My boss always laughs and says that I should name my first book, All My Circuses, All My Monkeys. Many days, I tend to agree with him. What I do for a living can look like a heck of a lot of fun, what with the travel and suspended world of events, but in reality, it’s a lot of strategy and tactics wrapped up with lots of cats. I say this with much love and respect to those cats, because I firmly believe that passionate people make passionate things. However, the reality of it is that to execute a flawless event that has a lot of personalities attached to it, it takes a lot of patience and at times a masochistic attitude that embraces the flying monkeys.
In addition, I’ve chosen to work with associations, which is kind of its own special ecosystem. We have members for clients, and the events and programs we put on with and for our members have a lot of emotion and culture imbued in them. Each one we choose to do must represent what’s new and forward thinking in that particular association’s industry, while also not disturbing too heavily the sacred zombie cows that pasture in the association’s culture.
Which is why I’m a big believer in the how to standard operating procedure (SOP) document (and let’s pause for a moment and laugh that there is a wiki article on what a SOP is).
I’ve seen a lack of SOP documentation darn near bring down a department. I’ve also gotten the delightful feedback one receives when you forget (or didn’t know about) a crucial part of what makes a historical portion of an event memorable for a member. Neither can be a pleasant experience, and aside from the experience for you, it also detracts value for the member as well as potentially placing your business operations at risk if the faux pas is big enough to stop members or potential members from registering, paying their dues, or participating in a future program because of the oversight.
Succession planning isn’t just for the C-Suite. In a time where layoffs, staff transitions to other organizations, and internal re-organizations are all too common, having written SOP documentation of not only how to do a thing or process, but also the who helps make it happen, why you do (or should do it), when you do it, and where you do it are crucial in helping make an association experience pop.
So, why don’t more departments or organizations do the due diligence and have the how to SOP documentation needed close at hand? Most of the time, it’s a simple time and capacity fact that the staff executing the events and programs are also the staff who need to be doing the documentation. Documentation falls by the wayside because doing the thing is sometimes more important that remembering to write down what needs to be done. It’s never an issue until it’s needed to bring a new person into the group, and by that point in time, you’re likely so desperate for the help, your group reacts rather than is proactive.
Here are 5 tips to help get your SOPs up and running, onboarded, and timely:
1. Figure out what’s most crucial and document that first
Ever heard of Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method? It works just as well for documentation. For the person putting the strategic documentation plan in place, this might take a little bit more time upfront, but will pay dividends on the back end.
Have each member of your team (this includes the volunteers you work with) identify the top five things they wish they knew more about for your highest priority projects coming up in the next 3-6 months. Start with the three most common to get documented right away and build a timeline in that allows you to take on the next top three. You’ll end up with a timeline and plan that will eventually knock out most of your documentation needs and perhaps uncover some you didn’t know about.
2. Do it as you go
I cannot repeat this enough: Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will your documentation be finished that quickly. Good documentation is tactical, with enough specifics that will help the next person who reads it, take over the job the documentation entails with minimal help if necessary. Yes, this means some of it will become outdated as soon as it’s written down, but wouldn’t you rather have enough infrastructure in place to rebuild everything if all of your staff win the lottery tomorrow, or worse the plane goes down? Do it day by day and don’t let it overwhelm you.
3. Do it in sprints
Misery shared is misery split. And when you band together as a team to do things (most people hate documentation, it ranks right up there with entering things in spreadsheets), it lessens the pain. Make it a team building activity, with food and a game that challenge one another to see who can get certain parts of the project done the quickest.
A fun way to do this is a sprint, which is a get-together of people involved in a project to give a focused development on the project. Sprints are typically from one week up to three weeks, and usually done for software development. Your documentation sprints don’t need to be that long, but they do allow you to set aside a specific time for everyone to focus on it. And you’d be surprised as some of the great memories that can come out it.
4. Use pre-planned meetings to transfer knowledge
In the medical world, surgeons train with the concept, “see one, do one, teach one“. This is also a great way to transfer knowledge for your important SOPs (and no one dies!). Have the person who wrote the documentation teach it to someone at your next staff meeting. It serves a dual purpose of reinforcing the process created for the thing and also adds depth to the team’s bench because now not just one person, but at least two people know how to do the thing.
5. Use collaborative documentation to keep your SOPs up to date
Collaboration allows you to keep the SOPs moving along as well as timely. I primarily use Google Docs with my staff, committees, vendors, etc. This is a very powerful cloud based system that allows the documentation process to be split up, especially if the SOP is complex and has multiple people who hold the knowledge for specific pieces. Not a Google or cloud based person? You can also used one of the many other real-time collaborative documenting editing programs out today. The important thing is to work on them together because no one person should hold the key to the castle.
It’s overwhelming but so worth it when you begin to get your SOP infrastructure in to place. Need a starting template? Check out an example here of a collaborative event standard operating procedure or another SOP here that shows more like technical documentation with screenshots (I’ve replaced the clickable links so you won’t zoom back to my documentation management system, but the bones are in place).
Start today and before you know it, the next time someone says they have an issue, you’ll know that all you need to worry about are the monkey permits.