Knowing how to write a procedure can save you and your team members tons of time, hassles, and headaches.
Think about a task that your company frequently completes. Maybe it’s producing a monthly webinar. Perhaps it’s fulfilling customer orders or responding to complaints. Maybe it’s logging a sale.
Whatever the specifics, there are probably plenty of tasks and projects that happen over and over again, right?
Now, ask yourself this: Do you have a documented procedure in place for getting that task completed the right way?
If you’re cringing or blushing (or both!) right now, you aren’t alone. Many businesses don’t bother to create documented procedures—which, put simply, are written, detailed instructions that dictate how to accomplish a specific task.
But, as a business grows, making that necessary knowledge transfer to get an assignment done right becomes more and more challenging. Leaders no longer have their finger in every pie, so to speak, which means tasks aren’t quite as standardized as you might assume.
Fortunately, there’s something you can do about it: You can create your own documented procedures for your team.
Seriously, it’s not too late, and you’re better to do it now than never.
Wondering how to write a procedure that actually helps your team, rather than slowing them down? Let’s get to it.
But Really…Why Do Procedures Matter?
You have plenty of urgent assignments and important to-dos on your plate. I get it—that makes it seem like formally documenting a procedure for something that your team is already doing is a giant waste of time.
But, make no mistake, investing the time and effort to document steps for common tasks can truly pay off. Here are some of the major benefits related to procedures.
You’ll Have a Standardized Way of Getting Things Done: You want to give your team room to be creative. But, not having a documented procedure for important tasks leaves way too much up to memory and personal preference—which can cause problems down the line.
For example, maybe one of your customer service representatives responds to a customer complaint by apologizing, while another offers a steep discount. What do you think is going to happen if that one customer finds out that they only received an apology when another had their price knocked down? Spoiler alert: It’s not going to end well.
Having a procedure in place for resolving customer complaints could’ve completely eliminated that problem.
You’ll Reduce Mistakes: A documented procedure acts like a roadmap of sorts—walking your team members through each and every step they need to take to not only get something done, but get it done right.
Having this resource for them to reference increases their accountability, while also reducing the possibility for errors.
You’ll Empower Your Team Members: You’re happy to answer questions and offer guidance. But, your team members don’t want to feel like pests—which makes them hesitant to approach you with all of their questions.
Your team members can refer to this documented process and feel confident in their ability to do their jobs well—without having to approach you for help every step of the way.
Plus, you’ll free up some more time for yourself, since you won’t have to answer repeated questions!
You’ll Make it Easier to Grow Your Team: Bringing someone new onto your team is exciting, but it also creates a lot of work to get them onboarded and then trained on the tasks they’ll be handling.
This is another area where documented procedures can be a huge help. New hires can refer to those guides as they’re getting up to speed in their new position. Trust me—they’ll be glad to have those resources when they’re familiarizing themselves with everything they need to do.
Put simply, procedure gives you the peace of mind that things are getting done the way they should—without you needing to micromanage every single step of the process.
Get it Done: How to Write a Procedure in 8 Steps
Pretty convincing, right?
Now for your next question: How do you actually write a procedure for your team? Here are eight straightforward steps to do it right.
1. Spend some time observing.
Chances are, your head is swimming with all of the procedures you should have written a long time ago. So, your first step is to bring some order to that chaos and identify what actually needs a procedure.
Spend some time thinking through the average workday or workweek for your team. What things are they doing on a regular basis? Make a list of the tasks that come to mind.
Now, identify the ones that are the highest priority.
Are there certain things that are frequently getting screwed up or being slowed down by errors?
Those are tasks that warrant a documented procedure sooner rather than later—so highlight them or put them at the top of your list.
Now, with that roster of priorities in place, you can start creating procedures in their order of importance.
2. Create a template.
Procedures are supposed to save you time. The last thing you want to do is create some sort of system that’s only going to add more work to your plate.
Especially when you need to create a lot of procedures or plan to implement many more of them moving forward, there’s one thing that will be a major time-saver: a template.
First things first, decide where you want your procedures to live. Do you want to create a shared Google Drive for your entire team where they can access Google Doc procedures? Do you have a shared company drive or collaboration software where these should be stored?
After you have the logistics worked out, draft a simple template document that you can repeatedly copy and fill in with the necessary details. Your template should include information like:
- Description of the task the procedure is meant for
- List of the team members who are involved in that task
- Space to link to necessary resources or other procedures
- The steps to complete that specific task
That’s it! Having that barebones template in place will make it far easier to create more procedures moving forward—while also ensuring that you don’t skip anything important.
3. Identify your task.
Alright, now you’re ready to get started on a specific procedure. Return to that list you created in the first step to identify one task that you want to document.
It sounds simple enough, but identifying a task can be one of the most deceptively complicated steps of creating a procedure. It’s challenging to think intuitively and break larger goals or objectives into smaller, singular tasks.
To make this easier, treat this as your procedure golden rule: The more specific and granular you can be, the better. Put yourself in the shoes of whoever would be searching for that procedure and imagine what they would look for.
For example, someone who needs to send follow-ups to prospective clients would be more likely to look for a procedure for that specific task, rather than a more general document titled, “Nurture Leads.”
Loop your team members into this identification step if necessary, so that you can ensure you’re breaking things down in a way that makes sense.
Also, don’t forget that you can always link procedures together and refer out to other documents. So, again, it’s always better to a little too narrowed down and specific—rather than being way too vague or general.
4. Have a conversation with the key players.
The worst procedures are written by people who have little to no involvement in the actual task. They use their outside, high-level view to write steps, and they don’t actually work when people try to apply them.
That’s why one of the smartest things you can do before writing a single step of a procedure is to have an honest conversation with the key players who actually carry out that task.
Your goal here is to get a solid understanding of how they approach that task. Have them walk you through it—step by step—and don’t be afraid to jump in and ask questions for clarity.
Do that with all team members who handle that task (if there are multiple) to make sure that you’re getting numerous perspectives, identifying confusion, and ultimately writing a procedure that will work well for everyone—and not just one person.
Also, remember that this is a good opportunity to not only learn about the process as it exists now, but also how it could be improved. You want to write a procedure that makes life easier for everyone, which might involve some tweaks or improvements on how things are currently working.
With that in mind, don’t be afraid to ask team members what they would change about how an existing process flows. That might give you some intel that you can use when drafting the procedure!
5. Write it all down.
Armed with all of that information, you’re ready to actually write everything down.
Return to the template you created in the second step, make a copy, and then begin to fill in all necessary details—leaning on your notes from your conversations with team members.
Since you’ve already laid all of the groundwork, this step should be pretty straightforward. However, this is important to keep in mind: You need to be documenting steps in the exact order that they should be completed.
Remember, very few people will scroll through and read the entire procedure before actually taking action. What’s more likely is that they’ll read the first step, do that, read the second step, do that, and so on and so forth.
So, don’t fall into the common trap of outlining the step and then including an important note or caveat at the bottom. That’ll only annoy team members when they need to go back and re-do something they just did—because they didn’t see that important instruction ahead of time.
6. Take a test run.
Have your first draft all set? Great—it’s time to take it for a test drive.
You shouldn’t plan to document a procedure and then implement it for everybody immediately. Oftentimes, things like errors, bottlenecks, and incorrect or out-of-order instructions only bubble to the surface when you’re actually taking action, as opposed to proofreading.
Before you “officially” roll out the procedure for everyone, select a few team members to take it for a test run. Have them follow it to a tee and then provide notes or feedback on what should be improved or changed.
It’s an extra step, but it’ll probably save you tons of headaches and complaints when compared with launching a procedure that hasn’t been tested in the real world.
7. Revise and refine.
After you’ve received that input from team members, make final tweaks and changes to the procedure to create a finalized version.
Know that you don’t have to implement every single suggested change—particularly if it seems like it’s something that’s more tied to personal preference than anything else.
If you have questions about why a team member is suggesting a certain revision, ask clarifying questions to understand whether it really does impact the success of the procedure, or if it’s a piece of feedback that isn’t worth implementing.
8. Put the procedure in play.
You did it—you have a procedure ready to go. Now, it’s time to roll it out to your entire team.
When launching that procedure, have the conversation (whether it’s announced in an email or in a team-wide meeting) to introduce that procedure and give some context about why it was created and what you’re hoping it will accomplish.
Welcome your team to ask any questions or provide any feedback as they begin using the procedure as well.
Finally, make sure that everybody understands where the procedures are stored, how they’re organized, and how they can easily access them.
If you plan to put together many procedures, it’s worth creating a master list or spreadsheet where you can jot down a task and then link the procedure right there. That way, people will be able to easily find what they’re looking for, without having to click through a dozen different documents.
You’re Ready to Become a Procedure Pro
With those basic steps, you’re ready to launch a procedure that will hopefully make everybody’s job easier.
However, there’s one more important thing to remember: Just because procedures are documented doesn’t mean they’re set in stone. In fact, they shouldn’t be.
Procedures can and should be changed as your business and your team evolves. For example, introduce a new piece of software or technology? That will probably warrant some updates to your procedures. Add a new position to your team? That will likely shift some of the responsibilities assigned in your procedures.
Documentation is important, but don’t take that to mean that you’ve boxed yourself into doing things one way forever. Your procedures should grow and change right along with your team and business.
Kat is a freelance writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. She's passionate about being as efficient and effective as possible—much of which she owes to her 114 words per minute average typing speed. When her fingers aren't flying on the keyboard, she loves to bake, read, hike, or tackle yet another DIY project around her home.