Stages of SOP Development: A Guide from 40,000 Feet

Business owners: have you ever thought about what will happen if you unexpectedly passed away? 

What would happen to your business?

If you don’t have any assets, then all the value is in your business processes. 

Does your company have standard operating procedures in place? In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed why all businesses…

In short, SOPs facilitate quality control and productivity that will save your business time and money in the long run. 

As your business evolves overtime, its SOPs should too. Let’s walk through the different stages of SOP development, so you can continue to improve your operations as your business grows and changes.

Different Stages of SOP Development

To think about the different stages of SOP development, consider your company from a 40,000’ viewpoint. In other words, consider SOPs on both micro and macro scales of your company, ranging from hourly procedures to the big picture.

Let’s start from the ground up! 

10 Feet – Highly Detailed Processes (Daily, Hourly, Minute-by-Minute)

When your business is new or relatively small, you as the business owner typically know all of the operations and procedures – those performed daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute. This means that you can probably write very detailed and precise SOPs. 

These SOPS do not involve any strategy. It’s simply a how to get this one task done the right way. 

100 Feet – Operation Processes

As the business grows, you’ll hire new staff and add new business areas. As a result, you’ll have to learn how to juggle a lot more than you were before. You’ll have to expand your view from 10’ to 100’ – working at an even higher altitude to oversee business operations across your business.  

So what does this change in altitude entail? 

It requires the development of operational processes. This is critical since at this level, some of the operational details you were formerly able to describe step-by-step start to become less precise. As a result, you’ll have to rely on your management team to drive development and compliance with SOPs pertinent to their areas of responsibility.

1,000 Feet – Business Management

As it grows further and leadership visibility escalates to even higher levels, you need to establish business management SOPs. These SOPs define how the different branches within the business operate, support each other, and drive business growth. Without them, silos can form between departments resulting in major inefficiencies and stunting of development. 

Visibility of business processes is key for you and all other business leaders – you should be able to have a complete and accurate view of all activity. Typically, not all employees of the company need this level of visibility. Rather, many businesses rely on their mid-level and senior managers to know how the business works and report to the leadership.

40,000 Feet – Vision and Leadership

Finally, a critical step in the stages of SOP development comes from the 40,000’ view – with vision and leadership. If leadership teams don’t all have the same business process visibility, this can lead to a broken organization if a key business leader leaves the company — especially when this leave is unexpected.

For example, suppose a business leader on your team has been the recipient of all management reports your mid-level and senior managers produced. This person knows…

  • What processes work
  • Where gaps exist that aren’t necessarily always explicitly reported on
  • What your team needs to do to correct business operations

This leader has knowledge of how the different parts of the business must interact to provide the results you and the rest of the leadership team are looking for. 

This is incredibly valuable information. As a result of their unique knowledge, this business leader is in the perfect and only position to define what SOPs are needed.

Now, this doesn’t mean this leader on your team must develop the SOPs themselves. It simply means that the leader should oversee the development and integration of SOPs, so that their knowledge isn’t suddenly lost if they leave the company. They can do this by creating and articulating the strategies that their management team must adopt.  

Ensure that key knowledge from individuals in leadership is regularly translated into development and integration of SOPs. This will support the wellbeing of the company in the long run.

If you’re the owner of the company, you need to download your brain and document your processes, vision, and strategy. What happens if something happened to you to incapacitate you from working? The company wouldn’t know where you were heading. 

An Example of SOP Stage Implementation

Now you have a handle on the different stages of SOP development. Let’s move onto an illustrative example of SOP stage implementation by thinking about a clock-making business.

Stage 1: Business Leaders Create Detailed SOPs

Stages of SOP

When the business owner of this clock-making company decided to create their business, they probably spent years learning clock-making skills, attending courses, going to workshops, etc. He or she knew how to make the style of clock they wanted to make. They controlled everything in the process…

  • Materials and parts procurement 
  • Manufacturing
  • Packaging the clock for the customer
  • Shipping and billing 

They could have written SOPs for all of these areas.

Stage 2: Managers Create SOPs For Their Respective Branches

Moving on a few years… Their business now sells several types of clocks and watches. Their initial business that made only one or two things now has a dozen or more products. They also need… 

  • Marketing to promote their products
  • HR to support their employees
  • Sales to sell to new customers 
  • Development to design new products 

At this stage, the business owner shouldn’t be responsible for developing all of the SOPs for each new branch of the company. This would be too complex, and it’s not an effective use of their time. Instead, leadership should direct unit managers to develop fine-grained SOPs for their respective branches.

Stage 3: Business Leaders Oversee SOP Creation & Integration

Finally, business leaders of this largely grown clock-making company must oversee the development and integration of SOPs. Importantly, they should approach it with an effective strategy.

What does an effective strategy for overseeing this process entail? 

Well, it should ensure that the SOPs support the business leader’s vision of how the business should operate now and how it will grow in the next 5+ years. 

This is the 40,000’ view of standard operating procedures. At this stage, SOPs drive how the business operates. Lower-altitude SOPs define in increasing detail how annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily, and perhaps even minute-by-minute operations are executed.

When the 40,000’ vision for SOPs is realized, the business leader can focus on what they need to… Future direction, strategy, and growth. 

When SOPs are in place, business leaders can spend less time worrying if standard business operations are working as expected. If anything is diverted off-track, they will get an early alert so they can drive the necessary changes to get it back on track.

How Much Time Does SOP Implementation & Development Take?

Many business leaders worry about how much time it will take to implement SOPs. Although they are beneficial for the company in the long-term, there are often pressing matters to attend to in the short-term. 

So how much time does SOP implementation and development really take? 

The truth is, it depends. No one can predict with 100% accuracy how much time it will take. It depends on many interrelated factors. 

But what I will say is that it will take you far less time to complete than just thinking about how long it will take to complete! And the time and money your company will save by having proper SOPs in place will be well worth it. 

If you’re looking for help expediting the process, FocusCopy can help.

What SOPs Do You Need?

We’ve talked about the stages of SOP development, but what SOPs does your company actually need? 

The key is to think about what kinds of SOPs are needed to run your business operations, how they should interact, and what is needed to better support your business. 

However, you shouldn’t spend time considering the contents of each SOP. Trying to consider all SOPs from the ground up to 40,000’ can be extremely timely and stressful for you to do from your current position. Not to mention… You could be spending your time envisioning and growing your business’ future instead of sorting through business operations minutiae. 

Instead, direct the responsibility to the unit management operating that specific part of your business. Or outsource your SOP documentation to professionals. Did you know that FocusCopy writes processes for small to medium sized businesses? You know the processes. We know how to write them. Learn more about how we work with businesses like you.

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