SOPs

How to Write a Procedure: An 8-Step Guide for Leaders

Standardizing and socializing procedures is no easy task. But we’ve nailed it. Here’s how you get your team on board and write great procedures.

Introduction

Take the product management process. Each of its steps — from idea management to performance analytics — can be done in various ways. To avoid a mess in your team’s actions, you need clear, documented procedures that everyone sticks to. 

Yet writing up the organization’s procedures will take effort from you and your team. It’s not something you could do in a few hours or even days.

If we could guess — that’s probably one of the reasons you don’t already have written procedures in place. 

It’s hard to get people to spend a lot of time creating (seemingly) boring documentation. 

Unless you’ve communicated its importance and provided them with all the tools to streamline the process. 

This guide has all you need to get your team on board with procedure documentation and create procedures that improve productivity — not hurt it. 

What is a procedure?

A procedure is an established way of performing a task to get a predictable result. Any activity your team members do as a part of their work routines is a procedure.

Organizations standardize and document procedures to improve employee productivity and drive predictable outcomes. 

Written procedures are also known as standard operating procedures (SOPs). Typically, you can access these in an internal knowledge base. 

In DevOps teams, for example, the following procedures take place most often:

  • Committing new code.
  • Writing tickets.
  • Cross-team communication (e.g. getting tasks from designers).
  • Collecting feedback from users.
  • Handling customer complaints.

These are just a few examples of procedures that benefit from standardization. 

Below you’ll see more specific illustrations of documented procedures in action. But for now, let’s help you communicate the value of formal procedure documentation to your team.

Why are documented procedures so vital?

Why bother with boring documentation when you can just do the work? 

This is the key question, especially for teams operating for some time without any procedures in place… and doing things well. 

You can’t create documentation alone. So you need to explain to everyone affected by the new initiative (most likely, it’s everyone on your team) why they should allocate a few hours of their work routine to standardizing procedures they seem to have nailed.

Use the arguments below to convince your team to get involved in writing and, most importantly, follow procedures that will improve their productivity and make work happier. 

They eliminate double-work

Poor processes lead to mistakes — not to mention double-work in attempts to fix them. With standard procedures, your employees will always have predictable results and avoid the dreaded path of trial-and-error.

Contrary to constant fire-fighting and troubleshooting, work achievements and stable progress will add to your team’s morale and loyalty, creating a healthier organizational culture. 

They improve collaboration

A lack of clearly defined roles is still one of the most common reasons for conflicts in organizations. Not knowing where one person’s responsibilities end and another starts, employees will inevitably overdo or underdo, causing role conflicts and an unhealthy work environment.

As you write up procedures, you’ll end up clarifying roles and responsibilities in your team. This simple step of documenting who does what will reduce tension in the workplace and create a ground for effective collaboration. And according to McKinsey, team collaboration creates “more opportunities for collaboration and impact.”

They help onboard new employees

Growing companies need documented procedures to onboard new employees. 

Instead of spending hours guiding new hires through their roles and responsibilities, you can provide them with a knowledge base where all the procedures are explained step-by-step. 

Such an approach saves time for your senior-level employees and improves the onboarding process's effectiveness. It’s more difficult to process new information when you hear it once than when you have it written and can get back to it whenever you need it.

They facilitate work handover

Well-organized documentation is the best way to preserve and transfer knowledge from people leaving their roles to the ones who will take them on. 

By documenting procedures as they develop, your subject matter experts will create a comprehensive knowledge base that anyone can access without actually reaching out to them. And when they leave (yes, they will), you won’t need to burden them with one more task on their to-do list  — like documenting every procedure they’ve ever developed. 

They foster proactivity

Which team would be more proactive — the one where members can easily access the necessary information to complete work or where people need to ping senior-level colleagues every time they see with an unfamiliar task?

Hopefully, you agree that the prize goes to the first team. Why does it happen?

To upskill, employees must nail the processes they haven’t performed yet. Unless there are procedures, you can only gain that knowledge from more experienced colleagues. They’ll ask once or twice, but eventually, they’ll end up feeling intrusive with their questions and stop making an effort. 

Written procedures help to build teams that aren’t afraid of acting proactively. If you offer this one argument to your leadership team, you have them on board. 

What a procedure outline looks like

When you get started, you need a template to create a consistent structure for all your procedures. 

Otherwise, each stakeholder would build a procedure layout based on their own vision, leading to a huge mess in your documentation.

You can choose from different formats to create procedures. The most common types of procedures are flowcharts, hierarchical steps and step-by-step instructions

But whichever format you choose, your procedure outline will have the following:

  • Title: A concise, one-sentence description of the procedure.
  • Identification: Names of a person who owns the document and the one who approved it, the date of the document creation and information on subsequent updates.
  • Purpose: A brief description of the ultimate goal of the procedure.
  • Scope: When the procedure is relevant and what’s needed to perform it successfully.
  • Responsibilities: Roles that have primary responsibilities in the procedure.
  • Procedure: The procedure itself. It may follow one of the formats listed above.
  • References: Links to any helpful information related to the procedure directly or indirectly. 

Successful procedure examples

Here are some stunning examples you might want to steal.

New employee onboarding procedure 

Whether you hire a new employee every week or year, you need a standard procedure for onboarding them. Below is a procedure example you can offer to your new hires to help them get up to speed faster.

Note: We made this template with Scribe Pages. It’s basically the easiest way to share any procedure fast, without much manual effort. You can include Scribes (i.e. auto-generated step-by-step guides), videos and pictures on a Page. 

Check out this Page in action.

Ticket submission request procedure

Your tech team must be getting tickets from people taking different roles in different departments. To avoid a mess, create a written procedure for everyone who wants to submit a ticket to follow. 

Here’s what this procedure might look like.

Version control management procedure

In IT, version control is the process of tracking and managing changes to software code. To introduce new tech team members to your version control management process, you’ll need the following procedure template.

A guide to writing strong procedures

Ready to write up your own procedures? Follow these eight simple steps to enable your team to create stunning procedures that stick.

1. Use documentation software 

Creating step-by-step instructions manually eats up a lot of time. Before you start, it’s good to think of how you can optimize this time-consuming process. Automation software will help. 

Add these tools to your tech stack to facilitate procedure standardization: 

  • Scribe will automatically generate process docs while you work. Turn on the tool and get a visual step-by-step guide with screenshots and text. 
  • Loom videos will be a perfect addition to your Scribes. Record quick videos with Loom and embed them in your Scribe Pages.
  • Notion is an online workspace where your team can manage projects and transfer knowledge. If you work with Scribe, you can embed resulting procedures into your knowledge base solution or work management platform like Notion.

With these three tools (or their alternatives), you’ll build a consistent and effective workflow for creating and socializing new procedures.

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2. Involve stakeholders

Don’t try to carry out the task yourself. First off, you might not have hands-on experience with each and every procedure. Secondly, involving team members in the process will make it easier to socialize and adopt new documentation.

Think of subject matter experts you might share the task with. Socialize the idea with them. Listen to their opinions and work on developing the workflow together. 

Once you have the stakeholders on board, meet with the entire team to communicate the upcoming changes and answer any arising questions.

3. Identify repetitive procedures and process gaps

Together with the stakeholders, write up a list of procedures worth documenting. Start with the ones you deal with most often. Observe your team’s daily routines and then proceed to less common events (e.g., onboarding and offboarding).

At this stage, you may also identify process gaps and develop completely new procedures. You must have an idea of where your teams aren’t effective enough — look into those areas and come up with hypotheses on what procedures might help you improve the situation. Add them to the list alongside existing procedures.

4. Categorize procedures 

When you have a list of procedures to be documented, group them based on the common features. You can categorize procedures based on urgency, role, use case, complexity or any other factor. It will help you to prioritize work, assign tasks to the most relevant people, and most importantly, create templates that best fit each specific category.

5. Create a standard layout for each category

Of course, you can’t have one layout for such drastically different procedures as employee onboarding and version control. But once you categorize your procedures, you can create separate templates for each category.

Having consistent layouts for your procedures will make it easier to create and navigate the documentation. You’re not limited in the choice of the structure for your procedures, but these are the most common formats used by organizations:

  • Step-by-step: Perfect for straightforward processes.
  • Hierarchical: Used when the procedure requires decision-making and might involve several scenarios.
  • Flowchart: Good for outlining complex procedures that benefit from visual representation.

Pick a format, remember the must-have procedure components outlined earlier in this guide (i.e. title, identification, scope, etc.) and create a layout that’s easy to build on. 

6. Write down the style guidelines

Mind that you won’t be working with a team of experienced writers. If you develop procedures for a tech team, you’ll most likely have developers and project managers working on your documentation. These people are great at what they do, but they don’t have to know how to create good-looking texts. It’s you who should give them the guidelines.

Develop style and formatting guidelines, specifying your company’s tone of voice as well as formatting, spacing, punctuation and other rules.

7. Write up the procedures

Time to get to writing. Create a draft, add visuals and record videos if needed. When documenting procedures that are performed in a browser, use an automation solution like Scribe to capture workflows on the fly. 

To not get stuck in the process, automate it whenever it’s possible. Use a layout you’ve built earlier to create consistent procedures.

8. Deploy documented procedures

Made it successfully through all the seven steps? Great. Yet it’s not the end. It’s only the beginning of an exciting process called ‘procedure adoption.’

Now you should deploy procedures and encourage your team to actually follow them. It’s good to host a workshop where you’d explain how to use new documentation and stress its importance once again.

Publish your procedures on a resource that’s easily accessible by everyone on your team, regulate access to sensitive documents and link to it across your communication channels (e.g. Slack) and an internal knowledge base.

As time goes by, collect feedback on the procedures from the team. It will help you to identify more process gaps and create better procedures that will improve team effectiveness. Don’t stick to established procedures for years if it doesn’t make sense. 

Still have no procedures in place?

Written procedures increase productivity and eliminate conflicts in the workplace. Once you’ve managed to communicate the value of clear procedures to your team, it’s easy to create ones with a quality toolkit at hand.