What’s a procedure and why you should know

A procedure refers to a set of instructions explicitly prescribed to be followed by anyone who wants to carry out a specific task or activity. Procedures indicate an organized approach to guide people through a set of activities step-by-step, establishing the right structure, framework or guidance to achieve specific objectives.

A procedure provides a systematic approach that ensures repeatability, consistency, safety and quality of results, both in the commercial and non-commercial domains. Procedures exist in virtually all sectors, including but not limited to medical, engineering, legal, financial, manufacturing, academic, and regulatory environments.

The Importance of Knowing Procedures

Procedures clarify the expectations, specifications, and limitations of a particular activity or process. Understanding the precise steps to follow to achieve a specific goal or objective is vital, as it saves time, resources, and effort. Below are some more reasons why understanding a procedure is essential:

1. Consistency of Results

Procedures provide a framework that ensures consistency of results. When people follow set procedures, they can deliver quality and reliable outcomes again and again. By repeating the same steps, the results are consistent, and the likelihood of errors is minimized. With procedures, everyone involved in a particular process or project is on the same page.

2. Safety

Some procedures, particularly in the chemical, pharmaceutical and medical sectors, are critical to the safety and well-being of people. Understanding SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) of these activities is crucial since it prevents accidents or human error while maintaining quality standards.

3. Legal compliance

Understanding a procedure ensures that there is compliance with specific legal requirements. For example, governments have different procedures set for people to follow when applying for permits, visas, or passports. Conversely, for businesses, procedures such as those relating to taxation or employee benefits need to be followed, to remain compliant with the relevant legal regulatory bodies and avoid potential penalties.

4. Resource Optimization

Procedures save time and resources. By knowing what to do and how to do it, efficiency and efficacy are improved, and resources are optimized. For example, in manufacturing, understanding the stages involved in production, when to automate specific processes and when to conduct manual checks, can eliminate waste and reduce production times.

5. Training and Development

Procedures assist in training and personnel development. Without a procedure, training can become sporadic, and there is no consistent approach to ensuring staff members understand and can carry out specific tasks or activities. New employees can follow clear and established instructions to learn new tasks more effectively, while existing staff can use updated procedures to refresh their knowledge.

How are Procedures Classified?

Procedures can be classified in various ways.

1. By Formality

Procedures can be classified according to formality either as formal or informal. Formal procedures are structured, with a systematic approach to ensure that procedures are followed with no variation. On the other hand, informal procedures are flexible and offer room for interpretation.

2. By Origin

Procedures can be classified according to origin either as written or verbal. Written procedures are detailed, precise, and concise, and are relied on to demonstrate compliance or quality, while verbal procedures are communicated through personal interaction, email or phone calls, and are dependent more on long-standing working relationships or trust.

3. By Duration

Procedures can also be classified according to duration either as permanent or temporary. Permanent procedures are established to remain operational in perpetuity, while temporary procedures are used for a specific duration.

Attributes of Procedures

Procedures possess unique attributes that make them stand out. They include the following:

1. Clarity

Procedures should be clear, concise, and easy to comprehend. The purpose of the procedure should be stated explicitly while the steps that need to be followed should be easy to understand, so anyone can follow them.

2. Consistency

Procedures should be unambiguous and consistent. The language used in the instructions, format, and style of documentation should be consistent to ensure continuity, safety, and repeatability of results.

3. Flexibility

Procedures should offer flexibility, based on the situation or person involved. For instance, procedures are dependent on the context in which they’re employed.

4. Relevance

Procedures must be relevant to the task or activity to which they apply. Procedures should add value and relevance to the task or activity. Therefore, the procedure should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are still relevant, adequate and accurate.

Differences Between Procedure and Policy

Procedures and policies are related but different concepts. Understanding these differences is crucial as it affects their context and application. Here are some of the differences between policies and procedures.

1. Function

Policies serve as a guide for decisions and actions based on organizational philosophy, whereas procedures outline how policies should be executed or implemented in specific situations.

2. Scope

Policies are inclusive and apply to everyone within the organization, while procedures are more task-specific and apply to the scope of the particular activity.

3. Level of Detail

Policies are not detailed and may not need too many specifics, while procedures require more intricate and detailed instructions to ensure repeatability, accuracy and consistency.

4. Flexibility

Procedures are created based on policies but are more flexible since situations might arise where interpretation can be required, and more relaxed application may be necessary. Conversely, policies are rigid and set timelessly.

Importance of Monitoring Procedures

Creating and establishing a procedure is not enough; there should be a means by which they are reviewed and monitored. Monitoring procedures is an ongoing process that ensures procedures remain efficient and effective. Procedure monitoring is a significant step to understand how well employees follow the laid-down instructions and make informed decisions. Some reasons why procedures need to be monitored are:

1. Quality Control and Assurance

Monitoring procedures facilitate quality control and assurance. Regular monitoring of procedures will help identify areas that require improved accuracy or require additional procedures that may be needed to improve the quality of results.

2. Compliance

Monitoring and review of procedures ensure compliance with regulations and quality standards. By ensuring compliance, the outcome of the activity meets the standard set by governing bodies or within the organization.

3. Efficiency

Procedure monitoring assists in identifying redundant or obsolete procedures, making it easy to update the procedures to ensure that the business operation remains efficient.

4. Staff Training and Development

Monitoring procedures can identify training requirements for employees. Training needs may be identified as procedural discrepancies, common errors or deviations from expected outcomes. Continuous monitoring can help improve the performances of employees.

How to Create a Procedure

Creating a procedure is systematic and requires several steps. Here are some of the basic steps necessary for creating a method:

1. Understand the Activity

The first step is to identify the activity, task or process that needs a procedure. Understanding the process is vital to create a procedure that is accurate, detailed and relevant.

2. Identify Key Holding Points

Holding points are crucial junctures in a process where a design decision or a move is not irreversible but requires input from other parts of the process. Identifying these points can help in developing effective procedures.

3. Determine the User of the Procedure

Procedures should be designed with the end-users in mind. Therefore, determining the end-users of the processes is critical.

4. Draft the Procedure in a Standardized Format

A standardized format makes the procedure easy to read and follow, and it’s crucial to document every step in the right order.

5. Review the Procedure

Reviewing the procedure is a crucial step as it ensures that the procedures are accurate, detailed and relevant to the specific activity.


Procedures form an integral part of most activities, and understanding procedures’ significance is critical. Procedures help eliminate errors, achieve consistent results, ensure safety, and enable compliance with regulations. Despite the formal or informal procedure, being created, understanding the process’s attributes, and monitoring a procedure is critical to achieve maximal benefits.

Questions and Answers

  • Q: What is a procedure?
  • A: A procedure is defined as a set of instructions explicitly prescribed to be followed by anyone who wants to carry out a specific task or activity.
  • Q: Why is it important to understand procedures?
  • A: Understanding procedures is critical as it ensures repeatability, consistency, safety, and quality of results, both in commercial and non-commercial domains.
  • Q: How are procedures classified?
  • A: Procedures can be classified according to their formality, origin, and duration.
  • Q: What’s the difference between a procedure and a policy?
  • A: Policies serve as a guide for decision-making and actions based on the organization’s philosophy, while procedures outline how policies should be executed or implemented in specific situations.
  • Q: How do you create a procedure?
  • A: Creating a procedure is a systematic process that includes understanding the activity, identifying key holding points, determining the user of the procedure, drafting the procedure in a standardized format, and reviewing the procedure.


  • Rutherford, B. (2008). Developing Proper Procedures for Business Management. Journal of Operational Research Society, 59(10), 1244-1252.
  • Procedure Design (2021). Developing a Business Procedure. Retrieved from https://www.proceduredesign.com/.
  • Sakalas, A. (2011). Procedures and Policies: In Historical Analysis of Politics, Economies, Social and Educational Systems. Journal of Management History, 17(3), 324-342.

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