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Volume 30, Issue 4

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The telephone rings...and rings again. You roll out of your nice warm bed, punch the switch on the bed lamp, pick up the phone as you note the time, 4:13 a.m.

"Charlie," a voice says, "you better get down here real quick. The whole building is up in flames." Even through the fog, you recognize the gravelly voice of your company's chief of security.

"I'll be there in half an hour," you tell him as you are hurriedly trying to find your clothes.

Forty minutes later, you park your car behind some police and rescue squad vehicles and race toward the security station at the main gate. Everybody seems to have congregated there, helplessly watching the office burn.

That scenario is not fictional. It is reenacted too many times each year. Only the names and locations change. Some are lucky - they resume "normal" business within a few days.

The majority do not, and as a result, some may go out of business or they may just about squeak-through with a little help from their friends and friendly bankers. But to a very few, this catastrophe is just another pothole in the road.

If this were to happen to your company tonight, which category of victims would you be in? If you are in the majority, you never finished that contingency plan and procedures project, did you? If your case is one that allows you back into business within a few days (weeks), you are indeed lucky.

But if you are one of the "very few," then you are to be commended and you are entitled to a good bonus (I'll speak to your boss about it). You no doubt have a good, up-to-date business recovery and resumption plan and its supporting business recovery procedures.

It is a necessity for good, clear, easy-to-read and easy-to-understand disaster recovery procedures that are often referred to as the "Detailed Reference Manuals."

The Detailed Reference Manuals

The procedures here should be categorized by team. Let's assume that your detailed procedures could be assigned to six teams (for simplicity, we'll call them A, B, C, D, E, F...). I recommend simple page numbering (1, 2, 3,...). If you want to identify the teams, use a letter before the number (F-12 [finance]). Using plain, easy numbering makes changes easier to handle - and, don't doubt it, there will be changes!

The Playscript Procedures Format

There are many different formats from which to choose for your Detailed Reference Manuals. However, your selection of a format should consider HOW these manuals will be used by the various teams. They will be used under highly emotional and emergency situations.

Each member referring to the manuals must be able to find the proper procedures and to read them quickly. A text-like description of activities in a procedure will cause frustration and lack of coordination, among other things.

What these Detailed Reference Manuals need are easy-to-read (and easy to write) and easy-to-understand written directions. They must be easy-to-change also, as they must change rapidly and remain accurate.

What is a Procedure?

A procedure is a document (hard-copy or computer screen image) that helps people to proceed to do their jobs. A procedure does not contain any policy, philosophy, rules or regulations, messages to the troops - they merely outline HOW a group of people work together to obtain a common objective.

What is a Playscript Procedure?

It is a document (as above) but written in a format that provides easy understanding for everyone who must use the procedure. The format is similar to a Playscript, the actors (users) listed on the left and their "words" or actions shown on the right.


Team Leader 1. Calls all members to meet at offsite emergency facilities.
All Members 2. Congregate at offsite facilities, prepared to stay "on the job" until all emergency routines have been performed.

Writing Playscript procedures requires following four simple rules:
1. Short sentences
2. Familiar words
3. Active voice (Straight order)
4. "People"

Short Sentences

Keep sentences as short as possible. Three, four and five word sentences are great! Ten words are o.k., but anything beyond that can probably be split into shorter sentences.

Familiar Words

The key here is "familiar." Short words are not necessarily familiar words while some "long" words are understandable (there's a long one for you!) for everyone.
When writing a Playscript procedure, use familiar words - words you know will be understood by the users. If your readers don't know what "bits" and "bytes" mean, they are not familiar words. If you must use a word that is "unfamiliar," define it for your readers, at least, the first time you use it.

Active Voice (or Straight Order)

It is as simple now as it was when you were taught in the fifth grade: subject-verb-object (man ties shoes, man bites dog, client signs contract).


Salesperson 1. Prepares standard contract.
2. Obtains management approval.
3. Presents contract to client.
Client 4. Reviews terms and conditions and signs contract.

"People" In Procedures

People make the world go around and people make procedures. Get the people into the act.
Procedures are written for people...to help them do their work. Let the people "in." BUT DON'T USE PEOPLES' NAMES...People change jobs, but the jobs remain where they are (until an organization change), so use the names of the functions if you can, such as Production Engineering, Security Department, Facilities, Drafting, Accounts Receivable, Warehousing, Shipping, Insurance, Finance, Auditing, Information Processing, etc.

So, There You Have It...

It's up to you how your procedures are written. If you want them to be understood easily and quickly, adapt the Playscript Procedure format.

F. J. Bud Purcell is the founder of Purcell Associates which deals with organization, systems and policies.

This article adapted from V8#3.