Running a Shop Operations

How to Write Standard Operating Procedures

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You shouldn’t have to inspect what you expect; meaning, shop owners should expect high quality performance throughout the shop, but shouldn’t have to regularly look over their staff’s shoulders to ensure that happens. Avoiding the need to micromanage employees requires implementing sets of quality standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are identified as the most efficient steps for producing work in every department every day, says John Spoto, MSO key account manager for 3M.

Spoto discusses a step-by-step process you can use to create thoughtful, organized and reliable SOPs for each of your business activities.

Creating SOPs provides opportunity to strategically analyze and improve every business operation. It’s a chance to assess current processes and procedures, identify inefficient operations causing bottlenecks, and develop a thorough plan to carry out daily procedures the most efficient way possible. SOPs create consistency throughout the organization by generating a standardized approach to all business activities.

Be thoughtful when creating your SOPs. There isn’t always a “one-size-fits-all” approach. The best production-based SOPs, for example, could vary from shop to shop based on work volume, employees, job descriptions, equipment or shop layout. Every SOP has to follow a process that will deliver consistent efficiency and cycle time, without redos or comebacks, based on the unique factors of your facility.

There are resources available that shop owners can lean on for assistance. Certain vendors can provide operators with SOP examples and templates. To help get you started, here’s a look at several steps to write useful SOPs for any operation at your shop:

Step #1: Focus on one at a time. Select one specific procedure to focus on and standardize to avoid implementing too much change at once. Look for processes that are hindering workflow to know where to start. If your shop doesn’t currently have any SOPs in place, the front office is the best place to approach first. That’s where cycle time begins.

Step #2: Assess your current procedure. Outline every action your shop takes to produce a particular process. Physically go through the procedure and highlight each step from beginning to end.

Step #3: Look for faults. Among each noted step, identify the specific actions that are working and not working, and make notes where you see room for improvement. Look for things that are being missed within the process, causing inefficiencies, or generating unnecessary problems.

Step #4: Create solutions. Identify solutions to fix any problematic details that exist within a process. Explain the new strategies to employees, and test the new process to determine whether it appropriately addresses the issue.

Step #5: Get employee feedback. Shop owners should initially write SOPs based on their own thoughts, but can’t forget to tap employees for insight. Ask for their perspective on changes you propose, and whether they see any steps necessary to add or eliminate.

Step #6: Write the Plan. Write down each specific action that you found proves to produce work the most efficient way possible. Create a step-by-step set of instructions that anybody within the organization can follow.

Step #7: Highlight the key information. The SOP should walk employees through the first to last stage of the process, and outline expectations for the final outcome, but keep them concise. SOPs that are too long tend to get confusing and employees have trouble tracking the instructions. Condense the SOP as much as possible into a list of must-have steps.

Step #8: Be concise. SOPs should be quickly and easily read and understood by employees. Keep the wording as short as possible for each specific step. The shorter the better. SOPs should never be longer than one page.

Step #9: Include graphics. Augment each written step with an image, picture or diagram. Graphics help illustrate certain points that can be too confusing or wordy with written explanations.

Step #10: Make them visible. Every employee should have access to the SOPs. Post them on a wall in a centralized location, and any other prominent areas of your facility. 

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