By Alison Nelson, Employee Benefits Account Manager
I was recently chatting with my mom, who is an elementary school teacher, and she was telling me about one of her favorite projects to do with her class – the PB&J project. To teach her class the importance of clear and concise instructions, she divides her students into groups and gives them the simple task of writing instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Easy enough, right?
After the groups complete their instructions, my mom stands in front of the class with all of the tools and ingredients needed to make a PB&J and she follows each group’s written directions. Word for word.
“Spread peanut butter on bread” the directions don’t say what to use, so she scoops peanut butter with her bare hands and smears it on all sides of the bread.
“Add jelly” Add jelly to what? My mom would then scoop jelly onto the table.
This process would go on and on until she would present the class with a multitude of Frankenstein-like sandwiches. Then, they would work together as a class to write a final set of incredibly detailed instructions that, when followed by their teacher, finally resulted in a deliciously ordinary PB&J.
Aside from being a fun activity, the PB&J project highlights the need to be incredibly detailed and thoughtful when writing instructions intended for others to follow – something every organization should consider when it comes to their workflow processes. Life happens, colleagues call out sick or go on vacation. When someone else must cover for that colleague, do they have access to written instructions that will allow them to follow the workflow with ease?
At RISQ Consulting, we’ve been updating some of our written processes and conducting our own version of the PB&J project. Once a process has been written, we have someone from a completely different department try to follow the directions to complete the task. Having someone who has no prior knowledge of the task at hand follow the directions has been a crucial step in writing our processes. It’s easy to make assumptions that some things might be common sense, but, when thrown into a new workflow, you’ll want all the clarity you can get.
You can view a popular (and funny) video version of the PB&J task here. And as you write your own set of processes, ask yourself if you think you’d end up with a PB&J or a complete mess of a sandwich.