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Productivity / Processes

Business process documents: How to create quality instructions

The purpose of instructions is not only to help staff do their job efficiently and accurately, but also to improve business results. Follow these tips to ensure your instructions achieve just that.

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Creating effective business process documents is essential to doing good business, and documenting instructions is an important part of that. But there’s more to it than simply writing down the key steps of a procedure. Here’s how to create really effective instructions.

Is there a recommended format?

There is no set format; however, quality instructions usually include:

  • A title that accurately reflects the process.
  • A list of equipment or materials required to perform the task.
  • A sequentially numbered or lettered set of step-by-step instructions.
  • A reference to forms required to record information related to the task.

Always consider what will work best for your business. Trial a few formats and ask the end user/s which is easiest to use.

Make it easy to follow

Instructions should be a “just the facts” account of the activity. Long explanations and back-stories can create confusion and make the instructions hard to follow.

"Instructions should be a "just the facts" account of the activity. Long explanations and back-stories can create confusion and make the instructions hard to follow. "

For example, which of these instructions is easier to follow?

a) Wrap the item in tissue paper and place in a box ensuring protective packing material completely surrounds the item. Seal the box.

or

b) Make sure that you very carefully wrap the fragile item in tissue paper and very carefully place in a brown corrugated cardboard box measuring 25cm x 25cm. Retrieve the bubble wrap, foam beans or other appropriate packing material from the storage area and ensure that the bottom, sides and top of the item are completely surrounded (and so on).

The level of detail required will vary with the task and importance of the process.

Mandatory steps or requirements should be included in the instructions. Preferences do not necessarily need to be included and can be covered in the training process instead if required.

Want more articles like this? Check out the processes section.

The writing process

Writing instructions is quite straightforward; however, there are some tips that can save you time down the track.

  • Choose a team member who is very familiar with the process to write the first draft. As the process is second nature to them it will be a much faster process.
  • The newest person to the team should perform an initial review of the instructions. If the team is just you, ask a relative or friend to read through it. This person should try to follow the instructions and perform the task (if safe to do so). This usually highlights areas of the instructions that are missing or aren’t as clear as they need to be.
  • The person responsible for maintaining or implementing the business systems should review the document. Not to change any technical content but to make sure it’s consistent with other business process documents and that there is no duplication with other documents.
  • The draft document should then be given to the intended users for final comment prior to going “live”.

Writing the instructions can be done by one person or by many, but following this process will minimise the amount of duplication and re-writing required at a later date. Including all major stakeholders in the process will also maximise the chances of the document being adopted and used in your business.

Now it’s time to start writing – good luck!

Stay tuned for the next article in this series, “Business process documents: Break the rules”, which will look at using different media to ensure your instructions are useful for the end-users and suit your business requirements.

What are your tips for writing quality instructions?

Mary Gardam

is the Principal Quality Advisor at LogiQA. She has held a number of senior quality roles but is now enjoying introducing small business to the benefits of business systems. Mary also lectures in Quality Systems at Griffith University.

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