The difference between Policies, Standards, Procedures and Strategies

Over the years I have written many policies, processes. strategies and standards and related documents.  These documents outline how a business operates and help when a team member requires a reference. so to answer a question: what is the difference between policies standards procedures and strategies?

The agony point for me is when a professional consultant does not know the differences between the document types and refers to one as another, the other as another and cannot grip the function of a specific document. In the meantime, steam billows from my ears while the consultant continues to sprout opinions on the various documents.

For the uninitiated here is my explanation of the difference between Policies, Standards, Procedures, Standards and related documents.

Policy document?

A policy sets out an agreed management policy which might refer to IT Security and Risks. However, it will not give any direction on how to execute this vision or strategy.

A set of policies are principles, rules, and guidelines formulated or adopted by a Business to reach its long-term goals. Policies are signed off by management and published in the Company’s preferred medium.

The writing of Policies is to influence and determine major decisions.

Processes and Procedures are the specific methods used to express policies in action in the daily operations of the Business.

What is a Process

It is a task, a procedure – it is NOT a Plan.

The ISO definition of a process is:

A process is a set of inter-related activities that turn inputs into outputs’

You MUST learn the process; know WHY you need it and How to perform the process end-2-end.

  • Process a high-level description of a series of inter-related tasks covering an entire business.
  • It is an internal, ongoing process that must be updated as per Policy guidelines
  • serves as a crucial guide for employees and managers.

Procedure 

A procedure contains more detail than a process but less detail than a work instruction. It tells users HOW to perform a series of sequential tasks to achieve a specific outcome.

Participants will complete a procedure from start to finish in one continuous time frame (no significant delays between steps).

Work Instructions (WI)

A WI contains a detailed description of a task. Its sole purpose is to explain step by step how to do a specific task.

Plan

IT IS NOT a Process

      • Organisations have Management Plans which outline WHAT you are going to do, it does not explain HOW you will perform a task.
      • The Plan determines precisely how resources are to be allocated and provides backup plans if resources are not available at a crucial time.
      • The Plan document outlines what components must be included to demonstrate How a process will work.
      • A plan is how you will move from A to B and should support your strategy by providing a method to reach B containing an acceptable balance of risk and reward

What is strategy?

A strategy document explains the strategy – how an organisation will move from point A to Point B

      1. How will you get there?
      2. Issues, problems
      3. Solutions and tools to get you to point B

A strategy is a solution to move from A to B taking into account any unforeseen issues and problems that may occur to slow your journey to B.

Your strategy is WHAT you want to do

Understanding the difference between a strategy and a plan allows you to make useful strategic planning decisions that separate the two.

What is the standard?

Standards are mandatory actions or rules that give formal policies support and direction. One of the more difficult parts of writing standards is getting a company-wide consensus on what standards need to be in place. This can be a time-consuming process but is vital to the success of your information security program.

      • Used to indicate expected user behaviour. For example, a consistent company email signature.
      • Might specify what hardware and software solutions are available and supported.
      • Compulsory and must be enforced to be effective. (This also applies to policies!)

Content and Documents | How Can I help you?

During this pandemic, were you in the process of hiring a technical writer to help with your content and document requirements? To support the work already completed were you were on the brink of hiring a technical writer.

When it comes to the documentation, I would advise you NOT to delay even now and start any discovery phase to identify which titles you need to prepare.

How can I make your project run with ease?

I have a vast collection of generic documentation covering PCI, ISO27001, GDPR, ITIL. Operating Document templates for migrations of hardware and also useful for audits. Hence, with some tweaks and by understanding your requirements, my generic documentation can be tweaked to suit your company’s needs which will save time and money.

Compliance projects

Compliance projects tend to generate more documentation than managers expect. If you have not already performed a discovery or due diligence phase, you could have up to 60 titles to write ranked in order of importance.

  • Payment Cards Industry (PCI)
  • ISO27001
  • ITIL and ITSM Policy and process documentation

Confluence and SharePoint

Do you use either confluence or SharePoint, or both?

Have you lost control of the content/documentation?

Has the structure in Confluence been overridden by numerous spaces that are no longer valid, filled with legacy content and no ownership?

Poorly written content and documents can hamper productivity and lead to mistakes. You may need an expert eye to look over your Content and documents and identify what is no longer needed and seek to slim down or bin the information contained in either.

Transformation

Are you about to start a transformation project and have discovered the documentation has no value? Stress not. With help from SME’s and a series of interviews, the documentation will soon be underway. I wrote a booklet on such projects. You might want to read it. To help start the technical documentation, I have the following templates:

      • Operating templates
      • Installation guides
      • Profile document
      • Technical procedures for management

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

I have a collection of templates that can help get a plan up and running after consulting with your staff.

Call Me 07534 222517

Email: [email protected]

Technical Writing | General Data Protection Regulations

GDPR

On the 25th May 2018, the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) came into force.

Companies outside the EU

If your Company actively trades within the EU and stores, processes or shares EU citizens’ data, then GDPR does apply to you.

Compliance and documentation

One of the primary rules is that under GDPR Process activities MUST be documented.

Companies are required to maintain a set of Policy, Process and Plan (PPP) documentation to ensure you have evidence to support your claims should the ICO investigate any complaint or breach of data.

Note that the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) could demand to see the written documents

What do you need to consider?

As a technical writer, with experience writing compliance documentation, what can I tell you?

If you are still struggling to start

My Blogs are clear, writing one document, when there is a substantial list to be completed from scratch to sign off is a lengthy process. Even if your department has documents that can be reused, it will still take a long time. Compliance projects are manually intensive and documenting GDPR will need dedicated resources.

My experience could be necessary to help you write and manage those documents. The sooner you contact me, the sooner we can start the road to compliance.

  • Create a standard template with – Statement, In Scope, Version Control, Change History, Distribution Lists, Roles and Responsibilities
  • All PPPs must adhere to GDPR – include in the document ‘The purpose of the document’, ‘The Scope’ and add a list of the GDPR compliances relevant to the PPP you are writing and explain the WHY the company are complying along with the HOW the company will comply.
  • The documentation must be relevant to your business. Generic documentation outlining a PPP will NOT suffice
  • Complete the documentation – do not start and leave a document incomplete then sign off; an incomplete document could fail a Compliance Audit
  • Maintain the detail – do not half explain a process or policy
  • Structure the documentation to avoid duplicating information over several documents
  • That the documentation may need to be ISO 27001 compliant

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Technical Writing | Interviewing SMEs

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are essential to enable you the technical author to write that document. Without their input you will struggle. So, how does an experienced technical writer consider approaching and interviewing SME?

I base my advice on my personal experiences of talking to and working with SMEs. You will no doubt find, like me, that some SMEs are difficult while others are happy to help.

Approaching and Interviewing  SMEs 

  1. Make sure you schedule a meeting with the SME in advance, do not turn up at their desk and expect to talk. Most SMEs are busy and might work on an important task.
  2. Make sure you know the SMEs area of ability and their role within the company
  3. If you collaborate with other technical writer’s check any project management plans or ask if they have already spoken to that SME
  4. If yes check the information to see if it applies to you. It will save time asking the SME twice for the same information and prevent any stern reminders that they have already discussed ‘XYZ.’
  5. I use a dictaphone to record interviews because it means if I have any queries I can always run the recording back. To date, no SME has objected to me recording the conversation.

    approaching and interviewing subject matter experts
    approaching and interviewing subject matter experts

    • If they DO, it will mean listening intently and writing the information
  6. Approach the Interview at the appointed time:
    • Do not be surprised if the SME cancels the meeting because of other demands
    • If so, reschedule the meeting
  7. Always regard the interview as another knowledge capture exercise, which adds to your experience, do not assume you know everything before you get there, even if you do.
  8. The SME will assume that you know what they are talking about; if not – stop the interview, and either request a less technical explanation or if you still do not understand then you need to reassess your ability to do the job.
  9. Only schedule an hour for the interview but clarify that if there are any points which are not clear, you will need to reschedule more time
  10. Be clear – there will be a peer review required, but you will let them know in advance when the document is ready for review
  11. approaching and interviewing subject matter experts
    approaching and interviewing subject matter experts

    If the SME is not aware of your role or why you need their comments to introduce the project and you if you have not already done so introduce yourself

  12. The SME may not know everything and may need to refer you to another SME for information
  13. When you return to your desk, start writing up the document. Do not wait for a few days, even if you have recorded the interview
  14. Carry a pad and pen. You may need to ask the SME to draw the infrastructure

Technical Writing | Hire a Technical Writer sooner, rather than later

As a Technical Writer with over Twenty Years of experience, I have a question for Project Managers and Subject Matter Experts. Have you ever been involved in planning a project (PCI, GDPR, ISO27001, ITIL) where documentation is critical; if so, how did it go? Crucially, did the project achieve its aims of delivering ALL the documentation? If not – do you know why the plan failed? It could be that you were unable to hire Hire a Technical Writer for advice and guidance.

Why Hire a Technical Writer?

A collective failure of technical / process documentation projects is the lack of knowledge and expertise during the planning and discovery phases. Many project managers and Subject Matter experts fail to grasp the reality of a documentation project. Many projects fail miserably because the planners do not understand the lifecycle of a document. From the initial draft through various reviews and sign-off takes much longer than expected. I regret to say I have met PMs and Consultants that do NOT know the difference between a written process a documented plan and the purpose of the policy. If that is the case, your project could be in trouble.

How long to write a document?

If you ask a Technical Writer how long will it take to write one document, their reply will be – “I do not know”. Technical and Process documentation depending on the project (PCI, GDPR, Operations, ITIL) will have many different requirements and factors which delay the information gathering, the writing and review stages before sign-off.

The likely reality of writing a 30-page document containing:

  • VISIOs (3 or more) comprising between 10 to 30 steps
  • Process narratives (3 or more) of between 10 to 30 steps
  • Appendixes (2 or more)

Will amount to – give or take – at least 8 – 12 weeks of effort before it gets to the review stage. However, the more content the document contains and the more complicated it becomes, the longer it will take.

My advice is not to plan such a project without professional help.

If you are wondering why it takes so long – it is worth noting that compliance projects such as PCI and GDPR generate a lot of documentation. TWs working on large projects could be managing a list of more than twenty documents and every document regarding size and content could be very different.

Hire a Technical Writer

My first word of advice is this – If you have such a plan on the horizon, where the Technical / Process documentation is the primary focus – hire a Technical Writer, not a Business Analyst, to give guidance from the start of the project, NOT when the end date is in sight. The TW can highlight issues, risks and bottlenecks. You will also know what you can reasonably expect to achieve within the allocated time assigned to the project.

The Technical writers will need:

  • a week (at least) to assimilate the project
  • Time for training on any tools
  • access to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

Add in contingencies for illnesses, holidays and unplanned absences due to personal reasons and the fact a TW could resign from the project at some point

If the budget and the timelines become fixed (in stone) with multiple documents to complete in a short period, then, consider producing Quality, rather than Quantity.

To ensure quality prioritise, or rank the documents to avoid inconsistency across the documentation set:

  1. Required
  2. Nice to have
  3. Not important

Or use The MoSCoW method.

    • M – Must have this requirement to meet the business needs
    • S – Should have this requirement if possible, but project success does not rely on it
    • C – Could have this requirement if it does not affect anything else on the project
  • W – Would like to have this requirement later, but delivery won’t be this time

Documentation

Who will use them?

  • Documents for external and internal users will require a different level of language
  • What level of information and detail will the audience expect?
  • Does the document need VISIOs?

Additional Points

  • Travel: Will the TWs need to travel abroad or Nationally, if Yes, are they available to go and do they have current Passports/Visas?
  • References: Identify any useable archived documentation.
  • Reviews: decide who will review and who will sign off a document
  • Scope: Could there be any changes which will add to, or change the scope of the project

In summary,

Documentation projects fail due to:

  • poor planning
  • the lack of experience and
  • not allowing enough time to complete the documentation.

Finally: If the success of the project depends on the documentation (Disaster Recovery Plan, PCI/DSS, BCP and ITIL) – why do PMs and SMEs allocate so much of the budget to non-documentation resources?

Technical Writing | Why your business needs Technical documentation

Managers underestimate the purpose of technical documentation until they discover they have no relevant documentation. Listed below are 6 reasons why you need technical documentation

  1. Without technical documentation you have no historical record of any project ever completed within the company
  2. You have no metrics against which to measure current projects
  3. You have no information which outlines the lessons learned and the lessons failed
  4. During an upgrade project the team relies on guess-work to get things right . . . it also means the project will take much longer to complete stretching the budget
  5. What documentation there is lies scattered over several drives and only makes sense to the author
  6. Your valued tech staff have left the company taking information with them in their heads

Now you know why Technical Documentation is important; if you recognise one or more of the points above . . . what’s your next move?

Technical Writing | The cost of Technical and Process documentation

Why is it that companies view the cost of Technical and Process documentation as an unnecessary expenditure rather than viewing documentation as a centre of knowledge? Management seems to have a blind spot with documentation and conveniently forgets the role of documentation.

When redundancies beckon, I know how quickly management will sacrifice the technical documentation department. When management seeks layoffs, the technical author(s) will be amongst the first out the door. Months later a member of staff points out that the documentation is out of date and follows up by asking: do we have anything up to date we can use?

In sacking the technical documentation team, no one assumed responsibility. Keeping it up to date is left to those least inclined to keep it up to date. They are the people who would benefit most from its upkeep.

The cost of Technical and Process documentation
The cost of Technical and Process documentation

Within a software environment, we easily forget that as the developers progress their software application, it also becomes more complex. Failing to supply up-to-date documentation means customers can overlook many of the improvements and advanced features. We could say the same of any IT department. As the network grows, there are more questions and fewer answers. No one has a good overall knowledge of the network because of the lack of documentation.

Where does that leave technical writers?

However, you refer to us, be it technical authors, communicators, documentation staff or as the font of all knowledge. Never doubt our experience, our people skills, our ability to write clear instructions.  We can explain complex technical terms in easy-to-read formats. Who else will put up with blank stares, sarcastic comments and listen to comments such as “whaddya want now?’ to get what your company needs; usable documentation.

The cost of Technical and Process documentation
The cost of Technical and Process documentation

Remember, it is not about the cost of hiring a technical author. It is about our value to your organisation. Our documentation will keep your staff informed and up to date. There is a point to keeping your processes up to date as your working environment changes. It is also about keeping that software guide up to date enabling your customers to use your product more efficiently and know they invested in a superb product.

Finally, don’t forget that a technical author will not only you save money now but also at a later date and will keep on saving you money, therefore, over the long term justifying their value to your business.

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Technical Writing | The Problem with Shared Drives

It is not unusual to find companies still use Shared Drives to store their documentation. As many Technical Writers will point out, the problem with shared drives is that they are neither secure nor searchable.

What is the problem with shared drives?

  • The folder structure has too many levels meaning documents are difficult to find
  • There are information gaps as users keep copies of documentation locally and not on the shared drive
  • There is no formal ownership of the documents
  • The title and subject of the document does not accurately reflect the content
  • Document versioning is not used meaning the latest version is  . . .  Where?
  • There are many copies of the same document
  • The failure to maintain a workable Archiving policy means many documents with the same title contain unchecked updates
  • There is no historical tracking of documents to keep integrity of the content
  • Searching for documents on a shared drive will raise many unrelated results

Using a non configured Document Management System (DMS)

It would seem ironic that companies do spend a large amount of budget on installing a DMS such as SharePoint but fail to task an experienced employee to set it up correctly. So what happens when the DMS is left to grow without the correct administration?

  • Failure to lock down user privileges means it becomes a free for all  with no proper administration
  • Check In, Check Out, Document Versioning and Security are not configured meaning user’s drop off documents where they see fit
  • There is no historical tracking of documents to keep integrity
  • Users create folders without proper titles and lose their document
  • Backup of the DMS is irregular

If you want to manage your documentation in a way in which it cannot become a free for all you need to consider a form of document control and establish a policy and a set of rules to keep your documentation in check.

Technical and Process Documentation is an asset, and your staff should treat it as such. Look after it, and it will look after your business.