Without a map it is difficult to get to where you want to go unless you have some previous knowledge of the route. Even then, when obstacles are put in your way, alternative routes may be required or if your general mode of transportation is unavailable you may need to use other transportation resources to get to where you need to be.
Business is no different. In business, the optimal result is to maintain a standard level of service or outcome on a regular basis with minimal variation. With Six Sigma the standard level of acceptable errors in any process should be within 3 standard deviations. Anything with exceptions outside of that should be analyzed and revisions put in place to improve performance. ISO 9001 also stresses the need for standardized processes in order to continually be able to produce goods that meet the quality standards established.
Process Mapping and documentation or SOP’s could be considered maps on how to maintain quality processes and standards of performance. Standard processes start with an understanding of the steps required to reach the desired outcome. Writing down the steps and maintaining the documentation is important so that others maintain the same quality of performance. Documentation of your processes is part of good Process Management, and is important whether you are in operations, marketing or accounting.
What should be included in documentation to ensure successful outcomes? Documentation can be very simple or extremely detailed depending on who the user is. You don’t want to inundate the user with instructions so that it slows down the process, but you also don’t want to over simplify the instructions leaving out important information that could be helpful.
When I write documentation for office procedures, there are standard items that I like to include when applicable:
- Process Name
- Person/Department Responsible
- Resources Used
Writing down the basic steps is a great place to start. Once you have the basics covered, additional information can be added to help the user understand why the process has been developed and additional understanding regarding various steps in the process and why they are important. This information could seem very simplistic to some, others may get lost at the first turn. Over time, people forget what numbers mean, and with changes in personnel some information gets lost in the transition from one to another. I have worked for corporations that change their staff every year or two. It is not surprising that after 5 years, some of the jobs just weren’t completed anymore because the training time was short and steps got missed. In others, the staff just followed the steps without ever understanding why the steps were important in the process.
Processes in other parts of the corporation will change over time, and some steps that are required now may not be required in the future. Have you ever asked someone why they’re doing something and their answer is “ That is the way it has always been done”? They don’t know why. They are just following the steps. After some investigation, you find that the work is not required anymore and that it was replaced by a new program or you find that the person receiving the report throws it in the garbage because they have a better report.
Documentation should not be something that you do and throw in a binder and forget about it. Once written, it should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. It is important to keep the maps current.
Review of documentation could include:
- Communication with other departments linked to the process
- Review inputs/outputs
- Check for advances in technology that can improve the process
- Revisions for changes in procedures
- Additional controls for accuracy
- Additional explanations related to troubleshooting or “caution” items
- Communication with other departments who perform similar procedures, searching for new ideas, new ways to save time/money
- Watch for duplication of effort or if processes can be combined to save time
Documentation varies from one sector to the next, and will vary depending on how it is to be used and by whom. One thing that can be agreed upon is that documentation is important to help ensure quality results, reduce risk and maintain a standard level of performance. It is also one of those jobs that gets the least amount of recognition until something happens and it isn’t up to date.
Pave the road to success by ensuring your documentation is timely, accurate and reviewed regularly to ensure continuous standards of excellence.