Do You Really Have To Write Procedures?

compiled by Dib Mossavi

Not all processes require procedure writing.  There is a lot of overhead associated with every business procedure you write.  Therefore, the more business procedures you write, the more procedures you have to edit, implement, train, audit, and review.  Only company policies and procedures required by STANDARDS, REGULATIONS or COMPANY STRATEGY must be developed.

ISO 9001 requires only six procedures :-

  1. Document Control
  2. Record Control
  3. Control of Nonconforming Product
  4. Corrective Action
  5. Internal Audit
  6. Preventive Action

The above procedures are of minimum requirement, but even the leanest Quality Management System will probably need a few additional procedures.

My personal opinion is a company should always have a procedure for COMPETENCE, AWARENESS and TRAINING to outline their training and skills program.  Most auditors concluded that the number 1 weakness of the various QMS is Competence, Awareness and Training.

Why do many companies feel they need to write 40 or more procedures to achieve control?  Occasional users need procedures as a reminder of procedure steps that they do not perform very often.  Frequent or regular users do not need and sometimes do not use the procedure. 

So how are those other 34 plus procedures used?  Most procedures are used to train non frequent users.  For training purposes, you may only need a process map. 

YOUR POLICIES PROCEDURES TEMPLATE DESIGN

When we write procedures, we will need to standardize on a procedure template design.  Start our policies and procedures template design by thinking through our document and record control procedures.  Our procedure template design should make room for a header block to ensure your procedure communicates your purpose and scope.

Add TITLE ; POLICY ; PURPOSE ; SCOPE ; RESPONSIBILITY and DEFINITIONS section to help people understand your procedure.  Clear department responsibilities identify who does what, and helps to declare which positions are mentioned in your procedure with a synopsis of what is expected for each position.  Key term definitions reduces confusion, industry jargon should be explained in the definitions section of your procedure to help new procedure users.

WRITING POLICIES PROCEDURES

Before we start writing procedures from scratch, look around for examples or templates, that we can copy.  Pre-written procedures can speed up our development, reduce our research time, and turn writing procedures into editing them.  It’s a lot easier to edit a procedure than to write one from scratch, depending on the procedure.  Many procedures are really common using business best practices, so why reinvent the wheel?

If we have to write a procedure from scratch, start writing procedures using active voice construction.  Subject, verb and object, provides clear active voice construction for our procedure.  For example, “Accounts Receivable Invoices Customers” is clearer and contains fewer words than “Customers Are Invoiced By Accounts Receivable”.  The extra ‘are’ and ‘by’ make the sentence longer, put the subject last, and forces the reader to stop and re-read the action.  Be direct, and to the point.

Add references to related documents to improve our procedure’s usability.  Clear note or highlight when our procedure refers to another procedure or forms.  There is nothing worse than following a procedure and coming to a passage that refers to a ‘company form’ and ….. thats all!  We dont even know how the form looks like, where we might locate it, or what version of the form we need.  Including an example of the form in our procedures, along with explanation, will save us time during procedure training and implementation.

List applicable laws and regulations : clearly communicate our company’s need for compliance.

POLICIES PROCEDURES OVERHEAD

Large organizations have a large number of procedures.  They have a lot of staff, business operations, and economy of scale to make their procedures work.  Smaller companies should remember – the more business pocedures we write, the more business procedures we have to edit, implement, train, audit and review.  More procedures may also produce more audit findings in addition to more updates, more documents to control, and more administration overhead.

Many companies fail to plan for their Admin & Procedure expenditures, so it should come as no surprise that their procedures dont work as expected.  Procedures become outdated eventually.  Also due to non frequent use and maintenance, some procedures are overlooked especially when it’s time to update them.  This can result in repeated waste, fraud, abuse or even repeated procedure audit findings.

The “lean thinking”(efficient, effective, no waste) solution is :-

  • to write only procedures that we absolutely have to write to conform to requirements
  • to improve our training program to developed competent and skilled employees instead of writing procedures we dont have the time or budget to maintain

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