Using OneNote for Procedure Management

If you’re responsible for either using or managing procedures in your work (and to be honest, who isn’t?) you need some way to not only keep track of the procedures but also what is necessary to successfully execute and measure them. OneNote can be an excellent tool for doing this by applying some of it’s core features to the problem at hand.

Many organizations use dedicated applications to track and manage operational procedures, but just as many do not. We’ve all dealt with groups who keep their procedures in Word documents with artificial, templated structures to create some semblance of organization. This is an unnecessary creation of work and can be much more easily managed using OneNote.

If you have existing procures written in applications such as Microsoft Word, I recommend attaching them in a OneNote notebook as a file printout. Not only do you get the contents in a readable format but you also get the file attachment, plus the content is easily searchable.

Maintaining editable procedures

Procedures are one of those things that take on a life of their own and are in a constant need of updating and revision. OneNote makes this process simple using the History features of OneNote 2016. Unlike Track Changes in Word, History shows edits, edits by Author, page versions, and even a notebook level recycle bin. All of these come in handy as procedures are updated and revised.

A common question I get about this though is how do I protect my procedures from being changed? I want them “etched-in-stone” and not able to be changed unless they go through a formal review and approval procedure. Yet again, OneNote to the rescue. The simplest way to achieve this feat is to render your procedures as a PDF file for distribution. A quick application of the Export function can make a PDF of a page, section, or notebook available for distribution and reference. The pro tip for this is to combine the PDF with a new OneNote notebook and add the PDF as a File Printout. Not only do you get the file, but each page is viewable in the OneNote notebook, searchable, and ready for additional notes without violating the integrity of the original procedures.

Sharing Procedures Among Team Members

When you have a team working with common procedures, it’s important that everyone have access to the most recently approved procedures and is able to find the relevant content at a moment’s notice. Leveraging shared OneNote notebooks among team members makes this an easy task with any changes automatically populating out to each person for quick reference. I recommend adding a change log to the beginning of your notebook and deep linking to pages that have significant updates for access. Additionally you can use the tags capability to highlight key areas in a procedure for quick reference and consolidation.

Maintaining Gold Copies of Procedures

If you need to retain “gold copies” of your procedures for audit purposes you can use the password protect feature of OneNote to keep copies under lock and key. Additionally the PDF export also works as an excellent way to create historical copies of your procedures for reference. Remember, by default anyone who has access to a shared notebook can edit the contents of that notebook, so creating protected copies requires additional steps outside the normal features of OneNote.

Scheduled Revision Tracking

Good procedural management requires regular review and updating of procedures to maintain relevancy and accuracy. OneNote can assist with this as well, whether it’s through something as simple as a table page linking to each procedure page, when it is to be reviewed, when it was last reviewed, and who completed the review. You can build on this approach by using the Outlook Tasks feature under Home in the menu bar to create tracking tasks for when items are to be reviewed. Additionally, since each page can generate a direct link to the page (right-click on the page in the page list and select “Copy link to page”) you can add those links into Microsoft To Do, Planner, or your preferred task tracker of choice. If you want to do things right, you can even build a SharePoint list and track the review and updates, as well as use Power Automate to schedule notifications and reminders.

Creating a Procedural “Wiki”

By leveraging the linking ability within OneNote, you can create deep links from one procedure to another quickly and easily. Highlight the text you want to use as the link and then use Ctrl-K to connect to the page on OneNote for the link. A pro tip is you can use the same technique but right click on the movement arrow to the left of a paragraph to copy a link to a specific paragraph in your procedures.

Scratching the surface of procedure management with OneNote

This is only the beginning of what is possible when doing procedure management using OneNote. If you have questions or want to know more, make sure you leave a comment below.