While I deal with many Facilities clients who have little if any documented processes, policies and procedures, simply writing detailed documents isn’t the answer.
Having them will definitely improve results, improve consistency, enable training and cross-training, make it easier for someone to fill in for an absence and provide a means of explaining / defending your approach to many controversial or unpopular policies. When doing operational reviews for clients, not having documented procedures is one of the biggest issues I find.
Unfortunately, if they are long and difficult to follow, they won’t achieve these results, they will only absorb your time and take up space.I remember when I first joined Bell Canada in the Real Estate department almost 20 years ago. As a new manager, I was treated to valuable training that I think has been the victim of economic hardships in most companies these days. Leadership and Management skills are critical to a Facilities career. One of those training sessions included a talk from an Executive VP.
At the time, we had a huge number of ‘General Circulars’ or GC’s to guide everyone in just about everything. This was a time (yes, 20 years ago) when competition and market pressures was changing the business. He basically said to ignore much of the detail, consider the intent and use our judgment when applying them. It seems they were too constrictive and dampening entrepreneurship and creative thinking. There was a whole department devoted to managing them and you had to go down to a library to get a copy. This was just before the internet.
Constantly looking for better ways to do things, I saw the author interviewed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (the most entertaining source of news on TV) . As a result, I picked up a copy and just finished reading it. It’s “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande. It’s subtitled ‘how to get things right’
I’ve always been an advocate for keeping things short and simple so they are useable, but this book is pushing me towards even more simplicity. Many people think more is better. A long procedure document is better. A long business case is better. A long strategic plan is better. Unfortunately, in many cases, its more for show than for results. It falls into the category that ‘more is better’ and the heavier it is, the more value it has to be.
In the book, Mr. Gawande talks about the value of a simple checklist. His argument is compelling, with very clear examples where a simple checklist gets results even for seasoned specialists who supposedly know what to do in every situation. Of course the most compelling comparison is for Pilots, who rely on checklists for every contingency even though they receive a great deal of training.
Mr. Gawande discusses examples of using a simple checklist in the operating room and reducing infections and other medical errors by significant margins. Considering the impact on people’s lives, it’s stunning and shows that even the most highly trained and skilled professionals can benefit from a checklist.
After many tests and trials, he discovered that the simplest, most basic and easiest to use checklists had the most impact. Two pages of checklist items won’t do it.
Through my own experience in using and writing process and procedure documents in Facilities Management, including so-called ‘best practices’ and coupled with research and what I learned from ‘The Checklist Manifesto’, I’ve developed key principles for developing procedures and practices.
1. Develop them with input from users
Real world experience beats theory every time. What you think is being done by your technicians, facility managers, planners, call center staff, etc. may not match what you think they should be doing for very good logistical reasons. And if it’s being done wrong in the field, understanding why is the best way to change it in your practice and get buy-in from the field.
2. Keep them short and simple
That doesn’t mean dumbing them down, it means making them easier to use by busy people with little time to read long documents. It’s especially important for staff who aren’t sitting at a desk all the time – for technicians, they don’t want to drag along big documents.
3. Use a format that is logical, visually easy to follow and quickly provide the needed information
This means simple flow charts, tables, meaningful headings, etc. I use a concept called ‘Information Mapping’ to do this. MS Word provides lots of easy techniques that make this easier to do than you think. Try to get away from a simple text based, paragraph dominated structure.
4. Include checklists
Lessons from Mr. Gawande’s book prove that these are powerful ways to ensure everything that needs to be done is done, even by people with years of experience and training. Paragraphs, narrative and other formats aren’t as effective. Using his experience as a guide, sit down with your facilities staff and develop checklists that have the items that really matter, not every thing you can think of. With their input, you are more likely to get buy-in and end up with a better final product.
5. Make them easy to access
If nobody sees them or if they aren’t easy to reference when needed, they won’t do any good. This means easy to find on your company server, logically grouped and easy to access. For paper copies, use a binder or booklet format with tabs that have the common activities, processes, etc. listed. Check with the users to figure this out. Provide a quick reference with the most common issues and a summary with the overall process and references to each step that’s broken out into more detail. For simple processes (which could include safety guidelines) provide simple pocket sized reference cards. Laminate them so they will stand up to field use.
If you follow these five principles, your procedures and practices are more likely to be helpful to your Facilities services function and your staff and get the results you expect.