In Praise of SOPs

——The Year of Productivity——-

Those of you who have worked in larger organisations may have been familiar with Standard Operating Procedures or SOPs?  These were documents that described, in minute detail, how to perform certain tasks.  I worked for many years in the pharma industry – and we didn’t move without a SOP!

Now you run your own business – or you work for someone that does – and I’d be prepared to bet that in the majority of cases SOPs are a thing of the past?

Well I am here to make the case for Standard Operating Procedures!!

The main reason behind an SOP is to ensure that the procedure is followed rigorously every time – in the case of pharmaceutical manufacture this might be to ensure compliance or product quality.

Think of it like a recipe – to get the right results every time everything should be weighed out exactly, the ingredients mixed in the right order, and then cooked or baked for the correct amount of time at the right temperature.   Any variation – a missing ingredient, the wrong oven temperature – will probably mean the end result is not quite the same.  It might still be edible, but it’s not the cake you expected!

What happens when someone comes home and wants the cake they had somewhere else – they are unlikely to be able to make it up exactly – they need the recipe!

cake recipe standard operating procedure SOP

And so it is with SOPs in business – imagine someone new needs to perform a task?  If there are no written instructions what will happen?  It’s likely that it won’t be a complete disaster – but it may not be the “same cake”.  You may argue that this doesn’t matter – but over time you might find you have a bowl of porridge instead of a beautiful chocolate cake.  It might matter to a customer – I’m not suggesting that the products you make are sub-standard (because I am pretty sure you have proper manufacturing procedures) – but it’s all the other procedures in your business.

  • How do you set up a Customer in your Accounts package?
  • How do you process an Order?
  • How do you send out a marketing communication?

And so on.  I spent some time with a client this week and there were as many ways of sending out a marketing email as there were days in the week – but they wanted to find the BEST way, and then for everyone to follow exactly the same process.  They asked for an SOP!

And what happens when Tim leaves and there is no-one to show the new person what to do?  A handover period is never long enough to cover everything (especially those tasks that only happen every quarter or every year!)

Customers love consistency.  They feel safe if things happen in a predictable manner – and so all your interactions with them should be consistent.  You may think it doesn’t matter if Jim uses 8 pt Courier and Susan uses 12 pt Arial, or if the document is laid out in a different order – but your customer will feel they are dealing with a professional company they see the same “cake” every time.

There are huge productivity benefits too!  It’s going to be much faster to follow the agreed procedure every time than start from scratch, or for a new member of staff to get the task done quickly and efficiently, rather than having to wait to be shown or, worse, doing it wrong.

So give SOPs a go – it can take time to settle on the agreed correct procedure and document it – but the benefits will be huge!

Get in touch if you’d like to discuss further!



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