Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) Design and Automation
Standard operating procedures can be automated to ensure compliance.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were first adopted by the railroad industry to prevent literal train wrecks. SOPs have become widely embraced by many businesses that wish to avoid figurative train wrecks. It's safe to say that every company (except perhaps a sole proprietorship) stands to benefit from formalizing its SOPs. But that still doesn’t truly answer the question, “what are SOPs,” or rather, “what are SOPs for”? Here is a working definition of SOPs:
"SOPs are established or prescribed methods to be followed routinely for the performance of designated operations or in designated situations. They are also known as standing operating procedures."
Since the purpose of SOPs is to ensure compliance and consistency, SOPs need to be documented with written procedures or flowcharts. Some SOPs are also supported with video instructions. Every SOP includes the following information elements:
Any SOP may require that certain exceptions be addressed in a separate exception handling SOP. The repository for SOPs needs to be well organized and easily searchable so that employees can view instructions at their desks, on the plant floor, or in the field. No more SOP binders!
When SOPs are documented and kept up to date with changing business needs, organizations see the following benefits:
Here is how to create an SOP: First, define an outline or hierarchy of the SOPs within your company or department. For each SOP and SOP template, define an author (or authors) and an approver. Responsibilities for drafting SOPs are usually dispersed, so create or specify a template before your team begins documenting the SOPs.
Run your SOP initiative like a project. Establish reasonable deadlines and track status toward completion. For SOPs with cross-cutting impacts, corral key decision-makers in meetings to hash things out so you can avoid infinite loops of emailed comments.
Establish version control and notification requirements that you will use when SOPs need to change. Agree on a reasonable periodic review cycle for all SOPs.
Documented procedures are a significant first step. Making SOPs available in an online information repository is helpful. However, when compliance with SOPs depends on human memory and human intentions, SOPs may fall by the wayside. This can happen when transaction volumes rise, deadlines approach, or necessary to reduce staffing. When employee engagement falls, people may get sloppy about following SOPs. When employees are distracted by personal stresses, they may forget critical steps. Employees can circumvent even the most detailed written SOP by:
The problem with reliance on human compliance is more pervasive than ever. Here are some real-world examples:
In the past, businesses could only rely on training and retraining employees, then add compliance responsibilities at several levels of management. In some industries, government bodies like the FDA and EPA assume responsibility for policing compliance. Many of the warning letters issued by the FDA to pharmaceutical companies include the phrase "failure to follow procedures...."
Businesses now have a great alternative for reducing reliance on human compliance with SOPs—workflow automation. The quickest and most cost-effective way to automate processes is by implementing a robust workflow automation application. When employees perform their steps in an SOP within an automated workflow, their work is easier, faster, and contains fewer errors:
Every business needs to make improved operational excellence a core component of the value proposition to its customers. Standardizing and automating your operating procedures is the best way to improve operational efficiency. Don't fall into the trap of thinking automation is too costly and time-consuming for your business or department. Integrify can provide you with a workflow solution that is fast to implement, easy to learn and administer, and configurable without excessive reliance on the IT department.
We have a variety of resources to help you on your journey to a standardized and automated workflow.
To see how quickly you can begin standardizing and automating your processes, request a demonstration or trial of Integrify.
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