7 Steps to Documenting Complex Office Procedures and Systems

Mar 6, 2024 | Administrative Professionals, Procedures, Productivity

Procedures and systems go hand in hand.

A procedure is a documented, step-by-step list of instructions that guides a person through a specific task from start to finish.

A system is a series of procedures that all work together to accomplish larger, more complex tasks and projects.

For example, when we do webinars, there are things that happen before the webinar to set it up, tasks we need to perform the day of the event, and post-event procedures for adding the replay to our online training center.

This series of procedures, forms, templates, and checklists combines to create our system for producing new training webinars.

Documenting complex office systems and procedures is crucial for ensuring consistency, efficiency, and continuity within an organization. Here are some best practices for creating clear, comprehensive, and accessible documentation:

  1. Create a comprehensive outline of the procedure. Begin with a brain dump of the process from start to finish. If possible, capture the details as you complete the task.
  2. Identify segments in the procedure to break it down into smaller parts. For longer, more complex procedures, you’ll see natural sections you can break the procedure into. For example, if you help manage monthly staff meetings or quarterly board meetings, procedures for these events can be broken down into smaller parts with specific procedures, checklists, and templates you use to accomplish it.
  3. Document the step-by-step details for each section.
  4. Use or create visual aids. Color code your documentation. Create flow charts and diagrams, if helpful. Add screenshots and videos to support all learning styles who may be referring to this procedure.
  5. Make it easy to read. Use numbers for steps that must be completed in a specific order. Use bullets for information that is important for someone to know. Bullets make text easier to scan when we are in a hurry. Use Information Mapping® to format your documents so they are easy to read and find information.
  6. Test your procedure. Once you draft a procedure, go through the entire process and follow only the written instructions. If you can successfully complete the task, you’re almost done. If you find steps are missing, update the procedure as you go. (It can also be helpful to have someone else test it. This eliminates the risk of unknowingly doing a step yourself.)
  7. Finalize the procedure. When you complete all of these steps and can successfully accomplish the task, your procedure is complete. Save it to the designated location and communicate the completion of it to those who will need to access it.

Remember, once you create a procedure or a system, it’s not set in stone. It may go through several evolutions as you discover ways to make it easier, clearer, or more efficient.

Below is an example procedure for the All Things Admin team on how to add a new Training On Demand course to LearnDash. This is a 12-page procedure today. It initially was a six-page procedure that we continued to edit and improve over time, so it was more user friendly for everyone who references it.

The first section of this procedure is called prerequisites. It’s the list of things that must be completed before starting the LearnDash course setup steps. This was the first draft of this section of the procedure:

This was a good start, but it wasn’t nearly detailed enough for those on my team who were not as familiar with the KEAP or Canva programs.

After testing and completing the process a few times, this section expanded to this:

To improve this section of the procedure, the following things were added:

  • Video demo links
  • Sample template links
  • Bookmark links to different sections of the document to make it easier to jump from place to place
  • Styles in Microsoft Word so it can be easily navigated in outline view
  • Graphics to illustrate the type of image to create or look for in our Canva library
  • Bolded keywords to make it easier to scan

As this procedure was tested for each new course set-up, we added details and points of clarification for each step of the process.

Sometimes, one person is doing all these steps. Other times, we need to divide and conquer. We’ve broken the prerequisite section down in such a way that each individual step could be delegated to a different member of my team.

Michelle could do step 1. Mary – step 2. Amber – step 3. Brit  – step 4. Tina – step 5. Julie – step 6. Once step 1 is complete, steps 2, 3, and 4 can be completed simultaneously. These types of notes can also be added to your documentation to make them even more helpful.

For the novice, systems and procedures can seem complicated and troublesome. But once you understand the basics and build your knowledge base, it becomes second nature. From the simple to the most complex, systems and procedures make your job easier than ever!

 

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© 2024 Julie Perrine International, LLC

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Julie Perrine is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity, and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures, and Prove Your Skills! With a Powerful Professional Portfolio.

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