Angel Candelario Rodriguez, founder and manager of the LinkedIn group “Technical Writer in Action,” interviewed Jack Hardy on December 3, 2011. Originally posted on LinkedIn for group members; reprinted here with permission.
Technical and procedures writing careers are often a mystery to those on the outside or with little experience in the field. What do technical and procedures writing jobs involve? What is the career path of a technical and procedures writer, and what challenges do they face?
Jack Hardy is one of the best known and respected names in the procedure business. He has worked with the procedure programs at over 25 nuclear facilities, educated hundreds of procedures writers in effective writing techniques and strategies and has developed many of the state of the art Human Factor techniques employed in procedure writing today. He served in the U.S. Navy and he is one of the top nuclear procedure consultants with over 30 years experience in all areas of Procedure programs.
Author of “Procedure Writing Tools and Practices”, a comprehensive textbook that provides guidance on writing human performance based procedures and instructions. The text supports the needs of both the experienced and new writer. It provides guidance on how to develop reliable, robust procedures from the identification of the need for a procedure to the issuance of the procedure approved for use at the facility.
Very kindly, Jack Hardy shares with members of Technical Writer In Action his experiences and insights of his book “Procedure Writing Tools and Practices” in the following interview:
TWIA: Thank you very much for joining me in this interview. Where are you from?
Jack Hardy: I grew up in the small town of Kamas, located in the Northeastern part of the state of Utah. I currently live in Aiken, SC where I have resided for the past 17 years.
TWIA: What is your current position?
Jack Hardy: I am the Vice President of Operations for Global Procedure Services, LLC. I have held this position since June of 2008.
TWIA: You are considered by many professionals and organizations as one of the best known and respected names in the procedure business. Do you recall how your interest in procedures writing originated?
Jack Hardy: My first exposure to writing and maintaining procedures was during my service in the US Navy. I was assigned the duties of revising and maintaining the Reactor Plant Manual on the nuclear ballistic missile submarine I was assigned to. After receiving my discharge from the Navy, I worked at the HB Robinson plant as an operator and had the opportunity to write and revise several procedures. One of the aspects I found challenging and rewarding was developing consistent, concise terminology, and standardized step structure. The overall goal I had in mind was to provide instructions that could be understood by any qualified user and would ensure successful task performance in the field environment.
TWIA: What was your professional background before you chose to pursue a career as a Procedure Consultant?
Jack Hardy: Prior to becoming heavily involved in procedures and procedure development most of my professional career was as a plant operator and operator training instructor. Coincidentally, I feel that both of these aspects of my career have been very beneficial in developing quality procedures, managing procedure projects and programs, and developing and implementing new procedure tools and strategies.
TWIA: What is your educational background?
Jack Hardy: I graduated from South Summit High School
Completed Electronics Technician “A” School in the Navy
Completed Carolina Power and Light Co. Reactor Operator and Senior Reactor Operator Training Programs and received NRC RO and SRO licenses
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Management from Southern Wesleyan University.
TWIA: What do procedures writing jobs involve?
Jack Hardy: Procedure writing covers a wide range of tasks (wider than many of those not involved with it might suspect). First the procedure writer should be a subject matter expert (SME) in the skill/craft area they are providing procedure support for. This allows them to address many of the procedure alterations as they are identified. It also allows them to interface with the line organization and understand their concerns, interpret the technical information they provide and ask the appropriate questions to obtain the information necessary to alter/write the procedure in the most appropriate manner. Next, they need to be a tireless researcher willing to examine available technical reference materials for relevant information. The procedure writer needs to possess the skills to process and present the information gathered in a logical, concise, and coherent manner such that the field user can safely and efficiently perform the task in question.
TWIA: What is the career path of a technical and procedures writer?
Jack Hardy: A logical career path for a procedure writer would be to spend time in the craft organization learning the craft and becoming a subject matter expert in the field of interest. From this point, the individual should transition into a procedure writing role. From the role of procedure writer the next career step should be into line management for the particular craft in question. It is somewhat different for a technical writer in that subject matter expertise in the craft field is not required. Once an individual has been training in technical writing techniques and human performance as related to instruction based task performance they are ready to become an entry level technical writer.
TWIA: What skills are most important to succeed in Procedure Business?
Jack Hardy: Two distinctly different skills are critical. First, the ability to articulate complex activities within the limitations of written text and one-way communications. A thorough understanding of how we as humans respond to stimuli, stress, our inherent generic habits, world perceptions, and how to compensate for or take advantage of these human characteristics, whichever is the case, in the written medium. And finally, the procedure writer should have the ability to work well with others; obtain job satisfaction and pride from how complex technical information is presented in a concrete manner rather than the actual task implementation methodology.
TWIA: What do you like best about your work?
Jack Hardy: Its uniqueness, every day offers a new challenge and with that a new opportunity to provide relevant contributions to the profession and end-users. Of course there are times the new challenges are somewhat frustrating; but it is never boring. There are always opportunities to make contributions and forward the art and profession of technical/procedure writing for those willing to look for them and embrace the challenges.
TWIA: What kind of impact has this position had on your lifestyle?
Jack Hardy: That might be a better question to ask my wife and other family membersJ. Seriously, I am more sensitive to the level of detail in written materials I interface with on a daily basis. Such as instructions with toys, furniture and other products I have to operate or assemble. I become frustrated when the level of detail is not sufficient for successful task performance or requires multiple attempts to achieve success. As a result at times I even close the loop with the vendor/supplier and offer suggestions on improving their technical information.
TWIA: You are the author of “Procedure Writing Tools and Practices”; could you talk a little about this book? It’s this book part of a training program or certification?
Jack Hardy: No, it is a standalone definitive text that describes the procedure development process from initial task analysis to final development of a robust procedure that incorporates state-of-the-art human factor techniques and human performance/error reduction considerations. The book contains ample illustrations and numerous topic specific examples to ensure the reader has real-life support information to facilitate full comprehension of the concepts and tools described. Procedure Writing Tools and Practices provides the necessary tools for those designing and maintaining procedures in all industries where high hazards and risk exist and reliability is required. The content is based on over 40 years of procedure development, human performance implementation, and project management experience. GPS offers the text in conjunction with its advanced human performance based procedure writer training, but the training is not required to obtain a copy. It can be purchased alone.
TWIA: What is one of your favorite success stories from your students?
Jack Hardy: On many occasions I have received e-mails from students relating how their perspective on procedure writing has changed after attending training. A few have moved on to manage procedure programs and years later still display their certificates from attending and successfully completing procedure writer and manager courses I have provided. On a more frequent note it is very rewarding to see the “light bulb” come on during a course when the attendee has an epiphany regarding ways to improve the implementation of their craft to support the end user.
TWIA: Could you tell me a bit about the first procedure writing project you ever worked on?
Jack Hardy: What were a few of the challenges – or successes – you faced when first starting out
The first procedure writing project was a major upgrade project including all plant disciplines. I was the vendor on-site project manager. I was given responsibility to coordinate the activities of 23 procedure writers and reviewers from three different companies including the client company. The biggest challenge was to mold them into a single cohesive organization that supported overall project goals rather than individual goals or for the client employees, the internal goals of their peers within the plant line organization. This was quite different than being an individual contributor in a training organization. Fortunately many of the techniques I had observed associated with past projects served as great models that could be molded into effective tools for a procedure upgrade project.
TWIA: Could you describe a recent challenge you’ve been presented with at work and how (if possible) you were able to overcome it?
Jack Hardy: A challenge that I and many procedure professionals face in the nuclear industry is spreading the message of SOER 10-2, Engaged, and Thinking Organizations. Often the senior leadership team at a facility falls into one of the many traps in their path such as the belief that the correct response to any human performance event is a procedure change. While it might be an integral part of the corrective action seldom is the ONLY necessary action. The belief that procedures should be so detailed that ANY person could perform a task successfully by using that procedure is also very inappropriate. This logic completely neglects the other two critical legs of the safety triangle; supervision and training. There must be a balance between procedures, supervision, and training with the right amounts of each. We should always approach a task using a questioning attitude and critical thought process. Have we evaluated all reasonably expected conditions that might arise and the responses to either mitigate them or provide the correct success path. Once it has been determined what the correction actions are, then how do we provide that information to support the user in the field? The correct response should be through the appropriate mix of training, procedures, and supervision such that we have a qualified individual using a robust procedure as supported and directed an effective supervisor.
TWIA: What are your current projects?
Jack Hardy: Global Procedure Services, LLC is excited to introduce its latest product designed to improve the reliability of procedures at your facility. The Procedure Risk Evaluation Program, PREP is the result of many years evaluating survey responses, procedure evaluations, human performance failures, causal analyses, and human factor techniques for documents. PREP evaluates four elements of procedure quality that can have a great impact on the risk associated with using the procedure. Each element: Organization and Format, Written Consistency, Technical Content, and Human Performance are thoroughly evaluated using objective questions. Each element and each aspect evaluated within the area are weighted by importance factors assigned by industry peers with an unparalleled depth and breadth of procedure knowledge.
We continue to support clients with procedure process assessment and process control upgrades.
TWIA: Are there any likely changes that may affect the industry in the next few years?
Jack Hardy: With the next generation of nuclear power plants being built we will see an increased interest and emphasis on electronic procedures. Procedures that use the power of computers to aid the user in successful task performance based on plant response to actions taken or directed by the procedure user. Writing this type of interactive procedure is going to require additional and/or new skills sets of the writer. Those that can master these new skills will be the most successful and sought after writers in the next generation.
TWIA: What types of advancement opportunities are available for entry-level candidates in this career track?
Jack Hardy: As a popular song says, “the future is so rosy I need sunglasses.” In the nuclear industry we are experiencing a renaissance with new plants being built for the first time in over 30 years. Many procedure modifications are going to be required as a result of the event at the Fukushima plants. The oil and gas industry are going to require a complete evaluation and upgrade of their procedures as a result of the Deep Water Horizon event. In other industries it is being recognized that the best way to be competitive is to have robust procedures that direct work in a safe and successful manner. Low accident rates and high product quality are some of the direct results of quality procedures.
TWIA: What advice would you give –- if any -– to those looking to start, or transition into, a career in procedure or technical writing?
Jack Hardy: Be willing to accept an entry level position. While you might be a skilled professional in a craft you probably do not have any procedure writing experience. While a person might have used procedures frequently that is quite different than writing them. The concise, clear, coherent present of concrete information found in a procedure is no accident. It comes from understanding how people function and how to present information in a written format than most, in not all, people can understand and follow.
TWIA: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Jack Hardy: Yes, for those of you that I have had the privilege of meeting and working with, “Thank you for allowing me to learn from you.” I have met many extremely knowledgeable professional people; all of which have been willing to share information with me. To current and past Global Procedure Services, LLC clients, thanks for the opportunities to work with you and your confidence in our ability to address your challenges and meet your needs. To those unfamiliar with GPS I invite you to visit our website and explore our capabilities to aid you in meeting your current or future goals. At the very least give us a call and let’s get acquainted.