Every systematized enterprise needs procedures. The difference between a self-employed person and an entrepreneur is that the latter knows how to delegate tasks and can afford to have time to do more and even to rest. Delegating means knowing exactly what needs to be done, how, and having a system to check that tasks have been properly accomplished. A procedure manual can make all the difference between being self-employed and being a true entrepreneur. Therefore, knowing how to write them, knowing what they have to contain is important to systematize a business successfully. Learn the basics for writing a procedure manual, some practical tips for making it easy, and a template to start writing yours, here.
What is the use of a procedures manual?
A manual is an instrument that helps an organization function properly. It contains instructions on how to carry out various actions. Specifically, a procedure manual indicates step by step who should do what in what period. That is the basic content of such a manual.
It is different from a policy, a manual answers the question: «how is it done?» while a policy is a set of rules that answer the question: «why is it done this way?» It is important to integrate both types of text because when the staff knows why something is done in a certain way it is easier for them to stick to the instructions.
A procedure manual is always a good idea. On the one hand, it is a helpful tool for training staff. Usually, when an entrepreneur starts his own business he does everything. However, as it grows it will need help and delegate processes. That is precisely why it is important from the outset to be clear about the steps of what needs to be done. It also helps when someone has to fill someone else’s position for vacation or illness, with the manual you will know exactly what to do and will be on the same page as your peers.
Basic rules for drafting a manual of procedures
As redundant as it may seem, there are processes for writing procedure manuals. It sounds simple to write an instructive but you have to think and plan before getting into this task because or if we can’t have some mistakes. The best thing is that your manuals are clear, concise, and above all: useful. For this it is important to understand that it is necessary to write without omitting details, probably whoever uses the manual will be your first time fulfilling that task and needs enough information to be successful.
That’s why it’s important to cover some points:
Go from the general to the specific: before writing think about the points you want to cover in your manual. There is still no need for descriptions or instructions, just to list general topics. From them, you can think of important issues that you should not let pass. Let’s say it’s a sketch before we move on to the masterpiece.
Use job descriptions to define responsibilities: you need to know who is responsible for what. So if you’re going to write a manual that has to do with repairing a computer, you have to think about who’s responsible. Maybe the system is in the assembly area but that doesn’t mean the line workers have to fix it, it’s not in your job description. Instead, if you have a maintenance department with specialized technicians and engineers, there you can find the real person responsible for the procedure.
Clear and concise language: with the instructions, even though you don’t want to leave anything out, you shouldn’t use too many words. If a step is getting too long, you might want to split it into two or three different steps. One rule: just one action per step.
Visually pleasing format: even if they are written instructions, the importance of a good design should not be overlooked. Have subtitles, images, lists… can help users locate exactly the instructions they are looking for and digest the information better. It is also good that the manual of the procedure is a PDF in which the search engine works, to facilitate its navigation. If you can also include checklists you will have everything to make your manual easy to use visually.
Test the manual: Once you’re done writing the manual you need to put it to the test. Ask someone who has no idea of the process to try to perform the actions with the instructions you wrote. If you’ve completed a complete manual, otherwise you’ll need to determine what information is missing, whether it can be included in that same manual, or whether it needs a previous manual.
Set a schedule for updates: your manuals should always be up to date. Therefore, from the moment you write you will need to schedule a calendar to give you revisions and update the information that has become obsolete. Maybe over time you've found a way to optimize some processes.
Now comes the bad news: writing manuals are boring. It is a time-consuming task that requires multiple revisions and changes throughout the process. However, it is not impossible either. There are ways to accomplish this task without taking forever. Here are some tips for writing manuals without making them too heavy for you. Remember that you can implement several, one method does not exclude the other.
Write along with someone else: Teaming up to write is a great idea. Two heads think better than one. Maybe you’re missing information, but your partner immediately notices that something is missing or together they can think of a more efficient way to do something. Tasks can also be divided to move faster.
Dictate: If you have a hard time writing, one way to move quickly is with dictation. Many people are good oral communicators, maybe it is your case and you feel that you can say very clearly the steps to follow but you have a hard time writing them. You can record yourself talking and turn that dictation into text. Two sites can help you do that: Rev and Temi.
Check out examples: seeing other procedure manuals can help you get familiar with the format and know how you want yours to look. Here’s an example of a procedure manual that can help guide you.
Hire a professional: if you can’t find time to write and it’s too complicated for you, delegate. Many copywriting services feature handwriting of all kinds. Although of course, this will represent an economic investment, as opposed to doing it yourself. However, is your money worth more than your time?
Use a template: if for any reason you should stick to doing it yourself, we recommend using a template. So you’ll know exactly what information is needed and you’ll start carrying spaces without having to start from scratch.
Procedures manual template
- The task
- Time required:
- Departments involved in the project:
- Positions involved: Number of posts
- Why are we doing this?
- When do we do it? (Daily, weekly, monthly, annually)
- How do we do that?
- Termination signal (which result must be reflected to know that the procedure has been completed).
Procedures manuals help to systematize a company, train personnel and follow up processes. To write a manual you need to plan the information in the manual, be clear and concise, format it, and not leave crucial information out. To help you write you can do dictation, work in a team, hire a professional, or use a template. Although writing a procedure manual can be tiring it doesn’t have to be too tedious.
What advice would you give to write a procedure manual? Tell us in the comments.
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