P&P Policies and Procedures Consulting
P&P Policies and Procedures Consulting

Subscribe to
The Policies & Procedures Authority Newsletter

Our Resources

Policies & Procedures: Opportunities Await Technical Communicators

By Raymond E. Urgo

Founder and Manager, Policies & Procedures Special Interest Group Associate Fellow, Los Angeles Chapter

In my work as a management consultant, I often hear about the need in organizations for policies and procedures (P&P) information and talent. Statements and questions such as the following are becoming more common:

Our key people are planning to retire in a few years—that’s knowledge about our operations going out the door.
We want up-to-date information on our operating practices available on our intranet.
I lost my tech writing job in software documentation; what are the prospects for me with P&P documentation in financial services?

These quotes suggest that P&P is considered an important organizational resource, and that it holds promise as a discipline to which technical communicators can contribute their talents. Events and technologies are casting a new light on P&P and creating opportunities for technical communicators in the field of P&P communication. The discipline of P&P communication concerns the design, development, delivery, management, and use of information that relates to the principles and methods by which people affiliated with an organization perform in a consistent manner.

P&P Becoming Popular?

So what’s causing the buzz of interest in P&P? Following are brief explanations of the primary causes:

Retiring baby boomers. Long-time managers, directors, and professionals in the U.S. baby-boom generation are expected to retire in the next few years. According to a recent report by Deloitte Consulting, employers can expect to lose one-third of their workforces by 2010, and 40 percent of managers will be eligible to retire by that date. Already, employers are investing in P&P documentation projects as a means of transferring this generation’s knowledge of organizational practices to the succeeding generation.

Compliance. Regulatory compliance requires documented P&P, especially for companies seeking ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification. More recently, U.S. companies need P&P to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation concerning financial controls in publicly held companies.

Workforce training. Workforce turnovers and changes in organizational structures and processes increase the need for cross-training and just-in-time self-learning that help employees perform work properly and efficiently. When created according to principles of instructional design, P&P information enables self-paced learning and ongoing reference, thereby reducing the need for classroom training and materials.

Knowledge economy. Organizations are beginning to evolve from the maturing era of information to the dawning era of knowledge and learning. An organization with a highly developed knowledge and learning capacity can expect to have a competitive advantage. Astute leaders of formal knowledge management endeavors realize that codified P&P is a component of organizational knowledge and an efficient means of communicating their knowledge management practices.

Electronic communication. The availability of intranets and inexpensive software applications for hosting and managing P&P information is giving new credibility to the perception that P&P can offer value in organizations. Fading away are the manuals and binders of printed P&P that once collected dust on shelves. Moving in is online or electronic P&P information available at the user’s desktop terminal. These systems make it easy for users to access information and administrators to monitor its usage.

Migrating communicators. In recent years, technical communicators in the U.S. have experienced a decline in employment and business opportunities in high-technology industries due to economic downturns and offshore outsourcing. Some see P&P communication as an opportunity to refocus their documentation talents. These technical communicators are shifting from communicating practices for using high-tech products to communicating practices for following an organization’s principles and methods.

Opportunities beyond Writing P&P

Although not every organization needs or chooses to document its P&P, opportunities exist for technical communicators to document practices in countless industries, on subjects ranging from accounting to zoo management. Further, opportunities involving P&P documentation extend beyond writing and developing information.

There is a need to advise leaders of organizations on best practices, strategies, methods, and resources for developing and positioning P&P information in leading-edge ways as an organizational resource. There is a need to measure and monitor usability of P&P information and the return on investments in P&P endeavors. There is even a need to facilitate and evaluate the design and improvement of organizational practices. And, finally, there is a need to teach people how to develop P&P information, either as a primary or secondary skill.

Opportunities to Define P&P

Unfortunately, many organizations and technical communicators engage in P&P endeavors ineffectively, inefficiently, and in dated ways, whether out of habit, imitation, or ignorance. It is not unusual to hear about business losses, terminations, lawsuits, discontented users, and abandoned P&P projects. Why? Many organizations and technical communicators drift into P&P projects, often learning by their mistakes and reinventing what others already know. Also, there is a dearth of useful resources on P&P, such as publications, learning programs, consultants, educators, and competent practitioners. Those seeking books on P&P will likely find content that is too dated or traditional in approach for today’s demanding users, too elementary for complex management practices, too narrow for a meaningful impact, too industry-specific for adaptation, and authored by experts from disciplines other than communication.

The upside is a vacuum that technical communicators can fill by taking the lead in defining and contributing to P&P as a communication discipline. STC’s Polices & Procedures special interest group the world’s only organization dedicated to P&P communication, has a team of volunteers dedicated to providing opportunities for our members to develop their expertise in and promote the discipline of P&P.

Achieving Success in P&P Opportunities

To succeed in P&P opportunities, technical communicators need to develop and demonstrate their talents in analysis, documentation, consensus building, project management, strategic planning, program evaluation, and career promotion. Table 1 provides some details about the talents needed to perform P&P activities.

To capitalize on the need for P&P documentation, technical communicators must better publicize the value of their talents. They need to market their talents to organizations undergoing major changes, seeking compliance, investing in learning and knowledge management endeavors, and facing a critical loss of knowledge due to employee retirements.

Now, with a new light being cast on P&P, technical communicators have an excellent opportunity to advance their careers by broadening, refocusing, and grooming their talents for P&P endeavors. They also have a ground-floor opportunity to help define and direct P&P as a technical communication niche.

Table 1. Talents Needed for Opportunities in
Policies & Procedures Communication
Level of P&P talent Key Talents Needed to Succeed Typical Activities Performed Impact and Value to Organization

Entry

  • Info rmation gathering
  • Task analysis
  • Basic technical writing and editing
  • Gathering information from draft documents, observations, and interviews with subject experts, supervisors, and users
  • Writing, editing, and formatting task-level documents, such as standard operating procedures, work instructions, form and screen instructions, and quick reference aids
  • Assessing satisfaction of users with P&P documents
  • Operational impact
  • Improves efficiency
  • Benefits supervisors and staff

Intermediate

  • Project management
  • Needs assessment
  • Business systems analysis
  • Work simplification
  • Facilitation
  • Info rmation design
  • Instructional design
  • P&P documentation techniques
  • Planning, estimating, and managing P&P documentation development projects
  • Determining user needs
  • Analyzing business workflows, processes, tasks, and work cultures
  • Facilitating consensus among managers, subject experts, and users on what standard practices to establish
  • Recommending ways to simplify business practices
  • Planning, developing, and organizing P&P content for print and electronic manuals
  • Assessing usability and usefulness of P&P information
  • Tactical impact
  • Improves effectiveness
  • Benefits departments, management, and staff

Advanced

  • Strategic planning
  • Organizational development
  • Knowledge management
  • Content management
  • P&P program evaluation
  • Planning and managing the organization’s P&P program, including the process for developing and maintaining P&P as an organizational resource; information architecture for supporting business strategy; and talents and other resources for meeting the organization's needs
  • Promoting P&P as a learning and knowledge management endeavor
  • Recommending business improvements for organizational development
  • Assessing expected and resulting returns on investment and the value P&P information brings to the organization
  • Strategic impact
  • Ensures appropriateness (P&P efforts align or support business needs)
  • Benefits entire organization

Raymond E. Urgo, principal of Los Angeles-based Urgo & Associates, is an internationally recognized management consultant specializing in policies and procedures communication. He consults to organizations in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors; teaches P&P internationally online through UCLA Extension; and coaches technical communicators on managing their careers in P&P. He can be reached at (323) 851-6600 or rurgo@urgoconsulting.com.

Copyright 2005, Raymond E. Urgo
Urgo & Associates, Los Angeles
www.urgoconsulting.com

Published in Intercom (November 2005), the magazine of the
Society for Technical Communication

Request permission to reprint an article