Most people would argue that McDonald’s is the world's largest fast-food restaurant chain and one of the best-known brands. The fact that they sell an average of $50 million worth of burgers daily goes some way to prove that statement. So, how do they deliver the exact same quality every single time? The answer is simple – having an effective Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) implemented across their global supply chain operations. SOP’s can be implemented in any business or industry operations across the globe.
SOPs are “the best agreed way of documenting the carrying out of a task”
Giles Johnston is a chartered engineer and the author of ‘Effective SOPs’ who uses his knowledge and expertise to consult businesses on improving their operating procedures. He defines SOPs as “the best agreed way of documenting the carrying out of a task”.
SOPs are a specific, prescribed order of instructions, which can be presented in the form of tutorials, guides, or training, that ensure standardization of a process and deliver consistent results or outcomes each time. With SOPs in place, it does not matter whether someone is a new employee or a veteran, each person can follow the standard instructions and achieve consistent results every time. SOPs describe each task step-by-step, incorporating compliances and regulations, and show where each task fits as part of the overall project. The SOPs also help determine roles and responsibilities for staff assigned to the tasks, and indicates the expected completion times for the deliverables.
SOPs provide documented procedures accessible to all involved and eliminates confusion among employees on the work required to be done. SOPs provide the quality control essential for companies of all sizes- they help streamline processes, improve employee safety, maximize efficiency, minimize waste, and reduce the time required to train employees. An example of a successful SOP implementation is by a leading food manufacturer who had more than 157 SOPs for their new packaging facility. By having SOPs in place, the manufacturer was able to start its four packaging lines simultaneously, avoiding months of potential delays in training.
Advantages of Standard Operating Procedures
Provide the foundation to improve the operating system in a new environment
Ensure standardization and adherence to best practices
Demonstrate compliance with organizational and regulatory requirements
Reduce communication gaps between employees
Provide checklists for reviewing the effectiveness of business processes
Simplify workflow and increase efficiency by minimizing errors
Eliminate non-productive steps that slowdown production
Track and measure organizational capabilities
Simplify and reduce training time of new employees
Maintain organizational knowledge and make it available to all employees
Strengthen accountability across organizational lines
Help build trust between customers and suppliers
Here are my top 10 steps to create an effective SOP
Step 1: Meet the team responsible for the procedure
Ideally, the key to success with step 1 is to meet the team that will carry out the set of tasks together. This allows space for ideation and clearing any misunderstandings among team members coming from diverse perspectives. Further, it allows for clarifying objectives, defining the start and end points, identifying the target audience, and specifying the principles required to be followed. On a behavioral level, this helps develop a rapport within the team since members are working towards a common goal, and a shared sense of ownership while understanding the importance of each role.
Step 2: Start with an introduction
An interesting introduction covering the main process and its importance, and a summary of all the key points go a long way. An introduction will ensure that your employees are engaged and understand the overall importance of the tasks at hand, and the role they will play in completing it within the defined parameters.
Step 3: Make a list of the required inventory
Having an inventory of available resources is valuable in enabling the team to ensure they have the right tools and are fully equipped to complete their tasks. Resources include: physical tools, password, key-codes, stationary, etc.
Step 4: Document the current procedure
In documenting procedures, always mark the version you have created to ensure that the team is looking at the latest version. When new versions are released, it is important to drive consistency and standardization by notifying the relevant employees. It is equally important to keep track of changes and addendums to the procedures as the processes evolve.
Step 5: Add supporting media
Similar to step 1, to drive team’s engagement and compliance with SOPs, adding different types of media wherever possible such as creating a short video or animation which offers both audio and visual prompts, will help all types of learners.
Step 6: Include any relevant resources
If you have a bank of useful links to similar and related procedures, create a glossary at the end of each SOP with links to further enhance learning and understanding. Glossaries will help staff jump straight to what they are looking for rather than trawl through the entire SOP to find that elusive link.
Step 7: Test in a controlled environment
Testing is the one vital step that should never be missed. Testing the agreed final procedure in a controlled environment will verify that nothing has been missed. In the case a step is missed, testing provides an opportunity to identify and revise the procedures.
Step 8: Deploy
Once testing is complete and you are confident that the SOP developed is robust, it is time to roll out to the team. If the SOP you are introducing is a replacement of an existing one, it is important to notify everyone of the changes they could expect to find in the new version. Often, the first few steps may look the same and therefore a quick skim read can result in some members mistaking the new SOP for the previous one.
Step 9: Ensure the SOPs are relevant
Ensure the SOPs are up to date with your industry and regularly check if the SOPs are in compliance with changes in the industry regulations and safety procedures.
Step 10: Continual Improvement - making improvements if necessary
Following on from Step 9, you should be open to analyzing and testing a given procedure, tweaking it whenever you identify a better method, and subsequently document the changes to the SOP per step 4. Allow your team the opportunity to identify better ways of carrying out a process such as using automated workflows to continuously drive improvement in your current processes.
So, I hope you can see, by identifying the processes that can be standardized in your organization, it is a best practice to develop an SOP for it. Despite the upfront effort required to create SOPs, they will help you save a lot of time, effort, and money in the long term. In this day and age, where employee attrition rates have become volatile, having SOPs in place can ensure quick and effective training and help bridge the knowledge gaps between outgoing and incoming employees.