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What are the benefits of having written guidance for processes and procedures?

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Without clear guidance, each person does what he or she thinks is best, which yields a high degree of variability. The more variable our process is, the more likely that some of the outcomes will be outside of our acceptable range. Following written guidance keeps the outcomes consistent and repeatable.

Another reason we need to write down the guidance for how we use our processes is that the guidance then becomes part of our collective organizational knowledge. Without some way to store our organizational knowledge, how can we improve? Limited access to our organizational knowledge prevents us from growing our intelligence. If we strive to be a learning organization, we need to keep getting smarter, and every time we learn something, we need someplace to store that knowledge.

In our organizations, knowledge is typically stored in four main places:

  • The brains of our workforce
  • The training program
  • The design of the workplace
  • The processes, procedures, and written guidance

We hire smart people who have good skills, adequate knowledge stored in their brains, and positive prior experience. Then we transfer specific knowledge to them from our training program, where we have stored knowledge in the curriculums and course material. Next, we make sure that our workplace and equipment are designed to help people know what to do. Perhaps most important, we store our knowledge, step-by-step instructions, cautions, warnings, and expectations in our written guidance—our policies, procedures, and job aids.

-Kenneth R. Rohde

(August 2012)