Working Procedures: Criticism and Objections

Working Procedures: Criticism and Objections

Working Procedures: Dealing with the Dark Side of Procedures
The Dark Side of Procedures

Last time I told you that I use Working Procedures to manage some of the processes in my business. In that post I touched on one objection to the approach, but there are others which I intend to address.

Common objections to using Working Procedures, and my responses

Here are the objections that were raised when I started using Working Procedures. I phrased some of them as rhetorical questions, and some were even raised by me!

  • I don’t have time to write it down – I mentioned this last time, but I’ll deal with it at more length here. This was one of my objections. I’ve found that I do have time. This morning I encountered a task which I only do once a year. I couldn’t remember the details. This time I wrote down what I needed to do as I did it and turned it into a procedure. The very act of writing it down reminded me of something I had overlooked. Job done!
  • You can’t think of all the procedures in advance –No you can’t and I don’t think you should try. I prefer to create the first version of the procedure when I need it.
  • You can’t think of all the exceptions in advance – Agreed! Instead regard the procedures as work-in-progress. Each time you use a procedure, you test it! If you encounter a problem, then look on that as an opportunity to improve the procedure. You are going to solve the problem, why not record the solution at the same time.
  • I don’t want to be “ordering people around” – And neither do I! I want to get things done. Sam Carpenter insists that the procedures should be developed “bottom up” rather than “top down”. That way they contain what “the user” needs, rather than what someone else thinks they need.
  • Won’t they get out of date? They won’t if you keep on using them, regard the use as a test and make updates as required. Of course, you need to have some sort of approval and change-control but that needn’t be onerous.
  • Won’t the maintenance effort become a burden? I haven’t found it so. I use a mixture of a wiki and a tool called BDS (Business Documentation Software) that Sam Carpenter promotes.  I’ve included a snap-shot of one of my procedures from BDS. I’m sure that having the procedures in more than one place violates some rule or another, but it works for me!
Working Procedures: An example procedure in BDS
Example procedure from BDS


Creating and maintaining written procedures has a cost, but I believe the benefits far outweigh that cost. Also, there are some things which you might call “objections in principle”. The secret is to think about what the objections tell us and manage what we do so that we use Working Procedures more effectively and actually gain more.

Working Procedures: Benefits of doing things consistently

Working Procedures: Benefits of doing things consistently

Working Procedure Diagram
Working Procedure Diagram

I’ve been busy. One of the things which got me through the busy period was that I have “Working Procedures” for some of the boring but important tasks I have to do. Having these things documented made it much easier for me to delegate them or simply tell myself to get on and do them.

“Busy-ness” can come about for all sorts of reasons, including distractions and interruptions from the outside world and higher priority project work. In my case it was a mixture of all of these and a few more too!

I’ve always been keen on writing things down, but I sometime last year I discovered the work of Sam Carpenter and his “Work the System”.  At first I thought “Work the System” meant taking advantage of the way things worked and “cheating” in some way. That was wrong. Sam’s point is that it is easy to spend one’s time in “crisis management” or as Sam puts it – “fire killing”. . Instead, Sam proposes that we invest time in writing procedures or “maintaining the machines”. That way, over time, we will perform tasks more consistently and our performance will improve. Reading Sam’s book (and I have no connection with Sam Carpenter. I don’t expect he even knows I exist) convinced me that this was something worth trying. I tried it out and I think that it is helping me and my business be more consistent and make progressive improvements.

Working Procedures: Benefits

The benefits of using a working procedure are:

  • Nobody has to remember or research how to do the task.
  • The task is performed consistently. The way it is done this time is the same as the way it was done last time.
  • If a problem occurs, then the procedure documents what was being done (and the expected outcome)
  • The Working Procedure creates a framework for documenting the solution to a problem and therefore incrementally improving the procedure and the way we work.
  • The Working Procedure forms the basis for delegating performing the task.

Working Procedures: Candidates

I’m not that keen on maintenance and administration. I don’t think I’m alone in that either! I know maintenance and administration tasks are necessary but I used to make excuses, and put them off till tomorrow. The trouble with doing that is that a backlog builds up, especially when I’m busy. That backlog gives rise to anxiety which becomes a distraction, that’s not a good situation.

One of my Working Procedures is getting my website backed up. It isn’t difficult but it needs to be done. Now that I have it written down, I just do the procedure (or even better, give it to someone else!) and it gets done – consistently.

Working Procedures: Getting Started

Snapshot of "Website Backup" Working Procedure
Snapshot of “Website Backup” Working Procedure

I think I can hear someone saying “but I don’t have time to write the procedure”. Well, I think you do. All I did the first time was write down what I was going to do and then check off the items as I did them (and make some minor adjustments). When I was finished I saved the check-list. The next time I did a back-up I got out the procedure. The second time around it was quicker and easier, because I didn’t have to think too hard about what I had to do. The third and fourth times the task got progressively easier and what’s more, when I needed to make minor adjustments, I already had the framework for recording them.


There is almost no downside to this. Having Working Procedures, especially for the tasks which we want to avoid helps get them done. It worked for me. Trying out the approach doesn’t have to cost anything at all. If it works for you, you can do more of it. If it doesn’t work for you then you haven’t lost very much.