedures and so many more myths against written procedures. Some of the most common negative I have heard as cons:

“That is expensive” – Yes, written procedures have a cost associated with them, from its development and through its lifecycle. But, think how much money you lose because a “bad” product escaped to the customer? How is your brand affected? Having well-deployed, written procedures will minimize the chances.

“We are going to lose flexibility; it will slow us down” – Sound written procedures should reflect your practices and, in best case scenarios, a reflection of your “best practices.” If the procedure is slowing you down, maybe it is not the procedure itself; think about the process.

“We have too many procedures” – Been there, done that! Organizations might have lots of procedures, and there is no right or wrong. Usually, the expression of having too many procedures is more related to the fact that people that “do not need to know” about some procedures must be trained on them. A defined training matrix that consider roles and responsibilities helps to avoid having people with too many procedures assigned. After all, you shouldn’t need to read, comprehend, and maintain 167 procedures to do your job. (That number is real; it happened to me.)

“Procedures are cumbersome” – Some procedures start well and then, with time, they “evolve” to monsters. The issue here is that, frequently, we use written procedures as band aids. Adding additional requirements, inspections, notes, exceptions, warnings…you got the picture, right? Instead, you should review the particular process and truly understand what is working and what is not.

Wrapping it up! Written procedures are beneficial. Maintaining a work practice or formally implementing it into a written procedure depends on the organizational needs and obviously on what agencies, laws, and standards mandate when doing business in regulated industries.  Once decided to deploy a written procedure, consider the “cons” described above to avoid or minimize its drawbacks and negative myths.

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