The Three P’s – Policy, Process, Procedure
The Three P’s are kind of a big deal here at Red Barn. However, many people don’t quite understand what the difference is between a Policy, a Process, and a Procedure. In fact, many people use the terms interchangeably, and often incorrectly. Regardless of how you use them, it’s important to know that they are a vital part of your Operations. How can you hold yourself and your team accountable if you don’t have everything outlined, documented, and available?
Everything we do at work is governed by the Three P’s. Having unclear, undefined P’s is not so bad if you are a solopreneur, but if you have employees, vendors or contractors, and clients – you need clearly defined and documented P’s for everyone to follow.
So what do the Three P’s stand for?
The policy is the Rules and Standards that your company adheres to.
The process is the What, Who, and When.
The procedure is How and Where.
Policies are at the top level of the Operational System. They state the principles by which your business will operate. You should aim to have a written Policy for every one of your business operations.
The Policy defines the RULES within which everyone involved in the activity will operate. It can also define minimum STANDARDS to be delivered. An example of a policy may be that the time clock is required to be used to document working hours – no handwritten time slips will be accepted.
The Process sits one level down from the Policy. It outlines how the rules and standards set by the Policy will be achieved by listing the tasks to be done, who does them, and when they do them.
The Process is the WHAT, WHO, and WHEN. An example of this would be that all hourly employees (who) are required to use the time clock to document their working hours (what) by punching in and out at the start and end of their shift and lunch breaks (when). Managers (who) are responsible for checking the timeclock log (what) on a daily basis (when) for missed punches.
This isn’t where all the details live. It’s simply just the tasks involved in the process. The process should make sure it covers all the rules and standards defined by the Policy. Not every Process needs to have a Procedure. The Procedure is where the details live, so if you need more information outlined than listed in the Process, spend a little more time documenting the Procedure for each task.
Procedures support the Process by defining exactly how you want each task to be executed. It lists the step by steps tasks to complete the process. It captures the HOW the task is done and WHERE to find the resources to do the task.
The level of detail to put into your Procedures depends on your level of comfort, who will be doing the task, and any requirements based on your company’s industry and certifications – like manufacturing and ISO certifications require very detailed procedures.
In our example of using the time clock, for the hourly employees, we would detail how to use the timeclock – do they swipe a card or enter a code, what buttons do they need to push to get their punches to register, what is the process if they miss a punch, are their rules on how early or late they can punch in without discipline, etc. You must also outline the tasks for the Managers – how do they check the log, what do they do if an employee is too early or late, how do they record a missed punch, etc. Who do they contact if there are issues with the timeclock?
A Procedure addresses a single task performed by a single person, so it should be relatively succinct, but complete enough that the person doing the task does not need to ask questions.
You will note that the Procedure is strictly the set of steps, and where to find the resources needed to complete the task. There’s no When and there’s no Who because that information is in the Process. The Procedure is designed to be picked up and carried out by anyone assigned to the task.
Spending time documenting your Three P’s will result in improved efficiency, less confusion, and mistakes, and allow you to delegate tasks or onboard new employees faster. Overall, better operations mean happier customers.