How to Write a Great Operations Manual

A business operations manual gives leadership and employees a framework to thrive. As a business grows, its operations become more complex, and so the margins for error increase. The easiest way to maintain efficiency, increase staff morale, and improve process optimization is through an operations manual that outlines exactly how your company operates.

From your vision and ethos to an emergency plan and staff hierarchy, an operation manual is a turnkey guide to keep things on track. Massive corporations may have several manuals to accommodate different departments, while smaller businesses might have simpler documentation.

Regardless, the most important thing is that the information within is valuable and offers a procedural overview to all staff that is clear across job positions and departments. In this blog, we explain how to create a process manual and why you definitely need one, as well as provide some useful templates and software recommendations.

What Is an Operations Manual?

An operations manual instructs employees on how to perform their tasks productively and safely. It is not the same as a training manual. While training manuals are used to train new staff during the onboarding process, operating manuals are accessible to all employees at any time. Operations manuals are part of the internal documentation of an organization that explains how a company gets things done. They can be printed as a small booklet or published as an online resource.

Broadly speaking, operations manuals outline the processes necessary to achieve business objectives; they document how to do them, and who is responsible for carrying them out. It’s normal for companies to have more than one to cover different business aspects — for example, customer support and marketing departments.

While operations manuals are not a substitute for training, they do enable trained personnel to adapt to an organization’s standard operating procedures.

These manuals typically contain the following:

  • Job descriptions
  • Company hierarchy
  • Documented processes
  • Safety instructions
  • Emergency procedures
  • Contacts
  • Company history
  • Products and services
  • Policies and position statements

What Are the Benefits of Operations Manuals?

Simply put: A lack of clear documentation will result in team members and employees doing things their own way, which produces haphazard processes that are disadvantageous for an entire company’s workforce, and profits. Besides the obvious advantage of ensuring everyone is on the same page, here are a few other operations manual benefits:

Resource Centralization

Companies with robust documentation have a much higher chance of long-term success. Staff may come and go but with documented processes and policies, your company should be able to operate according to standard procedure regardless of new hires in executive, mid, or entry-level positions.

Greater Consistency 

Operational manuals demonstrate how business procedures should be conducted. When everyone follows the same processes, it’s easy to achieve standardization. This is especially important to maintain customer satisfaction. When done well, standardization decreases process ambiguity, guarantees quality, boosts productivity, and increases employee job satisfaction as well. 

Improved Accountability

Having an operations manual for your company ensures employees know what to do in a range of challenging situations. By describing job descriptions, company hierarchy, and people involved in a specific task, they will know what the chain of command is and who is responsible for what. 

Additional Market Value

There’s no doubt that a business operation manual adds market value to companies. Providing documentation is not only the mark of a professional organization but also the most efficient and easiest way to assist new owners if you eventually want to sell your company. These documents provide peace of mind and great assurance when new owners take over a business.

As part of our operations process and management solutions, Great Lakes Advisory offers the precise and detailed creation of operations manuals that ensure employee performance aligns with company goals. Schedule an appointment today to learn how we can help you create superior user documentation!

What Should an Operations Manual Include?

operations manuals

Because your operations manual serves as a knowledge base, it can be tricky to decide how much detail to include. In general, it should contain the following:

  • Company contact information: This includes the company’s address, phone and fax number, website URL, email addresses for key departments, and any other necessary contact information.
  • Operating hours: This helps employees, stakeholders, and vendors know when the company opens and closes, so they can do business at appropriate times.
  • Workforce organizational chart: This provides an overview of personnel hierarchy, including strategic and technical management and executive positions. It also shows staff whom to interact with, report, and discuss issues with.
  • Job descriptions: Itemize each job description and include everyone who is, directly and indirectly, responsible for efficient process delivery. This helps staff understand their responsibilities and roles.
  • Business processes and policies: This section takes up the most space because it explains how processes work, as well as policies related to dealing with employee and customer grievances.
  • Emergency procedures: This clearly states what to do when issues arise. For example, if machinery stops working, the software is hacked, or there’s an electrical fault. It outlines whom to call and what to do.
  • Disaster recovery plan: You should document procedures following destruction to property, such as natural disasters and theft. Having a plan prepared in advance restores normal operations as quickly as possible and prevents significant revenue loss.
  • Passwords: An operations manual should have a section where passwords and entry codes are documented. For safety’s sake, access to this may be restricted to top management positions.
  • Series of checklists: Create checklists for major procedures like cleaning, opening/closing, supplies, and any other task that requires easy and repeatable steps.
  • Stakeholder contact details: This can include specific employees, suppliers, insurance companies, bank accounts, attorneys, and landlords, who may need to be contacted for urgent inquiries or guidance.

How to Create a Business Operations Manual 

Below are very broad steps to help you make an operations manual. Given the intricacy of the detail required, the process usually takes a few weeks, as you’ll need to collaborate with many departments and collate a significant amount of information.

Step 1 | Document Processes

The easiest way to document processes is through visualization. Process maps, flowcharts, and BPMN diagrams are informative and user-friendly. They capture processes in visual ways that are easy for everyone to understand, regardless of their experience level.

Swimlane documentation is also useful to indicate who is responsible for different processes and the steps required to do so. You can learn more about how to document processes with our guide.

If you’ve never attempted what we call process mapping (documenting processes) for your business, then it may be advantageous to get expert help, as various types of maps are used for different processes.

Step 2 | Include Business Policies

Business policies are guidelines developed by leadership to govern a business’s actions. They define the limits within which decisions need to be made, as well as deal with resource acquisition and organizational goals.

Each business will have its policies, guided by the law. However, in general, it’s safe to assume an operations manual includes the following policies:

  • General company rules on appropriate behavior like dress code, and internet policies.
  • Guidance on common circumstances such as purchasing company merchandise, standards of conduct, and travel allowances.
  • Legal issues like how to deal with harassment or discrimination.
  • Compliance with governmental laws and agencies such as equal opportunity, minimum wage, and leave.
  • Work standards, rules, regulations regarding safety rules and discipline, as well as fair treatment to do with paid leave, bereavement, or jury duty.

Step 3 | Draw Up Organizational Hierarchy and Job Roles

An organizational chart starting from the top is the best way to showcase your company’s hierarchy and relationships between different job roles. Once you’ve done this, you’ll want to add descriptions, including job role responsibilities, experience, and skills.

On a separate diagram, you can neatly list down the relevant contact tails of employees. This is usually for department heads and line managers. Essentially, anyone who is in charge of a specific aspect of your business.

Step 4 | Explain Your Emergency Response Plan

List all the procedures you need to take for emergencies that are most likely to occur in your business. You’ll want to be as detailed as possible and get them down in a step-by-step fashion. This includes whom to call, how to deal with insurance, as well HR and client or customer procedures.

Involving supervisors or members of the safety committee in the developmental process (if you have not formalized these procedures) is beneficial, as they will be aware of facility hazards, and processes that must be carried out to minimize dangers to employees and/or physical property.

Step 5 | Choose Your Creation Tool  & Operation Manual Format

operations manual example

Your business needs will dictate which tool is best. There are so many templates and software tools available to suit different budgets and requirements. Some companies invest in a software suite that helps them develop all their company documentation, including user manuals, and training guides, while others buy an operation manual template to work from.

Step 6 | Develop a Layout

By now, you’ve probably realized operation manuals aren’t just paragraphs of text. There are headings, diagrams, and flowcharts to consider. Knowing how to arrange these elements is important because they determine how easy the manual is to read.

The design should be consistent. This means the typeface, headings, margin spacing, and photographs need to be carefully planned beforehand. If you’re new to design, or just haven’t considered it before, then you might want to read up on basic principles before you get started.

Step 7 | Receive Feedback

Before publishing your operations manual, you should get feedback from different departments to ensure the information is correct. Creating an operations manual will always entail collaboration from different departments, especially if you are not involved in every process. Once relevant stakeholders are happy with their sections, you should hire an editor to proofread everything, fix errors, as well as provide clarity on the language.

How to Update and Distribute Your Operations Manual

Most operations manuals are made digitally, so updating them is relatively easy. However, if you’ve distributed physical copies, then you’ll need to reprint them and make sure you replace the outdated versions. While simple operations manuals can be made on Microsoft Word, and the likes, most organizations use more sophisticated cloud-based solutions, platforms, and software programs.

At Great Lakes Advisory, we encourage companies to do so. Not only is it better for the environment, but it’s easier to access (online), and simpler to update. All you have to do is log in, make the changes, and update and distribute it to your employees and line managers. There’s also far less admin; if you do make a mistake, you don’t have to reprint the new version.

Operations Manual Templates

Templates differ according to industry and business. The operations manual examples below encompass both physical templates and software that you can draw inspiration from.

Construction Operations Manual Template

Construction operating manuals can take many forms, depending on the scope of the operations. This particular template comes with 43 customizable Microsoft Word document policies, procedures, and forms that comprise over 100 pages. It covers all aspects related to construction, workplace employment, benefits, and codes of conduct.

IT Operations Manual Template

ProProfs IT template is a fully-fledged online operations manual that provides staff with a holistic understanding of how to carry out their work with efficiency. Employees can access the manual on any device, at any time, making it ultra-convenient. ProProfs provides a basic outline that allows you to upload PDFS or documents, and customize the design scheme.

Hotel Operations Manual Template

Optismo Group offers an interactive web platform that provides templates for procedures, pictorial processes, instructions, job descriptions, and more. It is especially useful for franchise businesses because each new hotel can be easily integrated into the system. That way, every franchise has access to the same information at the click of a button.

Small Business Operations Manual Template

Business Process Incubator has a comprehensive template to help you build a solid manual. While not the most creative, its simple plug-and-play format and clear instructions allow almost anyone to create professional business documentation. Once you’ve completed your manual, you can export it as a word and/or PDF document.

Financial Operations Manual Template

This template from Bizmanualz outlines financial policies and procedures such as capital planning, capital structure, asset and inventory control, financial and reporting, and analysis. Because it’s a Microsoft Word template, all you need to do is type in the relevant information without worrying about designing it from scratch.

Restaurant Operations Manual Template

Paligo is a component content management system (CCMO) for technical documentation, policies, procedures, and knowledge management. With it, you can author, manage, translate and publish operations manuals to the cloud. While not strictly a template, its advanced capabilities allow you to automate the entire documentation process. It’s best for large restaurant chains.

Real Estate Team Operations Manual Template

The National Association of Realtors offers useful tips and template examples to help you create your own. Additionally, its easy-to-use guidebooks and articles cover industry specifics, such as how to prevent seller and buyer disputes, hybrid work policies, as well as marketing and social media. Overall, real estate operations manuals should cover all aspects of transactions, as well as marketing strategies and tactics.

Emergency Operations Manual Template

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides this simple, yet comprehensive, emergency operations manual template which you can fill out and publish. Of course, your emergency action plan will depend on the type of business you have and the building it’s housed in. Always be sure to make sure your action plan is compliant with health and safety standards to avoid unforeseen liabilities.

Hire the Best Operations Manual Makers!

Another compelling reason to create an operation manual is so that you can focus on the strategic functions of the business. This is virtually impossible if you’re forever handling procedural challenges and solving problems. Developing an operation manual forces you to iron out issues and formulate solutions.

Why don’t you give yourself the strategizing time by outsourcing your operation manual development to experts? Great Lakes Advisory specializes in creating a range of professional user documentation for businesses to help them streamline their processes and improve their revenue. Call us now to learn how we can provide you with a blueprint for optimal performance.

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