The Difference Between Policies, Processes and Procedures



Business Management Systems - policies, processes, procedures

By Dan Hadley MBA, BCOMM, IMC, IML

In the Management Business context, often you find some commonly used terms that might seem interchangeable: most of the time, those are distinct concepts and describe entirely distinct subjects and workflows.

Such is the case of the difference between work instructions, policies, procedures, SOPs etc: These items come under the umbrella of “Management Business Documentation” which is just a way of describing how we view things or do things. Work instructions are also called work guides, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or job guides depending on the situation in any industry.

The purpose of work instructions is to clearly explain how a work task is performed: they are like the step-by-step instructions we receive for a recipe for a cake i.e. 1. Break 4 eggs into a bowl. 2. Add flour. 3. Add butter – etc. What’s important, is that work instructions should not be confused with processes or process maps. Let’s quickly look at where work instructions fit into our overall process documentation levels.



  • POLICY is a guiding document used to set directions within a Company, often within a confined topic or aspect. It forms part of the ethos and values the Company stands by for different issues.
  • PROCEDURE is a description of steps to be adhered to as a consistent and conforming approach to accomplish a particular outcome. A procedure outlines how to perform a process – sequence as to who does what in what order. Procedures may also be referred to as SOPs, Work Instructions, Safe Work Procedures (SWPs) and so on. These documents describe, in detail, how an input activity within a Company’s process to show how a procedure is performed procedures are the specific methods used to express procedures in action on an operational level within the Company.
  • PROCESS is a chain of activities that transform inputs to outputs. This is the action on the ground.



All those activities and functions take place within the boundaries set by Company leadership; Such documents also provide a level of redundancy in the event key people are away from the Company for such things as leave, sabbatical, sickness or study. Furthermore, the goal of having this kind of documentation is consistency and conformity. Through those important pieces of information, every worker in an organization can be on the same page as to the as to the views, values and methods for implementation.



Dan Hadley is a British /Australian economist and business management consultant for JLB based in Adelaide, South Australia.


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