Three Keys to Perfect SOPs

BBF - dilbertScott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, writes in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Time, that goals are for losers, and systems are for winners. Your systems, practices, procedures and training will make the difference between success and failure in your business.

The lowly Standard Operating Procedure, the SOP, is the unsung hero of your organization. It won’t win any awards, it won’t end up on a bumper sticker or a t-shirt, but it is one of the most important components of your business.

SOPs form the building blocks of the system. They provide the basic programming and instruction to ensure consistency and quality in the organization. They are the steps for employees to take, to allow the business to run smoothly and predictably.

As important as these documents are, they don’t get the time and attention they deserve.  No love for the SOPs.  They are time consuming to create, difficult to thoroughly document all the critical steps of a process, and changes in the business can render the SOP obsolete soon after it’s written. For these reasons, many managers don’t document the process and procedures – it just seems like a waste of time.

Don’t abandon all hope of creating the SOPs, the building blocks of your System, try these simple action items:

Focus only on the Vital Few. Have your management team identify the most critical processes of your business and document only those items. Don’t mess around with the minor details that you could document – list out only those processes that have to be done accurately and efficiently for the success of your business. Consider these the things that, if not done properly, can have detrimental (or fatal) consequences for your business. These are the VIital Few, the 80/20 of your business processes. Focus on these first, and forget the rest.

Use what you’ve already created. Once you’ve built the list of your critical processes, determine if you have SOPs in place for them. Review the ones you have, test them, and make sure they are accurate. Are there any missing steps? Are they clear, and can this recipe be followed to produce a consistent result? Perhaps most important, will your people use them? For those critical processes that are not documented, get busy in creating them.

A manager should document the process.  Have the department supervisor take on this task by actually doing the work, and writing down the key process steps as they go. It is tempting to delegate this task to the line worker who performs the process, but resist this temptation. Your managers will be in a better position to see the forest for the trees and ensure the SOP documents the desired result, not just the nitty gritty steps along the way.

To paraphrase the Dilbert guy: Don’t be a loser, tighten up your system. Create SOPs for the processes that really matter in your business, and follow the recipe to better cash flow.