In the trenches of running an energy efficiency program, it’s easy to get lost chasing after several seemingly unrelated tasks – such as standard operating procedures, production plans, project checklists, process flow charts, and key performance indicators. We forget in the day-to-day that all of these elements are actually interconnected – working together to drive the program to a singular goal. So how can we keep sight of the bigger picture, while making progress on the critical details each and every day?
Program operations manuals. An integral component to running efficient and effective programs, these central documentation systems compile operational procedures, administrative requirements and work plans to demonstrate how all program activities contribute to the larger goals. Program operations manuals assist in providing clear, consistent training across all team members, and serve as a comprehensive, organized resource for regular reference by program staff.
Sounds great, but how do we get there? Here are four steps to developing an effective program operations manual.
- Assign a project manager.
Though the manual will likely require input from multiple sources, assigning a project manager to oversee the development and revision phases is critical to the manual’s quality, consistency and completion. This person should have a thorough understanding of the program, an ability to communicate clearly verbally and in written form, and the knowledge to delegate tasks appropriately for essential documentation.
The project manager will be responsible for compiling the materials, managing approval workflows, and completing updates on schedule. The project manager should help decide who will write which sections, provide deadlines for deliverables, and make sure the deadlines are met.
- Create a structure.
Before the actual writing begins, decide what needs to be included and create a clear, organized outline, with relative topics grouped. While it may feel appropriate to incorporate all of your knowledge into the program operations manual, resist the urge to turn it into a data dump. The more succinct the information, the easier it will be for program staff to absorb – and the more likely for them to come back to it when they have questions.
In terms of order, start with the information that will be referenced the most. Ask yourself what the most important items someone inexperienced with the program would need to know – and place that content at the beginning of the manual. Procedures that will only be referenced by a few can be located toward the back of the manual.
Finally, as you construct the outline, keep in mind the primary goal behind the program operations manual is to clearly communicate – to anyone in the organization – what needs to be done in order for the program to succeed.
Recommended topics include:
- Customer Eligibility and Types Served
- Definitions of Commonly Used Terms
- Program Offerings
- Program Goals
- Reporting Requirements
- Production Plans
- Key Performance Indicators
- Organization Charts and Contact Lists
- Application Processing Standards
- Marketing and Outreach Plans
- Develop the content.
Looking at your outline, assign a writer to each section of your manual. Clearly communicate your expectations with regard to the level of detail needed and the turnaround time. Share any templates you’d like them to reference or follow.
Also, while using clear, concise language is important, feel free to explore other communication methods – such as diagrams, infographics or flow charts. These can be especially effective at communicating the sometimes complex procedures of a program’s operations – particularly those that cross multiple roles. Include checklists for functions that have basic, repeatable steps. Overall, simplicity and clarity is key. If the information isn’t easily understood, it simply will not be used.
- Train, and train again.
It won’t matter how clear, concise or insightful your operations manual is if the team doesn’t know how to use it. That’s why this last step – training – is the most critical.
According to studies, the average person needs to hear, read and/or review something five to seven times before it will be retained. As such, it’s important to remember that developing an operations manual will require more than writing and organizing content. You will also need to commit to regularly coaching people on how to use it, as well as advocating for its value.
In-person trainings are a great way to introduce the operations manual to the team. After that, review sections of the manual at team meetings. Share updates and revisions to the manual so everyone knows what, when and why changes have occurred. Schedule annual in-person trainings to reinforce existing policies and procedures, along with communicating key revisions.
While it requires time and energy to develop a well-executed program operations manual, the return on your investment will be priceless – saving you time and energy as you drive toward your program’s goals.
Want help developing an operations manual of your own? Contact Franklin Energy to learn more about our operations approach and how we can bring your programs to life.