Who in your organisation is your anchor? You know, the person who holds a great deal of information. Perhaps it's you!

Most organisations have at least one employee who plays a crucial role in the day to day operations of a business and who has the knowledge and the systems that ensure the organisation successfully delivers services. They are adept at keeping consumers happy, know who to contact in a given instance, are well networked, understand the reporting requirements of programs and how to use computerised systems. 

businesswoman with binders at office

Now imagine what would happen if that key employee had to take unexpected leave or resigned without giving any notice?

I’m betting you’re envisioning your organisation up that proverbial creek without a paddle, right?

Don’t panic, let me introduce you to the “Operations Manual”, also known as an “Ops Guide”!

In business, it’s essential that while we respect and value the knowledge and skills that individuals have, we don’t become too dependent upon any one particular person to keep the doors open, which is not always easy.

Having an ops guide for each department or vital area within your organisation can save you from an almighty headache, from panicking when they announce they are taking leave, and also act as a tool to enhance the ongoing training and support for new and existing employees.

And that’s not all. If you are a multi service site organisation an ops manual can support consistency across the organisation, while recognising the uniqueness of each service site. This helps when a staff member from one location transfers to another, either temporarily or permanently. They’re already familiar with the format of the ops guide and can refer to it for specifics of that location, things such as location specific codes, where keys are kept, pre and post-service checks and timing of service delivery as well as key contacts in that location.

So what exactly is an Ops Guide?

Well there are a couple of options here.

Daily Ops Guide – For Day to Day operations at the service site.

A ‘Daily Ops Guide’, is a comprehensive, but simply written document (I know, that sounds like an oxymoron) that describes how a specific area within an organisation functions. This could be the whole service, or in larger services there might be different Ops Guides for the kitchen and the other direct service areas. The Ops Guide is a living document that should be regularly reviewed and updated. And when it is well written, the Ops Guide is able to help someone unfamiliar in a role or location to complete tasks for the day or shift, and keep the service on track.

Management Ops Guide

While the Daily Ops Guides assists in the day to day operations of a service, e.g. the time meals are to be delivered, where the keys are located and what day the food order needs to be placed, a more detailed Ops Guide is needed at the management level. It’s also a vital tool for succession planning that ensures key information and direction is captured and documented.

The Management Ops Guide will contain information on where to locate the organisation's Policies and Procedures, where contract documents are stored, relevant passwords, and reporting timeframes to name a few. This is really the ‘bible’ for a manager, the book that is reverently handed over to a new manager or relief person to ensure that the service runs smoothly in their absence.

Tips for Developing an Ops Guide

Daily Ops Guide

One of the simplest ways to start developing your Ops Guide is to note down what you do in a day. Of course, often each day is slightly different, but try to capture all those things first that don’t change greatly. The following is an example of points that may be relevant for a Centre Coordinator or Team Leader:

  • What time do you start
  • What time are meals delivered
  • What do you do when you walk in the door of the centre
  • What time do services commence if you are operating out of a service centre
  • Where are vehicles left overnight and what is the pre-check procedure each morning
  • How do you close up the centre at the end of the day

Once you have identified the regular activities you can start to note things that regularly happen on a specific day of the week, such as grocery delivery days or activity days.

Next think about activities that happen on a fortnightly or monthly basis and add those to your Ops Guide.

And don’t forget to include all the regular administration tasks that need to be completed such as updating registers, writing progress notes, carrying out audits and reviews.

Your Ops guides should be comprehensive but not overly complex. In fact, the simpler they are, the more likely they are to work.

Management Operations Guide

A Management Operations Guide, or as some of the Managers we have worked with refer to it, ‘The Survival Guide’ is literally a lifeline for anyone who may have to step in during an absence of the Manager, planned or unplanned, so it needs to include all your key information.

When developing this sort of Operations Manual, think about what information someone sitting in your role would need to know or access. This might be things like:

  • A summary of the programs that the service operates and the funding mechanisms related to them
  • Summary information on your target clients and eligibility criteria for the various programs
  • A list or index of your policy manual, along with the procedures, groupings  and where they are located
  • Similarly, a list of key documents, forms, registers and any notes about related processes, eg: when they need to be checked / completed and by who and when
  • A section on HR, induction training, performance management, etc, is also helpful. Again, it’s not supposed to be a complete HR manual – just the key info you need to know as it relates to your role and level of responsibility and reference points on where to go for more info
  • IT and information management – who to go to for what and what systems are in place and key contacts for support, help desks, etc
  • Risk and emergency management references should also be included
  • Asset  management and Work Health and Safety tasks and documents that are relevant to the management level are also other key areas that you may want to note
  • Organisational financial management and reporting processes would also be important for most Managers to know about
  • Last, but not least, a section that highlights Governance documents or requirements including compliance requirements such as managing Key Personnel; you might also want to add references / links to the Quality and Safety Commission, Department of Health, etc.

Use the KISS principle

Don’t over complicate things. ‘Keep it simple, Sam!’

The secret to ensuring that this document is a useful tool and is used successfully during critical times is to keep it simple! Substitute staff do not need microscopic details, and where there is a need to add in the directions for using a specific piece of equipment or program, include a reference on where the manual or user guide is stored.

Another effective way to avoid over complicating things is to think about minimising the number of words used. You could do this by setting out a daily run/routine in a table using dot points. Your aim is to help keep the person on track and make it easy for them to find what they need.

It’s also a good idea to divide your guide into sections that are clearly outlined and contain specific information. This keeps it neat and easy for a reader to find things.

So summarise, use dot points and eliminate all the but the necessary information. This is not the time to start writing a thesis!

TIP: Add pictures to make it more user friendly and ensure there is a lot of white space for easy reading.

Road Testing!

Once you have drafted your operations guide, it’s time for the fun part …road testing!

Choose several staff members who are willing and able to take the draft and use it when working a shift. This will quickly and effectively reveal how well the document is structured and how clear the directions are. Feedback is essential for transforming your draft into a complete and workable document.

Set aside time to review and update

To ensure that the document is always on hand and ready for use, set aside time each year to review it. If you are going on leave, resigning or moving to another role in the organisation, make sure you take a quick look at the document to ensure that all the essential areas are up to date. Many changes may occur in short periods of time, so information can become out of date each year.

CDCS is all about ensuring organisations have the right tools to help them provide quality care with confidence. For over twenty years we have been working across the sector, co-designing culturally appropriate, accessible resources that make your job easier.

Good news 🙂

If you’re looking for more helpful resources, why not check out our Total Quality Package resource hub? We have culturally appropriate, tailored resources that are designed to make your job simpler and help you provide quality care to your clients. Click here to find out more.

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