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Bad Standard Operating Procedures: What Your Business Is Risking

Standard operating procedures are meant to provide an organization or occupation with uniform performance and quality expectations for everyday tasks.  If standard operating procedures (SOPs) are poorly written, they are of little use to your employees. Bad standard operating procedures:

  • Are not sufficiently descriptive
  • Are not up to industry standardsIndustrial engineer
  • Are written without the input of employees who perform related tasks
  • Describe out-of-date procedures or technology
  • Do not facilitate employees’ best performance
  • Do not support training efforts

Poorly written standard operating procedures can impact:

  • Your ability to meet customer demands
  • Your company’s capacity
  • Your company’s environmental footprint
  • Your company’s reputation
  • Your employees’ health and safety
  • Your product’s overall quality

So how can you avoid these business risks? How can you create effective standard operating procedures? David Grusenmeyer, in a report called “Developing Effective Standard Operating Procedures” for Cornell University, recommends the following steps:

  1. Name the SOP using descriptive action verbs (e.g., Identify, Analyze).
  2. Write a scope for the SOP (e.g., Which specific operations or tasks within an operation will be covered? Which are not covered? Who is the SOP written for?).
  3. Develop an overall task description (e.g., required number of people, skill levels, equipment, supplies, personal protective/safety equipment, finished product description).
  4. Describe each task involved in the overall task (e.g., specific order, timing, safety/health considerations).
  5. Involve people affected by the SOPs in the SOP development process.
  6. Set up a system to monitor the SOP regularly.

Beyond a regular review of standard operating procedures, the documentation should be updated whenever factors like changes in technology, reorganized process, and organizational structure are impacting the procedures.

Well-written standard operating procedures have many benefits beyond maintaining quality business processes, including:

  • Quick onboarding: By reading the SOP manual, new employees will know exactly what responsibilities, tasks, and reports are expected of them.
  • Succession planning: Production doesn’t stop when a senior staff member is absent, on leave, or retiring.  All the knowledge your employees need is kept in the business to mitigate downtime.
  • Audits:  Any inspector can use the SOPs as a checklist to quickly audit your employees’ activities and company procedures.
  • Historical data:  When comparing data from various years, any documented changes to the SOPs can be taken into account to determine their effect on productivity.
  • Legal defense:  In the case of an accident, documented SOPs may provide your company with a legally defensible case.

About Bernadette Allen

Bernadette Allen is President of The Competency Group.
Tags: performance management, performance standards, standard operating procedures, training