Developing Standard Operating Procedures from Scratch

Anyone who has worked for the military or other regulated industry already knows what a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is. But many business leaders, to their disadvantage, do not apply SOPS to their business and may not know how to start developing standard operating procedures from scratch. As a result, business often run into issues like…

  • Quality control
  • Lack of process
  • Decreased productivity

If you’re anything like us, then you see dollars flying out of the bank. Today is the day to start taking control of your business by developing standard operating procedures.

Using Standard Operating Procedures In Your Business

Before we get started… What is an SOP? It’s a “set of written guidelines or instructions for the completion of a routine task, designed to increase performance, improve efficiency, and ensure quality through systemic homogenization” (Britannica). The original of standard operating procedures stems from one of the most organized organizations – the military. Everything they do is intentional and yields the results they want. 

How Business and Military Operations Compare

You may be thinking… “But I’m not the military”. That may be true. But if you want to yield the same results over and over again, then it may be time to implement SOPs in your business. As we evaluate how business and military operations compare, let’s look at 2 different businesses.

The first business is a successful thriving long-term business. They have a combination of highly motivated, dedicated people and a collection of procedures that they execute flawlessly.

Conversely, the second business is more focused on short term goals. It is often characterized as a combination of highly motivated and enthusiastic people who do the stuff the business needs to survive and (hopefully) grow.

For this example, pick one of the above business examples that you currently operate as. Be honest with yourself.

So how do these operations compare? There are several similarities and differences between these 2 businesses…

  1. They both depend on highly skilled/motivated/dedicated/enthusiastic people.
  2. The short-term business does ‘stuff’ – usually undocumented and therefore dependent on retention of key staff.
  3. The thriving long-term business thrives despite changes in staff over the years because it uses SOPs and is less dependent on, and in many cases completely independent of the know-how of certain staff. They can train staff with specialized knowledge – it’s already documented.

While it will depend on the business, most companies should be more long-term focuses – and thus use SOPs.

Becoming More Long-Term Focused

 By becoming more long-term focused, you are able to accomplish incredible things. Think about how the military can recruit an untrained civilian and train them to become a highly specialized weapons person, a navigator, an intelligence officer, a linguist, or even a mechanic (among many other roles). They start from a basic assumption that the recruit has no knowledge of what each of these operatives do. Even more important, when trained, each operative will perform their function exactly as expected.

The military can do this because their function is based on a set of guiding principles / policies and a set of Standard Operating Procedures that dictate how all parts of the military operate.

Ever heard the phrase hire for traits, not talent? SOPs help you hire for traits and train them on the job in an efficient manner. 

A Few Exceptions to the Rule

Now, there are a couple of exceptions to the rule that every company should operate their entire business with SOPs.

If your company relies on employees innovating and growing (much like an entrepreneur), then SOPs will most likely suffocate those employees (i.e. graphic designer, product engineer, etc.). It will be burdensome and may suck their creativity out of them. 

However, these roles should have their own lax SOP – what we like to call swipe files or best practices. They act as informal templates or guidelines for them as an individual or as a group.

BUT if your employees are doing repetitive work, then you need to implement a SOP (especially if you are wanting to grow the business / role). Product engineers have a process or procedure for coming up with a new product – ideation, sketching, producing a prototype, testing, feedback, etc. Graphic designers create style guides then use those guides to create deliverables for a specific client. Whatever the role is in an organization, there are processes and procedures that can be and should be documented.

Quality Management with SOPs

Another use for SOPs is to use them for quality management. This use is something we find critical when producing copy for our clients.The term quality is an often misused hyperbole when applied to businesses and their operations. Business often talk about quality customer (i.e. high spending customers) and quality products (i.e. customers love them, they result in few returns, and typically don’t have customer satisfaction issues). Businesses rarely talk about quality processes. Yet, if their operational processes or procedures are not solidly defined and followed, they are unlikely to result in quality products or operations… This will limit customer trust and reduce investor confidence.

Quality Operational Procedures

Quality operational procedures are SOPs because SOPs are designed to support business operations by precisely defining how something must be done under all circumstances with nothing left to chance or misinterpretation

In exactly the same way that you know your fridge is keeping your ice cream frozen because the fridge uses physical principles that never change and has been consistently manufactured to use these principles over many years of your ownership, you expect your business to operate in the same way over and over again.

SOPs define how this is done and will always be done, until your business decides to change the SOP. SOPs drive quality throughout your organization from first concept to delivery of customer products and services.

The Top 2 Problems That Most SOPs Run Into

Like most business practices, developing standard operating procedures have their own road bumps. Generally, SOPs suffer from two issues:

  1. They are time-consuming (and can seem difficult) to write.
  2. Some employees think they can perform a task more quickly, more efficiently, or better than they do when using the SOP, so they don’t use it. 

1. Time-Consuming To Write

This issue is easy to explain. Many businesses do not have staff onboard with enough attention to detail or desire to write SOPs. Some staff often consider development of SOPs as boring or unnecessary. In fact, the opposite is true. SOPs are essential for many business operations and the details they must contain to be truly usable can be intense.

If you need help creating your standard operating procedures from scratch, we are standing by to discuss your needs. Click here to learn more about what our process is.

2. Employees Bypass SOPs

Unfortunately, the net result of employees bypassing SOPs is that something else may not work as expected elsewhere in the organization. This issue is more difficult to explain because it is often the result of employee pride in what they do and not mistakes in what they do. 

When an employee performs a task in a different way to that defined in the SOP, it may result in a slightly different result that they do not notice. For example, it could result in a data point or something being reported differently than expected by a later procedure or procedures. Either or both results could lead to customer satisfaction issues and customer-perceived decline in deliverable quality by the business. Such issues affect the reputation and trustworthiness of the business and affects its sales, revenue, and profitability. 

Developing Standard Operating Procedures from Scratch

When you are developing standard operating procedures from scratch, it’s important to note what needs to be included.

The 6 Sections To Include When Developing Standard Operating Procedures

Anyone who has worked for the military or other regulated industry already knows what a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is. But many business leaders, to their disadvantage, do not apply SOPS to their business and may not know how to start developing standard operating procedures from scratch. As a result, business often run into issues like…

  • Quality control
  • Lack of process
  • Decreased productivity

There are 6 sections you need to include when developing standard operating procedure…

  1. Scope and purpose
  2. Compliance
  3. Process steps
  4. Success criteria
  5. Exit criteria
  6. Document history

1. Scope and Purpose

You must precisely define and document the Scope and Purpose. If they are not, then the SOP will be too large and wide ranging for any employee to follow.

2. Compliance

Compliance with the steps defined in the SOP must be mandatory unless compliance with a given step will result in injury or worse. Test and retest every step ensure such conditions do not happen.

3. Process Steps

Document process steps for every action needed. Additionally, document where errors could occur, detail what these errors are, and what should be done to recover from them.

4. Success Criteria

Provide Success Criteria definitions for each series of steps in the SOP. This enables continual quality checks are being made throughout execution of the SOP.

5. Exit Criteria

SOP Exit Criteria defines what conditions exist on completion of the SOP and what happens next.

6. Document History

Although often not visible to SOP users, this section maintains a detailed record about why the document was needed, who created/updated it, what changes were made, and who approved those changes.

SOP Content Creation and Management

Creating your SOPs and managing them after the initial development does not have to be difficult. It could be as easy as the following…

First, create a Standard Operating Document. This is like the brain to your processes and procedures. It will contain links to your other documents for specific SOPs. You need to include different sections in this document, including the following: 

  • Strategic Objective
  • General Operating Principles (what it takes to run the company)
  • Discussions (your important meetings to refer back to)
  • Important Docs (think style guides, customer avatars, privacy policy, and anything that needs to be accessible)
  • SOPs
Developing Standard Operating Procedures
Example of Standard Operating Document

Then create the 3 following folders:

  1. Important Documents
  2. Standard Operating Procedures
  3. Drafts

Each document in those folders should be on a specific topic and then linked back into the Standard Operating Document. 

When you set up the system, you’re half-way done. Now, you need to apply the 6 sections I previously listed in each SOP. If you want to access our process and templates for building your SOPs in Google Drive, then click here and we’ll send you our Easy-to-Implement Scalable SOP Framework.

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