2 Simple Activities to Help You Discover Your Procedures

Posted by Jonathan DeVore

Defining procedures is difficult, but if you want to successfully train new users, it’s something that needs to be done.

Three and a half years ago, I experienced this firsthand. I began working for an organization, and was assigned to replace an employee who was leaving. I remember sitting down with them so they could show me how to do their job. But after an hour of chatting, I still didn’t know what I would to be doing - I didn’t get a list of tasks, nor did I receive any standard operating procedures.

I was going to have to learn through trial and error.

This is pretty typical

I've realized this is pretty typical of what happens in a lot of organizations. After a few years of being in operations, workers just know what needs to be done and how to do it. They adapt to changes in their position, changes in projects, and changes in the systems and applications used. After a while, there are no standard procedures - everybody is doing it their own way.

For a while, this type of situation works just fine - those who have been around know what to do and how to do it, and everything functions pretty smoothly. It’s not until there is a big change that anybody realizes there might be a problem.

Big changes that create problems

That big change could be employee turnover - where all of a sudden, that thing that just took care of itself is no longer taking care of itself (because the person who took care of it is gone).

Or it could be the hiring of new employees - you notice new-hires are just sitting around because nobody knows what they should be doing.

Or it could be the implementation of a new platform - the data you have is incomplete or inaccurate because your organization is just a bunch of individuals doing operations their own way.

How do you discover your procedures?

So how do you go about discovering and defining procedures? Easy:

  1. Observe what people are doing
  2. Take notes

Easier said than done

While the answer may be easy, you’ll soon notice that it’s certainly not easy to do. It’s kind of like asking “how do I get in shape?” That answer is easy, too:

  1. Exercise
  2. Diet

But doing those two things can be a big challenge. And just like exercising, doing this on your own is possible - but if you struggle, you should get a personal trainer (i.e. consultant) to help you.

Tips for observing

Here are some ideas for how you could observe what users are doing:

  • Ask workers what they do
  • Look over their shoulder as they work
  • Record their screen
  • Have them walk you through a process as you do it

Don't be afraid to be like Columbo - ask a lot of questions and don't leave until things make sense.

Tips for taking notes

Here are some ideas on how to take notes:

  • Write a narrative
  • Make a checklist
  • Create a flowchart

The important thing with taking notes is to make them easy to review when you go over them with an employee or a manager for verification.

Don't stop 'til you get enough

Keep working at this until you have a good understanding of what people are doing and how they are doing it. Understanding the procedures isn't the only thing you need to do to improve your training, but it is the first step.

So go out there and do the hard part - talk with your staff and take notes until you understand what’s going on.  

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