What Does “Good” Look Like – Part 1

Video Training Series - Identifying Human Error Likely Situations

Procedure Solutions Management, LLC – Video Training Series – What Does “Good” Look Like? – Identifying Human Error Likely Situations

Identifying Human Error Likely Situations – What Does “Good” Look Like? – Episode 1

Since 2008, Procedure Solutions Management, LLC, has taught over 9,000 (correction over 10,000) students on a variety of procedure-related topics.  When we teach our classes there are 5 main principles that we want to convey:

  1. Level of Detail – What to do, OR how to do it.
  2. Identify Common Error Likely Situations – What does “Good” look like?
  3. General Technical Writing Guidelines – Writing Fundamentals
  4. Organizing and Sequencing of Steps
  5. Utilizing Templates or Human-Factored Writing Tools

This is part 1 of a 4-part “What Does “Good” Look Like” series that will focus on the second principle, Identifying (and Eliminating) Human Error Likely Situations.  It will cover the following:

  • Identify in-field decisions without clear guidance
  • Excessiveness of in-field decisions
  • Steps that are vague or missing critical detail
  • Excessive Administrative and Technical Detail

We had fun putting these videos together and hope you will enjoy them.  Please remember that this is only a very small part of a comprehensive training curriculum that was designed to help eliminate human performance challenges in procedures.

For more information on our Procedure Writer Certification Courses, visit our Training Page or Register NOW for one of our upcoming classes.  For more articles on technical writing and to be notified when part two is released, be sure to subscribe to our blog using the link to the right of this post.

Nuclear Promise – Procedure and Work Instruction’s Perfect Storm – Part 3

What are the real costs associated with maintaining thousands of documents required for the execution of operating and maintaining the plant?


In part one, we voiced concerns regarding the nuclear industry’s “Nuclear Promise” and it’s negative impacts on procedures and work instructions.  These concerns were based on my experience working with nuclear sites across the country.  In short, procedures and work instructions that were successfully used many times over a number of years are, in many cases, no longer meeting the needs of the “new” qualified, but less experienced nuclear workforce. The primary findings focused on the areas of insufficient level-of-detail and usability issues (human performance errors).

In part two, we discussed writing staff, which have historically consisted of individuals dedicated to supporting procedure development and work planning.  These individuals are now being impacted by “Delivering the Nuclear Promise” through reorganizations, early retirements, and significant changes in the experience levels of the end user.

As a result of responses to efficiency bulletins associated with “Delivering the Nuclear Promise,” more staff are performing this work as a part-time collateral duty. In many cases, they have had very little or no training in human factored writing, and are unfamiliar with the station’s procedure and/or work package writing quality requirements. Even more frequently, we are finding staff lacking the experience needed to effectively use tools such as MS-Word.

Part 3.

In this final part, we will discuss considerations that should be evaluated in order to strengthen procedures and work instructions as a continued commitment to excellence in safety and reliability. The considerations are focused on the core goals of regaining or remaining competitive while executing this critical business function.

The most frequent response when dealing with the business function responsible for procedures is to reduce or eliminate positions and shift the procedure writing function to the line staff as a new collateral duty. This type of organizational change does see a near term or immediate budget reduction. However, it is particularly problematic because of the additional stress on existing procedures and work instructions caused by the aging workforce and the new staff taking their place This stress causes significant challenges to adequate level-of-detail and usability, or what is typically described as human performance issues.  Thus, the staff working on these critical documents are ill-prepared to support the increased demands created from the newer workforce in addition to their their existing responsibilities to maintain document back logs at or below industry benchmark levels.

So where do we go from here?

To develop a strategy that will realize true cost savings without jeopardizing safety, quality or creating human performance error-likely situations, staff should first understand the real costs associated with maintaining thousands of documents required for the execution of operating and maintaining the plant.

The true cost is not identified by looking at the existing head count and associated labor hours responsible for procedure creation and maintenance and then redirecting these labor hours to other work groups. Instead, look at the cost per page for a newly created or revised procedure. In order to determine the true costs the following questions should be evaluated:

  1. How much time does it take per page to create or revise a procedure? (Typically the labor hours range from .5 to.75 pages per hour for new and 1.4 to 1.6 pages per hour to revise.)
  2. When evaluating page counts per hour, current staff should be looked at individually to determine gaps in performance. When gaps are identified, are the tools or familiarity with the tools causing performance gaps identifying the need to look at the quality of the tools and/or training to improve performance and create greater consistency. For example, some plants will use a fillable form when writing procedures, generating a significant amount of manual actions needed to create consistent documents. In contrast, other plants will utilize a macro-enabled MS-Word template that provides automated features to reduce the labor of formatting.
  3. Does the site have a Content and Format Procedure to provide consistent guidance when developing procedures? If yes, does this procedure align with the latest industry standard guidance found in PPA AP-907.005 Writer’s Manual? When consistent guidance is provided for the format and content development of a procedure than less creative input is used that can cause fluctuations in labor hours based on what is thought as best intentions.
  4. When enhancements to procedures or work instructions are requested, is a cost versus benefit performed? Is the actual cost and benefit truly understood or is every change request accepted independent of the cost?
  5. If staff manual actions to create job steps in the text editor areas of Passport, Maximo, SAP etc. has historically been the norm, has any consideration been given to use a macro-enabled “automated” MS- Word template and create the instructions in MS-Word and place as an OLE document in order to minimize the labor expense?
  6. Has the technical review process for procedures or work instructions been evaluated for the cost of performance in addition to compliance with quality requirements and/or gaps to industry standards? Once the cost is understood, are program efficiencies available that can be implemented to lower the cost and improve quality?

These are just a few of the many questions we use to help our customers in making sound business decisions in order to raise the quality of the work performed and a focus on lowering the overall costs. Do you know how much it actually costs to create or revise a procedure or work instruction – per page?

In conclusion, the ultimate goal should be to produce the highest quality product at the lowest reasonable cost. Are you making money or spending it because “this is the way we have always done it?” Are you focused on lowering the costs over the long term or just looking for a quick cost reduction now?

Procedure Solutions Management has the unique ability to help you see what you can’t see for yourself when evaluating measures that can be taken to drastically lower the costs for maintenance and upkeep of procedures and work instructions.

If you like our content, subscribe to our blog using the link to the right of this post. Or, visit our services page for more information on our staffing, training, or consulting services.

Procedure Solutions Management: Video Training Series: Ask An Expert

Ask an Expert – Procedure Writer’s Challenges

Procedure Solutions Management: Video Training Series: Ask An Expert - Procedure Writer Challenges

Procedure Solutions Management, LLC – Video Training Series – Ask An Expert – Procedure Writer’s Challenges

Ask An Expert – Episode 3 – “What are some common challenges faced by procedure writers?”

Procedure writers/technical writers have complex jobs.  Amongst other things, they are responsible for understanding and writing for the appropriate level of detail, avoiding the creation of human performance error-likely situations , formatting complicated documents, ensuring consistency, fostering collaboration, and sometimes even project managing.  These responsibilities present procedure writers plenty of opportunities for problem solving…

In this segment of “Ask An Expert,” Procedure Solutions Management’s Managing Member, Darlene McCord, answers the question, “What are some common challenges faced by procedure writers?”


For more information on Technical Writing, subscribe to our blog using the link to the right of this post.  Or, visit our services page for more information on our staffing, training, or consulting services.

Notes, Cautions, Warnings, Precautions, and Limitations – significant human performance failure opportunities?

Notes, Cautions, Warnings, Precautions, Limitations play a significant role in successful procedure and work instruction execution.

When performing a procedure or work instruction, do your workers stop to read the Notes, Cautions, Warnings, Precautions, Limitations? If they are like a majority of users, then the answer is most likely “No!”

In many industries, there is a requirement to perform placekeeping (e.g., circle/slash, check, initial) on this type of information. Yet, even then, the content is often disregarded. Users tend to risk-assess the need to pause and fully appreciate or value the content.

So why the inconsistent performance and how does this performance result in challenges to human performance?

To answer this, let’s first understand the industry standard guidance that describes their use:

  • Notes – Provides supplemental information [at the step level].
  • Cautions – Attract attention to information that is essential to prevent damage to equipment [at the step level].
  • Warnings – Attract attention to information essential to avoid loss of life, personal injury, and health hazards [at the step level].
  • Precautions – Alert the procedure user to those measures that protect equipment, personnel, and the general public from abnormal or emergency situations. Applies generically to the entire document.
  • Limitations – Statements that describe regulatory or administrative limits that the procedure is bound by. Applies generically to the entire document.

So, now that we are all on the same page regarding the usage of these critical human performance tools, let’s look at their content requirements:

  • Written as short and concise statements.
  • Written in a passive voice.
  • Cannot contain an implied instruction or action step.
  • Written such that, if removed from the procedure or work instruction, performance will not be affected.

In addition, for notes, cautions, and warnings the following rules apply:

  • Placed prior to steps to which they apply
  • Must be contained on one page and not expand onto two pages.
  • Must appear on the same page as the impacted step

As you can see, the content requirements are pretty clear. So, why such huge performance inconsistencies?

From the assessments performed by Procedure Solutions Management, LLC (PSM), we have identified the following challenges:

  • No guidance existed. A procedure or work instruction content and format procedure did not exist. As such, no guidance was provided to the technical writers on how to develop a human-factored focused procedure or work instruction; no guidance existed to establish quality standards.
  • Guidance existed but was not enough. Where a content and format procedure did exist, the guidance was not aligned with industry standards.
  • Lacked an understanding of the impact to human performance on the task. Technical writers were either unaware of the procedural content requirements at their site or underappreciated/unaware of the risk to human performance.
  • No formal human factored writing training. Technical writers were either unaware of programmatic requirements or under-appreciated the risk to human performance as they did not understand the “why” behind the requirements.
  • Human performance error likely situations of the Technical Writer. Technical writers were found during the editing process to have their own human performance error likely situations such that actionable or implied actionable content was added without recognizing the error they created.
    • During document authoring it was found that the content of notes, cautions, warnings and precautions and limitations was more consistently developed if this content was added after all action steps were created. Place holders could be added for the location of the information to be added at a later time but no content should be developed until after all action steps are created first. This resulted in the development of higher quality action steps and an almost total elimination of actionable or implied actionable content being added.
  • Blind compliance. Accepting Corrective Action Program requirements that specify specific content to be provided to fix program quality issues that conflicts with human performance requirements and best practices. This was especially problematic when no content and format procedure was present or was present but did not contain the industry guidance for the control of Notes, Cautions, Warning, Precautions and Limitations. As such, corrective action requirements are followed verbatim as nothing was in place programmatically to prevent a corrective action that would fix a quality issue but in of itself also lead to a challenge in human performance.

As a result of these challenges, what is the extent of condition? Here are a few industry examples that were identified to challenge human performance and the safe execution of the task:

Precaution (challenge: Actionable information)

  • Inspect work area for spiders or other creatures/insects & exterminate as required to prevent personal injury.

Warning (challenge: Implied actionable information)

  • Hand protection is mandatory for tasks that possess a risk of laceration or exposure to heat or chemical exposure. The correct gloves should be selected for handling sharp edged or heated materials, or other tasks that expose the hands to safety hazards.

Precaution (challenge: Boiler plate information resulting from a Corrective action)

  • Safety rules, protective equipment, proper tooling, adequate instructions, and training are needed to provide a safe work environment. However, these alone are not enough to prevent accidents. An acute awareness of the surroundings, sound work habits, and commitment to safety will help ensure avoidance of accidents.

In contrast to those above, an example of a well written statement is provided below:

Warning – Electrocution may result from coming in contact with energized bus bar components while performing work in 4Kv Breaker Cabinet 1BKR4312.

In conclusion…

Notes, Cautions, Warnings, Precautions and Limitations play a significant role in successful procedure and work instruction execution. They can save lives and prevent equipment damage but only if written using high quality standards consistently in their format and content.

Interested in learning more about how Procedure Solutions Management can make your Human-Factored writing more successful?  Please contact us for more information.

If you like our content, subscribe to our blog using the link to the right of this post. Or, visit our services page for more information on our staffing, training, or consulting services.