What level of details to include in a procedure

By ITIL from Experience ©

When writing a procedure

A document containing steps that specify how to achieve an activity. Procedures are defined as part of processes.

Source: ITIL® glossary and abbreviations, English, 2011 www.itil-officialsite.com/InternationalActivities/TranslatedGlossaries.aspx

it is sometimes difficult to determine the level of details to include. Some might be tempted to add step-by-step instructions with screen captures like a user guide.

The problem with too much detail is not only that it takes longer to develop/test but also that experienced users will be tempted to skip it all together and run the risk of forgetting a critical step that was buried in the details. The opposite also has its drawback; if there is not enough details the user might not know how to complete it.

Defining the target audience for the procedure ensures that it has just the right level of details, not too much or too little.

Ideally the procedure should specify what and who it is for. Adding something as simple as "This procedure is to create a user group to be used by system administrators" to the introduction or in a section titled "Audience for this Procedure" is usually enough. In this example, one can assume that the system administrator has basic skills and knowledge of that system and the procedure can be:

  1. Create a user group using the following naming convention:
    • ...
  2. Set the following parameters on the advanced tab:
    • ...
  3. Reassign the request to the Service Desk

As such, there is no need to specify:

  2. Type your user name
  3. Press Tab or click in the Password field
  4. Type your password
  5. etc.

Unless the individuals who will be using the procedure have limited experience with the system, that it is a new system or that they do not perform these actions often (like an upgrade) the procedure's work instructions

A document containing detailed instructions that specify exactly what steps to follow to carry out an activity. A work instruction contains much more detail than a procedure and is only created if very detailed instructions are needed.

Source: ITIL® glossary and abbreviations, English, 2011 www.itil-officialsite.com/InternationalActivities/TranslatedGlossaries.aspx

can be at a higher level or details. Consequently, it can focus on critical steps so that it can be used as a check list and guidance to ensure that nothing was forgotten.

On the other hand if the procedure is part of a Business Continuity Plan to ensure IT Service Continuity the level of details can be quite prescriptive as untrained users might be performing the procedure.

In conclusion, determine the purpose of the procedure and who will be using it. Also, ask someone from that audience to review and test it to ensure its usable.
Finally, to paraphrase Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”1


"Good process design does to diagram all work instructions in a flowchart. That's what work instructions are for." Denis Matte

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Copyright 2013 - ITIL from Experience - D.Matte