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How to Document a Procedure (SOP)

By April 14, 2023May 5th, 2023Operations, systems

The key to getting more work done well is documenting how each task should be carried out, step-by-step.

Here are the steps to use to effectively document any workflow or procedure.

Overview of key steps

  1. Identify the purpose and scope of the procedure.
  2. Outline the steps or actions involved.
  3. Review, proofread, and revise.
  4. Get feedback to identify areas where the procedure may need further clarification or improvement.
  5. Keep refining the procedure as it is continually being used.

Let’s delve into how this process unfolds in a typical solo or small law firm practice.

Pick a procedure to document

Ideally, you want to start with a workflow that is:

  • Repetitive
  • Significant
  • Has concrete action-steps
  • Fairly short & simple

If it’s repetitive, that will allow you to get feedback more quickly. And it will make the documentation more valuable because it’s being used more often.

Documenting a significant workflow will motivate you more than trying to document a simple but trivial workflow. And yet, you must be careful not to reach for the stars too quickly.

Start with a simple outline

Start by brainstorming the workflow in outline form, using bullet points.

An example

  • Set up new client records in practice management software
  • Create a new record for the client
  • Insert contact information
  • Associate client record with existing matter
  • If it’s a new matter, create a new matter and then associate the client record
  • Add important deadlines or milestones for the matter

After brainstorming, you need to consider another dimension of doing work.

Gathering Resources

In many cases, a workflow will require the person doing it to gather resources to do the work.

For example, if you’re asking someone to login to your website to post content or make changes, they will need to have:

  1. The URL of the website admin login
  2. The username to use to log in
  3. A valid password for that username

Or they may need access to documents, which hopefully are in digital form because that makes it easy to share a link to the documents. This means that links can also be resources.

Example of a good SOP

If you want to see what a well-documented procedure looks like for evaluating prospective clients, click here.

That procedure was documented using a tool called SweetProcess, which is the best SOP tool for solo & small-firm attorneys for reasons explained here.

Bottom line

Figuring out the optimal documentation for a workflow involves more than just giving people simple steps for doing the task.

You also need to consider what resources are needed and how best to provide them to the person doing the task.

If you want to learn more about documenting workflows and creating systems, check out my Law Firm Systems Program.

P.S. If you want a practice optimized for remote work & virtual collaboration, get this 24-page guide.
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