How to ask for procedure changes in your workplace

Last week I purchased an IKEA wardrobe. After bringing home all the necessary pieces, I realized I forgot in my car the instruction manual. The first thing I though was: “well, it won’t be that difficult!”, but after unpacking all the pieces I rapidly changed my mind, it was clearly too complicated without the instructions. The manual was as important as the pieces, it was the key to execute successfully a simple procedure, and consequently the solution to the clothes-on-the-ground problem in my bedroom.

IKEA Billy Instructions Manual

I am amazed in front of the IKEA instructions manual. Graphics are certainly immediate, but what delights me the most is their ability to split something into pieces and design a procedure to compose it back quickly, with the lowest amount of mental weight. They don’t ask people to be woodworkers or carpenters, but nevertheless they give you the reward for composing your own furniture (which is, according to some behavioural scientists, one of the reason driving their global success).

IKEA is very good delivering procedures to their customers, I think they should be taken as example. Because even if you don’t have to teach your customers like they do, you’ll certainly have to teach your employees or colleagues, so this ability is definitely one of the critical aspects of your company.

But what is a procedure?

A procedure is a serie of steps taken to accomplish an end.

Procedures are different than processes and policies. A process in the high level version of a procedure, a way to do something expressed with high level concepts. A procedure describes instead the steps to take, in detail, to reach a particular outcome. We can freely define the procedure as an implementation of a process.
Policies instead are the laws or guideline that drives processes and procedures.

A good procedure has the following properties:

  1. it has been written
  2. it has been tested extensively
  3. it is acknowledged by the people using it as best practice

Everytime the process or the policies change, you’ll begin from step 1, the procedure should be updated and rethinked, possibly from scratch. Otherwise with time you will end up patching here and there something built for different requirements.

The good and bads

Procedures drive people towards efficiency and towards a reduction of time wasted. They help achieving near perfect results without asking people to be expert about something. They become best-practices after being written, tested and acknowledged.

A bad procedure slows down the ability of the company to adapt to changes and decrease the value/time ratio. It also has a negatives social impacts, it demoralizes and tire people, raise the frustration and the feeling that their time is not well spent or worthless.

In your workplace you may experience:

  • bad written or not written procedures
  • procedures designed with different requirements than the current ones
  • procedures that are the result of patching here and there an old, already existing procedure. This is really bad and usually turns into a thousand steps procedure, the results of the thousand iterations done on it
  • procedures that consists into naive solutions for problems that have already been solved efficiently by someone else in the world

If this is happening, you have the responsiblity to act, because bad procedures won’t be usually discovered and fixed by your boss. Independently from your company role, whether you are following a procedure, you are sharing the responsibility of taking care of it.
You can take care saying that something is wrong, but I’ll warn you, to be effective you can’t only show the problem, you also have to provide a solution.

A framework to change them

For this reason I’d like to show my personal framework to improve procedures in workplaces, as a result of the experience I did in the past. It definitely helped me multiple times and I find it generally well accepted between coworkers.

  1. I write the current procedure
  2. I ask people if what you have written is correct. This way I end up realizing if the procedure is actually a procedure or something that people do in different ways without knowing what others are doing.
  3. With something in my hands that represent the current status and is recognized by all the involved people, I start writing my proposal, including:
    • motivations
    • what’s wrong with the previous procedure
    • which things you think the team will end up doing better and why
    • an idea for testing the new procedure in a safe way
    • the necessary cost to adopt it
  4. I share the proposal with coworkers to get feedbacks and questions
  5. I integrate the document with a FAQ section, that I update every time I get questions and feedbacks
  6. When I feel ready, I officially present the procedure to the team involved with the purpose of testing it

The process is not designed to be fast, but instead to be inclusive, it doesn’t go over someone’s head and it gives you the opportunity to collect the maximum amount of feedbacks. Being inclusive is extremely important, because the more people contributes to your proposal, the more the new procedure will be recognized as the contribution of many, instead of the proposal of one. This is not a matter of glory after all, it doesn’t matter if you are employee #1, the son of the boss or the last hire, it’s just a polite way to successfully bring innovation and good practices to your workplace.

Conclusions

Procedures are the real heartbeat of an organization, company or group. But unlike processes, they describe the lower level implementation of a process so the people using them should be responsible for their efficiency.
As I’ll get really angry everytime I realise I’m spending time doing silly things, I started working on a framework to propose innovation and changes to existing procedures, trying to maximize the chances of success.
Hopefully this will help you too, let me know your experience.

About Dario Ghilardi

Dario Ghilardi
Passionate software engineering consultant, aspiring trail runner, traveler. Insanely affected by lifelong learning.

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