The standard operating procedure (SOP) is a document that details the steps, precautions, and rules related to a routine operation. It serves to provide all the information needed for someone to do the work. Ideally, the SOP eliminates the need to chase after individuals for answers when questions arise.
During the pandemic, staff might need to rotate to work on-site in order to comply with capacity restrictions. Would a gap in expertise create unnecessary bottlenecks?
A well prepared, easily accessible SOP helps to overcome operational challenges. To optimize its utilization and effectiveness, there are three areas to consider.
- Ease of use
Many SOP is captured in text format. The longest one I have seen is an 80-page document. Imagine the response you get when you hand over that document to an employee. As the content is usually quite dry, you need to make it easy and interesting to consume.
Incorporate video and audio to present the information. Make use of diagrams to illustrate interdependencies. Use a list of bullets instead of convoluted paragraphs of words. Select simple and clear words to describe precisely what the user needs to do. The SOP is prepared for the workers who actually do the work. If they have difficulties understanding the content and the context, you really don’t have a usable SOP.
A common dilemma I hear from managers is that they have a SOP but it is buried in SharePoint or somewhere that is difficult to find. When workers don’t know where to find it, they won’t bother but rely on what they know and create adhoc patch work to get the work done. To ensure consistent performance, you want workers to adhere to the best practice developed.
To provide easy access, create a quick link icon and place it on the home page. Adapt the layout of the SOP so that it is mobile device friendly. Without doing so, you risks individuals creating their own version of the SOP and store locally on their computer. You end up with multiple versions with outdated information.
The SOP is usually created when a new process is put in place or after a significant overhaul of the operation. Once the workers become familiar with the routine, there is little need to refer to it. Over time, it is forgotten. As new employees come on board, they are trained by other team members. At that point, personal preferences might have been passed on as the formal process. Deviations accumulate, leading to potential conflicts.
Without the dedicated ownership for the SOP, there is no accountability to keep it updated. Business environment, organizational structure, rules, and technological changes impact how you operate. An outdated SOP renders it obsolete. Without proper documentation, knowledge leaves with every employee’s departure. On the contrary, when an owner is assigned, there is discipline to update it to ensure the best practice is still valid and effective.
The SOP is a tool to educate, train and support workers. To fulfil these objectives, you need to create easy to use content, make it accessible, and keep it up-to-date. Otherwise, it would be just a document created for a one-time purpose and shelved with no value.