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What are Standard Operating Procedures?

Documented Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are a set of instructions to help workers carry out routine operations. SOPs aim to achieve efficiency, quality output and uniformity of performance, while reducing miscommunication and failure to comply with industry regulations.

Standard Operating Procedures allow you to create a business that is  process dependent which is position based rather than person based.

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Benefits of Standard Operating Procedures

The largest benefit of maintaining Standard Operating Procedures is the reduction of close management. Your people know their job better than you and they are constantly improving the way it is done in a way that allows a new starter to take on the role with minimal fuss and training.

You quickly lose the “indispensable” person trap. If your staff can read, they can perform.

Prior planning prevents poor performance

SOP and Lean

SOP and Lean are a pigeon pair.

Lean is an evolving combination of Kaizen and Kanban. It uses the SOP to record its processes. When a process is  improved the SOP is updated and becomes the new standard.

The nature of Lean processes is that they are simple and easy to use, but not always obvious. The solution to this dilemma is documentation – preferably online. It is very much a case of “the way we do things around here“.

When your process descriptions are attached to a position, anyone filling that position can see all of their processes. If a process is changed it is easy to view the latest iteration.

This also makes defining a job description much easier.

My preferred software stack is Touchstone and Kanbanize.

SOP for a One Person Operation

Just because you are the chief cook and bottle washer does not mean that you can avoid documenting your SOPs. As a One Person Operation, your productivity is limited – you have no time leverage.

Define a full functional Organisation Chart as though the business is a 20 year old corporate. This is your 20 year goal.

Define each process of each position in the chart. If nothing else, it will give you a better idea of your worth, your strengths and weaknesses. Pay particular attention to the roles you like least and do not shortcut the processes. You will only cheat yourself.

You cannot hire a replacement for one of your roles until you understand and document the role. Once you have replaced yourself in one of your roles, you have more time to boost the other roles until you can again replace yourself.

The goal is that the new hire makes you a profit over costs that you can put toward another hire. This will improve efficiency and therefore help to grow the business – all the while shedding work that you do not enjoy.

Once the SOP are documented, a new hire has a guide to assist their work. They do not need to constantly question the processes.

Understanding comes much quicker. After a settling in period, they are encouraged to improve the processes and update the documentation. This further reduces your workload.

SOP for Normal Operations

Picture this scenario – you have a new employee who is not familiar with your operation. Your existing staff member filling that position has left or is on leave.

You sit the new hire down at a computer and display the procedures associated with the position that she will be filling so she can familiarise herself. The documentation is simple and self explanatory, but what is more important, printed and stuck on the wall above the workstation for easy reference.

Once she is comfortable with the procedures, take her to the workstation and explain the procedures and how to read the documentation (as a courtesy) so she does not feel thrown in at the deep end. Beginnings are such delicate times.

Explain that as the procedures change, she will be briefed and given a new set of documentation for the wall. Aside from Induction and Indoctrination, that is your training done.

  • Induction – the way we do things around here and what we expect of you
  • Indoctrination – this is the reason we do what we do and why we do it this way

As the processes are clearly documented and linked with the relevant positions, it becomes a simple matter to standardise your operation.

Ensure that each employee is shown how the system of SOP works during Induction (which is also documented) and that each task is documented. Further ensure that they know that they will be keelhauled if they do not follow SOP.

If they see a better way of performing any task, they are to raise the improvement at the next weekly meeting to see if it has any perceived impact upon upstream or downstream processes. Stand-up meetings are short and to the point. The “chair” for the meeting is rotated through all staff.

The procedure is updated – by them – and they get to test the new method. If it is indeed better, the procedure becomes standard, otherwise the previous one is rolled back. This shows respect to the employee as her suggestion is taken seriously which results in a better work culture.

The Kanban component will provide the task card and status board for each workflow.

Standard Operating Procedures allow you to create a business that is  process dependent which is position based rather than person based.

OP for Disaster Recovery

Operating Procedures can also be used in Disaster Recovery mode.

When a risk is identified, the mitigation strategy must be determined. This is how to run the business under Disaster Recovery conditions.

These Operating Procedures will not be the same as normal. They are often strongly affected by the event that made them necessary. The loss of some people, equipment or other infrastructure will always necessitate a form of work-around and upset the normal workflow.

Test the Disaster Recovery version of the Operating Procedures regularly to catch any improvements, omissions or errors.

Get the Disaster Recovery Operating Procedures written along with the Disaster Recovery Plan as soon as possible. Use the same systems as those for normal operations. The Disaster Recovery scenario is foreign enough, so use the same software as that used to reference the SOP to reduce staff confusion.

Review the procedures and the plan at least every year to ensure that they are viable and compatible with the current operating systems.

It really is only a parallel set of Policies and Procedures utilising the same software to deliver them.

A Good Operating Procedure

 clear and well written Operating Procedure will include:

  • what to do
  • where to do it
  • what not to do
  • how long it should take
  • Upstream and Downstream processes
  • the Kanban card and board shuffle
  • a short video of the process for mobile phones
  • a QR code to display the video
  • some printout for the workstation wall (description and images)

Getting the Business

Marketing and Sales are important functions. Marketing brings the customers to the door and sales hook them.

Marketing and Sales must work together. It can be difficult to align the interests of both parties but it must be done. Once a workflow is identified, document each and every policy and process, then train your people to use them. If they can understand the WHY, you are less likely to have dissenters.

Guiding the Business

A business is managed by acting upon Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Metrics. You cannot manage what you do not count.

It is important that you are comparing apples with apples each time. If the KPIs are generated differently each time, you are not comparing like with like. That is risky.

KPIs and Metrics are often used as warnings that there is a problem or that one is imminent. Mistaking the meaning of your KPIs and Metrics will lead to poor decision making.

Different people see things differently. In this case there must be documented standards so you do not get led astray by changes in numbers.

The numbers will form the basis of your strategy and management. Ensure that you are working from a solid baseline and understanding.

Running the Business

It is strange, people do not like variance. If you traditionally pay as soon as you receive an invoice, people come to expect that. If instead, you pay at the end of the term period, that is OK. If you vary your payment times, they begin to worry about your stability.

This is the same for almost all procedures associated with Finance, Administration and Human Resources.

Determine each of the processes and document each process. Use a timeline strategy to place the processes over its weekly or monthly cycle.

When someone is following documented procedures, the job is usually done the same way each time. Little slips through the cracks. Do try to avoid standards like “The Credit column is on the window side of the desk” as these can cause grief when you change desks.

Doing the Business

Products made using different procedures will be different – fit, colour, quality, texture or in some other detail. This may not be critical depending upon their tolerance but it will lead to difficulties at some stage. Define procedural standards and aim for the best uniform quality available.

Yes, I am aware that nature produces her wares in different shapes, sizes and colours. If you buy a box of tomatoes with some Grosse Lisse, some Bullocks Heart, some Roma, a couple of really wrinkled Heritage and a motley heap of small yellow and green things scattered through, you are going to expect a discount for scruff ends and seconds.

Fulfillment is another area where standards are important. Punctuality is a standard of delivery. People can get quite unreasonable if your delivery times vary or you use different packaging each time.

If it is done the same way each time, it will be more uniform. This applies to all aspects of production and delivery.

People are creatures of habit and expect uniformity. Define standards and aim for the best standard quality available.

Work, Health and Safety

Every procedure touches upon WH&S in some way. After you have defined the procedural documentation, check it against the WH&S requirements.

This can help to keep the authorities off your back and also reduce accident and injury along with the associated costs of lost time, paperwork and legals.

The primary areas to be considered are:

  • mixed access between people and machinery
  • the weight of loads to be lifted
  • chemical handling, use and storage

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