Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 80 – Processes and procedures

The July edition of the Employment Services Edition of Information Overload is a little different. Rather than look at how to get a job and ways to ensure you keep it during tough economic times, I’d like to take a look at the way that you do your job. The systems, processes and procedures you follow as you go about your daily tasks.
It doesn’t matter what stage you are in your professional development cycle, or what kind of job you have, we can all benefit from the odd introspective look into the way we do things, and more importantly the why we do things in that particular way.

In this issue we will look at:
•    Systems, processes and procedures

Systems, processes and procedures:
If you have ever written procedures you will know how time consuming they are to do, which is why there needs to be several levels of guidance provided.
1.    High level – over arching rules and guidelines. These are the policies usually signed off by managers that give broad brush strokes as to what needs to take place. For instance – an organisational acquisitions policy that says “any item (books, journals etc) bought with company money (credit card) needs to be given to the information centre / library for cataloguing into the system, processing before being sent back to you on loan.” Depending on your policy this could be deemed permanent whilst the person is employed by your organisation.

This policy should also high-light the exit policy of the organisation whereby all items on loan should be returned. This includes books, journals, keys, key cards, cars and computers. Exit policies should of course be determined with the help of HR.

And then there are the:
2.    Job specific procedures. Job specific procedures should take you step-by-step through the entire process. And I do mean step-by-step. You cannot assume the person reading your procedures will know and understand anything about your particular job, so that is the level these procedures need to be written at.

This is not to assume everyone else is completely stupid and you are the clever one, just turn it around for a minute. How many times have you been asked to take over someone else’s role and struggled to find the documentation and follow the steps? For contractors the first few days on the job are the worst. So it is important to make things easier for them.
Assuming you have a procedure manual, when was the last time you sat down with it next to you and tried to follow the steps outlined in it? I’d say probably not since:
a)    you developed them or
b)    your first week in the job
Now be honest, if you don’t check these documents for accuracy every now and then, what happens if and when you leave and someone has to come in and do the job you were doing? Now when I say “leave” that could be holiday or sick leave, long service or maternity, as well as the day you decide to move onwards and sideways. Can you imagine what would happen if you called in sick and your manager needed to do the urgent jobs and tried to follow the instructions but couldn’t? Now you may think this would be a good thing – so your manager then knows how important we are and the role we play in the organisation. In effect the opposite tends to be true. If your instructions are out of date, you might as well not have them – because they are of little and no use to anyone – including you. Anyone who tries to do your job (in-house) may be able to muddle through, but it is hardly going to make you friends within the organisation – is it?
More typically, our absences are planned a little way in advance and management has decided to bring in a temp (short-term contractor) for the duration. Given these people are paid by the hour, how productive do you think they are going to be if the procedures are sketchy (or worse still – nonexistent). Now it could be argued that a contractor (temp) should know what they are doing, but as we all know, every organisation has its own way of doing things. Add in the odd variations to the rule(s) that don’t get written down and you have a recipe for – well not disaster, but don’t be surprised to come back from leave and find your work has not been done.

Procedures are like insurance:
Assuming you like your job and aim to keep doing the same job in the same way until you retire and not take any holiday between now and then, you may not need to write procedures.  
Who are we trying to kid. Change seems to be the only constant when it comes to our workplaces. Every day (or so it seems) someone has a “great idea” and everyone is off and running. Well ok, maybe doing a casual saunter. But you get what I mean.
How many new systems have been introduced since you started working with your particular organisation? Did it / they impact on you and the way you did your job? Of course it/they did.
As you and I know, technological changes are the main reason why our ways of working change. Every time a new upgrade is brought into the system it will affect your procedures. Every time a new piece of whizz bang software is purchased and rolled out will affect the way you do your job and the procedures that go with it.
Every time someone leaves and isn’t replaced, the ways jobs are handled changes.
Take a system upgrade as a good example of procedural changes you need to consider. At first glance it may seem like nothing has changed, but on closer inspection – the URL has changed, the log in screen looks different and the task / button bar is different. All of a sudden the first half dozen instructions are different, which means your procedures need updating.
And that is why most procedure manuals never get written in the first place:

•    Most people do not have the time to write step-by-step instructions for every job they do, and if they do;
•    They’re too hard to maintain.
So, should you write them?
My answer is always yes, especially for those jobs you do infrequently. My memory is good, but not that good.
Compare the time you waste, trying to remember how to do something with the time it takes to write down the steps, print them out and file them – and all of a sudden you will save yourself time in the long run.
But the best about writing processes is this:
As you write them, you find better / faster ways in which to complete your work.
Because you ask yourself – what on earth am I doing this in this way for? There has got to be a better way. And you know what – there usually is.