Some people view ‘standardization’ as the antithesis of ‘creativity’. Nevertheless, it also has many positive aspects. For example, standardization helps you structure processes in the most effective and efficient way possible. And in this respect, SOPs play an important role within standardization practices.
So, what are SOPs?
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) help your staff do their jobs in the best way possible. They’re written job instructions that explain in detail how to perform a certain procedure or series of tasks properly.
But what’s their purpose? Creating a uniform and consistent process and end product.
Using SOPs, you know exactly which steps to take to achieve a given outcome. They also eliminate any doubt, uncertainty, or debate about a process, making them an ideal way to quickly and easily onboard new staff and make processes uniform.
Are SOPs effective for all businesses?
SOPs are widely used within sectors where repeatability and controllability play important roles, for example the pharmaceutical, clinical trial, and manufacturing industries.
Examples of SOPs in use on a daily basis include:
- conditions relating to ISO standards
- rules & regulations for clinical trials
- pre-takeoff checklists for pilots
Using SOPs has many benefits for a wide range of organizations:
- standardizing training programs – written instructions ensure everyone’s on the same page and allow you to onboard new staff more quickly
- creating a brand identity & company DNA – style guides make it clear how to use your company’s colors, logos, and typefaces in graphical layouts and how to communicate in your brand’s tone of voice in all its written publications
- reducing the number of errors – clear, concise guidelines explain how to prepare and perform tasks or processes
- complying with legislation – clearly defined safety requirements and quality standards make it easier to comply with rules and regulations
- providing transparency – with a well-defined management structure, everyone knows who’s responsible for which processes and who’s authorized to approve completion of each stage
- delegating tasks – clear job descriptions help temporary or permanent replacements learn what’s expected of them with minimal assistance from the person who’s fallen ill or about to retire
Step by step to SOPs
But where should you start with SOPs? And what’s the best way to put them into practice?
Follow the steps below to get started!
Step 1 – prioritize your SOPs
Chances are you won’t have the time or resources to create and update dozens, if not hundreds of SOPs in one go. This is why it’s a good idea to set your priorities. For example, it’s often advisable to focus on one or more of the following issues:
- QHSE – to make sure your staff comply with company and statutory quality-, health-, safety- and environment-related rules, regulations, and standards
- Production line operation – to make sure your production lines run smoothly and efficiently, to make it easier for operators to resolve problems, and to streamline multiple production lines running in parallel
- Instruction & training – to help individuals, teams, and departments perform at a higher level
Step 2 – create your SOPs
Once you’ve prioritized matters, it’s time to start creating the actual SOPs. Start by setting up an SOP design team made up of the relevant members. Usually, this would be a mix of operators, maintenance technicians, and process engineers. And if you’re not familiar with TWI principles, then these can provide you with a solid basis upon which to build clear, concise training instructions.
Make sure that instruction and training sessions are clear, concise, and, above all, compact – think, ‘bit-sized chunks’! Pages and pages of user manuals don’t work! Opt for microlearning instead, where each ‘chunk’ lasts a few minutes, and don’t forget to include visual information, for example videos and infographics. Most people can digest visuals faster than they can text.
Step 3 – publish & promote your SOPs
It’s vital that your staff get to grips with the SOPs you’ve created. It really helps if you make them as accessible as possible, using clearly laid-out dashboards or portals. Emphasize their importance and discuss the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind the SOPs during work meetings.
Step 4 – train & test your staff
Next, it’s time to determine whether your staff are actually using and following the SOPs on a consistent basis. Merely completing a training course doesn’t automatically mean your staff are using your SOPs to do their work.
One of the best ways to instill this within your workforce is to use the ‘Tell me! Show me! Let me try!’ method:
- Explain each of the steps you need to follow to successfully complete a task or procedure
- Demonstrate each of the steps
- Have your staff perform each of the steps themselves
The ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ underlying the SOPs then become much clearer. This method also highlights any points that need improvement.
Step 5 – implement & maintain your SOPs
Introducing SOPs and training your staff in their use is just the beginning. Naturally, you’ll want to know whether the SOPs are being used and proving effective. Make them part of your organizational routine and inquire regularly during your rounds on the shop floor whether staff are getting to grips okay with the SOPs.
Are the SOPs being used on a daily basis? Do staff deviate from them every so often? If so, why? Are they having difficulties with specific bits of the SOPs? Do they have any suggestions for improvements?
Welcome these suggestions, process them, then fine-tune your SOPs.
Make it visual!
Standard operating procedures are tools to help take your operational processes to the next level. And as with all tools, you’ll have to introduce them gradually in a well-thought-through fashion. We’ve seen that SOPs are particularly valuable when you visualize not only their content, but also their underlying principles.
In this context, the skills matrix is an ideal tool for the job! Skill matrices are a schematic overview of all your staff’s skills, competences, and qualifications. They prove highly valuable when designing and implementing SOPs because you can see at a glance who can do what and who can’t.
Special-purpose skills management software allows you to take this way of working to a very high level indeed, as well as providing a real-time snapshot of your workforce’s skills and expertise – anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Seamless integrations with digital tools such as Swipeguide make it possible to add essential information without breaking the simplicity and flow of your work instructions.
And what does this achieve? It transforms a mere factory into a smooth-running, well-oiled manufacturing facility and a great place to work!