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Land Your Proverbial Plane With an At-A-Glance Process Document

Landing your proverbial plane

Ask a hundred process experts which process instruction system is their favorite and you’ll get a hundred different answers. Let me save you from doing too much research. 

Through years of initiating process instruction systems for companies, two styles have stood out as particularly effective approaches to the journey: 

At-A-Glance process document
Operating Procedure (OP)

Use these approaches hand-in-hand if you wish. I’ll cover the At-A-Glance process document here and the more robust Operating Procedure in a future blog post. 

The At-A-Glance is a simple, one-page document that describes a process and is intentionally more visual and less complete than an Operating Procedure (OP). The At-A-Glance is the path to 80/20 — getting 80 percent of the value for 20 percent of the effort — and can help you get quick traction. It can be especially valuable for teams that don’t have the time to write or read an Operating Procedure, which has more content, detail and breadth. 

The 80/20 Rule

The following are key elements of an At-A-Glance document:

  • Mission

  • Key steps

  • Outcomes and success criteria

  • Watchouts, key learnings, key insights

Let’s look at each of these sections:


It’s important to state the key expectations of the document. When I worked for Procter & Gamble, the company had a very memo-centric communications culture; if there was no memo-based documentation of a decision, meeting or thought process, it was almost as if the interaction never happened. 

One unique Procter & Gamble rule was that every memo was to start with the word “This.” As in: 

This memo describes the Mr. Clean contract manufacturing strategy for 2017.” 

The very first sentence told the reader what the mission and purpose of the document were. After years of reading memos at Procter & Gamble, I can get frustrated when a writer explains his or her purpose halfway down the first page.

Setting expectations with the user tells them the goal of the At-A-Glance document. 

Key Steps

This core section of the At-A-Glance document summarizes the OP. Whereas the OP exhaustively lists all of the steps in a process, the At-A-Glance is a concise, scannable version. In this section, you want to include just the critical steps. 

In “The Checklist Manifesto,” Atul Gawande promotes checklists. In his very readable book, he describes the checklist Sully Sullenberger used when he successfully landed the US Airways jet into the Hudson River. 

According to the movie “Sully,” Sullenberger has 208 seconds to land the plane, and both the book and movie depict the pilot referring to a checklist in those critical moments. The deeply experienced pilot knows enough about the spiral-bound checklist book to know it is worth his time. 

Sully’s checklists are to the point: Do process 1, 2 and 3, and then “Fly the airplane.” 

The checklist helps the user remember atypical tasks 1, 2 and 3, such as the step where the pilot dumps all fuel in the fuel tanks. It is easy to forget a critical step in the heat of the moment. By clearly listing each step in a simplified manner, the probability of success by anyone charged with executing the process dramatically increases. The final task is to execute all things they have been trained in and not to waste time reading or to dilute the key points: “Fly the airplane.”

Outcomes and Success Criteria

This section communicates the desired results — accomplish these and you have succeeded.

It is critical to know what is expected of you. When your work is handed off to another team member or team, the outcomes and successes are what they expect to receive 

This third section defines what Six Sigma would call the “Critical to Customer” attributes.

In the book “Superforecasting” by Daniel Gardner and Philip E. Tetlock, the authors discuss military orders. Dwight D. Eisenhower and other successful generals in the U.S. armed forces often gave orders that were proportionally more strategic than tactical. Rather than telling the subordinate what to do, Eisenhower told the subordinate what they needed to accomplish. 

Eisenhower might say, “Secure this hill,” instead of, “At midnight, send 100 troops up the main path, send 50 soldiers to guard your west flank, use anti-tank weapons, and remove all gear that can cause clattering in the night to maintain surprise.” 

The specific execution details would be left to the discretion of competent, more knowledgeable and possibly more creative commanders on the ground.

The At-A-Glance document adds outcomes and success criteria to the process steps to identify true success — the outcome rather than the path to take to get there.

Watchouts, Key Learnings, Key Insights 

Use this final section to accommodate a formal mini-chat wall for watchouts, learnings and insights. It is Slack plus Wiki plus Yammer. The author can gather insights from experience and add them here.

The At-A-Glance is often the most appropriate route in cases where what you need is something that can be referred to quickly during a process that needs a fast reference. For a more robust process instruction system, we’ll take a look at Operating Procedures. 

We live and breathe process approaches and documentation at Prime Vector.

Contact us to learn how these tools can benefit your organization. 


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