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Incorporating SOPs

(May 2011) posted on Tue May 10, 2011

Using standard operating procedures to better your business.

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By Marty McGhie

• One, did the error occur due to someone not following an existing SOP?
• Two, did the error occur because there is not an SOP in place?
• Three, was this simply human error made by someone operating properly, in accordance with an established SOP?

Under the first scenario, take action by pulling out the documented SOP and retraining the individual, or perhaps the whole team, on the SOP. Review the procedure, ask questions, and offer clarifications to ensure that the procedure is both accurate and understood. Then, recommit the individual and the team to follow the SOP. If the issue is that employees are reluctant to accepting the new SOP, you should ask for employee input. While employees may be initially resistant to “someone telling them how to do their job,” when they’re involved in the SOP program you will have two advantages: the knowledgeable opinions from your skilled employees and an automatic buy-in to the program. Utilize some of the employees with more experience to train those with less experience.

If the issue is the second scenario, work with the team to create an SOP that will avoid the same error occurring again. Document the new SOP and train the team. Creating an SOP may require several trials and errors; push your employees to continue working together to establish the best practice.

Of course under the third scenario, you can only encourage an individual to continue to use the SOP as a guide for their activities and coach them to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Practice makes perfect, right?

Engaging the whole shop
Once you begin to experience success with your SOP program, be sure to engage all of your shop’s departments. We have worked for a number of years establishing SOPs within our various departments. Importantly, we’ve not restricted SOPs to just our manufacturing departments -- we have also challenged our other departments, including marketing, accounting, purchasing, and sales, to develop their own sets of SOPs.

And, recently, we’ve embarked on the next phase of our SOP program: developing inter-departmental SOPs. These SOPs are created by department managers to understand what one department expects from the other. For example, our prepress department has a set of SOPs specific to what the printing department needs for each job that moves from prepress to printing. Printing, in turn, will have their own set of SOPs defining what the fabrication department will need, and so on.

In reality, everyone in business applies the principles of standard operating procedures in some fashion. The successful companies are those that make it a serious program of creating, documenting, training, and retraining their employees regarding SOPs. By applying these ideas, you can remove the stressful perception that every job in your shop is a “custom” job and execute much more accurate and efficient production systems to ensure success in your business.