What are the Benefits of Standard Operating Procedures?
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES?
It’s likely that if you’ve been in business for long, you understand the need for Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). You may have even discovered the need for them when faced with a problem that resulted from not having them. The problem may have been so severe that you’ve become a real cheerleader for SOPs.
But for the sake of a budding entrepreneur or someone in an existing business without them, let’s review why SOPs are so important.
SOPs are important in:
- Avoiding confusion and chaos.
- Ensuring that your customers are all treated in the same manner.
- Ensuring the safety of your employees.
- Ensuring efficiency and timeliness.
SOPs help avoid:
- Production shutdowns.
- Lack of materials.
- Loss of reputation, lawsuits, and fines.
Poor customer service can be the death knell for a company that sells its services or products directly to consumers. Employees must know just how to manage a variety of specific situations, so they aren’t caught flat-footed and react poorly. Negative experiences with your customer service representatives can directly affect your ability to garner repeat business.
Or, if you’re in a business that provides products for intermediary sellers, poor quality and production delays come at a tremendous cost to your reputation. If businesses that procure your products can find other sources with fewer delays or higher quality, you’re in for losses in income.
And no matter what kind of business you have, the potential for accidents exists. Even in an office, trips, slips, and falls can occur.
In fact, according to the National Safety Council, trips, slips, and falls account for 27.5 percent of all lost time injuries in the workplace. If your business has a warehouse or shop, your risks go up dramatically. The absence of procedures for how to deal with these kinds of situations, and the failure to reinforce existing procedures, can result in injuries leading to fines, lawsuits, and the loss of business.
How Can You Use SOPs to Your Advantage?
Senior Project Manager Michael McBride was consulted for his perspective on the importance of SOPs and the elements to include in them. Michael is a degreed engineer who works for an established Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) company. He focuses on procuring contracts in the 300-to-500-million-dollar range. His career experience includes time spent managing SOP development.
Michael enumerated the advantages of developing and re-evaluating SOPs.
- 1. Consistency of work. We’ve talked about the benefits of consistency in customer service, in manufacturing and production, and in terms of safety. Michael cautions, “Safety lapses occur when people are off on their own—not following standard procedures.” Then, he identified one more benefit to following a clearly defined procedure: Once you have an SOP in place, you can identify what needs to be changed.
- 2. Predictability. After consistency has been established, you have a record of how long it takes to complete your procedures. These metrics enable you to predict the work hours to use in bidding new projects or justifying price increases.
- 3. Efficiency. By following the same process over and over, you increase profitability. Efficiency in production is what made Henry Ford rich—and the countless other companies that followed his business model.
- 4. Quality control. Once you have established what processes yield quality results, you can build a Quality Assurance (QA) group to flesh out all the areas in and junctures at which to require QA checks. The group can also develop the qualifications your employees must have to perform their duties.
- 5. Interchangeability. If the processes within your company are consistent, certain individuals can step in when needed without disrupting efficiency in your operations.
- 6. Identifying core competencies. If your company’s operations depend on procuring contracts to use your services and you have succeeded in establishing repeatability, you can intelligently choose the work you want to pursue. You can identify work that is outside your core competencies. As Michael explained, “When you are considering whether to bid a job, you can easily decide when you are in ‘innovation territory.’” If you are, you must decide whether to add it to your core competencies or to pass on pursuing the contract.
- 7. Certifications. Michael pointed out that most entities that certify businesses (ISO, Lean Six Sigma, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), etc.) require that businesses have Standard Operating Procedures.
SOPs require up-front effort, but the payoff is enormous.
The SOP process itself helps you mine, gather, and utilize what’s in the minds of your experts. It also helps you vet the procedures you already have in place, enabling you to recognize things in your process that aren’t really valuable.
You may identify the reason a step was included in the first place. For example, you may have questioned why the process includes filling out a particular form. As it turns out, it’s needed by the Accounting Department in compiling a particular report.
When Should SOPs Be Developed?
Ideally, SOPs should be developed as soon as possible after you open your doors.
They can be, and will need to be, revised as work progresses and situations arise, but having them in place from the outset will reduce the lack of employee buy-in. (“This company doesn’t know what it’s doing.” Or “How can they expect me to do my job correctly if there’s nothing written down?”)
With all of the things you’re doing to accelerate growth in your new operations, you don’t need to contend with these attitudes.
A suggestion about sequence:
Our expert recommends that after your first successful project, you should document what made it successful and what, if anything, may have hindered progress.
After two projects or production cycles, you should then develop a roadmap.
Developing Your Roadmap
As the entrepreneur of a burgeoning new business or the manager of a new division, you can identify the novel processes you’ve developed in your business process. Standard Operating Procedures that are not unique to your processes may be found online and adopted for your business. (This writer found that they’re plentiful–particularly on regulatory sites such as OSHA.)
This is where the roadmap comes into play.
A simple documentation roadmap is a strategic plan that outlines your vision for creating your suite of SOPs. Your roadmap can be a document, a graphic, or both. But with a simple documentation roadmap, you should identify:
- Your novel processes.
- The operating procedures your team should develop from scratch.
- The procedures that can utilize and modify an existing SOP.
- The order in which the SOPs should be developed.
- A projected timeline for document delivery.
- The Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who are best suited to each SOP/group of SOPs.
- The standard parts (elements) you want to include in all of your SOPs.
ProductPlan, a planning tool that enables your team to create roadmaps in minutes, recommends that you not call your roadmap a “document,” as it will signal to you and to others in your organization that it is finished. It’s documented. It’s static.
But it’s not.
The roadmap should change as your processes and ideas for expansion mature. ProductPlan writes: “A roadmap is more of a process than a thing. You might even think of your roadmap as a strategic conversation.”
There are free graphic templates for roadmaps that are customizable to your needs available on the Office Timeline site.
“But wait, there’s more!”
There are more comprehensive roadmap systems that capture your plan for SOPs, other company documentation, and much more. These tools are called “product roadmap software” or “project management software.” These tools enable you to capture your:
- Strategic plan.
- Continuous Improvement Program (CIP).
- Project development process.
- Documentation development process.
- Quotes, and invoices.
The roadmap can be shared with the entire workforce. Most are customizable to your specific needs, and you can choose a roadmap tool that is compatible with your company’s software suite. While there are a lot of software options out there, here are some of the top-rated roadmap tools that we found.
ProductPlan helps teams plan, visualize, and share product strategy. It is designed to keep your team aligned with a flexible roadmap that can be accessed across the entire organization.
The world’s No. 1 roadmap software was developed by Aha! Labs. Aha! helps you set strategy, prioritize features, and share visual plans.
Project Management software Monday.com allows you to choose from several pre-made, customizable templates to develop a high-level visual of your strategic initiatives. Multiple features enable you to know where things stand against your key milestones.
There are lots of online reviews of the leading roadmap and product management tools. Captera.com provides a list of products that can be filtered by features, pricing, deployment method, and number of users.
Whether you develop a separate roadmap for document development or utilize a tool to capture a roadmap for multiple company processes, just be sure to include your SOP development process in your company’s early strategic planning.
When you have a roadmap for developing SOPs for your novel processes, it’s time to move forward. Your SMEs develop the details and, in this way, they capture the hard work you’ve done in establishing the processes that set your business apart.
What’s the First Step in Developing an Individual SOP?
You’ve identified the SMEs that support and oversee the various processes within your company and included those experts in your roadmap. Now it’s time to assemble the team for the first SOP or, if multiple SOPs are to be produced at the outset, assemble your teams. Each team is made up of the experts who know how the process should work and the line manager of that process—your “stakeholder team.”
Then it’s time to chug through the writing process. An alternative is to employ the skills of a technical writer who can facilitate the process and start drafting the SOP as soon as the team meetings begin.
As the document process evolves, the team must agree on the scope, the methods of ensuring quality assurance (inspections, testing, reports), the purpose, the responsible parties and their required qualifications, the steps themselves, and the ramifications of non-compliance.
Sound daunting? Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog, which will lead you and your team through the six elements your team should include in a comprehensive and effective SOP.
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