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Getting Back to Work with Standard Operating Procedures

15 Jun, 2020


By Caroline L Eisner

COVID-19 has made all of us rethink HOW we do WHAT WHEN and WHY. There is no such thing anymore as “business as usual” and what we used to do no longer works or makes sense in a lot of workplaces. Instead, work across industries now means disconnected workforces, people working from home or in isolated shifts, others out sick and new employees taking over jobs, and new government regulations on workplace safety.

So how do we get back on track? Let’s look at our disrupted routines. What do we do, or use to do, during our workday? What preventive maintenance schedules did we follow? Where did we find the work orders? How did managers and owners know when work was complete?

Maybe what we used to do no longer will work in this age of social distancing, with staff turnover, reduced revenue, and new government restrictions. Maybe it’s time to find new ways to do the old things, as well as the new jobs we need to keep ourselves safe, productive, and profitable.

Standard Operating Procedures

A standard operating procedure(SOP) is a written document composed of step-by-step instructions used to complete a complex routine operation. Standard Operating Procedures may be the first step to getting back to work and reconnecting your workforce.

The first and most important SOP right now, as employees come back into the warehouse, onto the manufacturing floor, onto the production line, is the SOP on avoiding COVID-19.

Employees need to wear masks, disinfect their hands and services frequently, and maintain the 6-ft distance. No doubt individual shop floors, production lines, and fleets will have additional pandemic guidelines. These will need to be included in workplace safety SOP.

In addition to the SOPs to keep workers safe, the best SOPs for preventive maintenance, reactive maintenance, and work orders:

Increase Efficiency

  • Ensure Regulatory Compliance
  • Increase Quality
  • Decrease Downtime

We know that accomplishing each of these universal goals may look different across industries, but in general, we suggest creating SOPs through a PDCA cycle:

●      Plan

●      Do

●      Check

●      Act

Creating SOPs through this cycle promotes efficiency and effectiveness, compliance, and quality.

The employee who knows and regularly performs specific procedures should be the one to plan out, develop, and write the first draft of the Standard Operating Procedure. After all, they are the “subject-matter experts” (SMEs), most familiar with the procedures.

The planning stage is the most fundamental. It is here where the purpose, scope, responsibility, accountability, and procedures included in the SOPs are worked out.

The same employee who writes the SOP should work through (do) the procedure as written to make any necessary changes. The writer can clarify the text and add diagrams and informatics to increase clarity and ensure compliance.

Once clear, the Standard Operating Procedure is bumped up to other employees and managers who are familiar with the procedures. As they work through the SOP, they check to make sure it includes all the steps and details and is easy to follow.

When the SOP is in final draft form, an equipment or process manager should follow the SOP. Again, as with the other steps, additional changes to the SOP should be made now.

After this quality-control review, we can finalize any necessary changes. Then, if necessary, run the SOP through the company’s approval process, identified in company policy. Also, check to make sure the SOP adheres to any industry and governmental guidelines and then is uploaded.

At this point, the SOP is ready to beacted on: put into circulation and implemented.

SOP Implementation

The most current and approved version of SOPs always needs to be accessible to both those doing the work and assessing the work. Here is where implementation and automation come into play. If SOPs are not accessible to the employee at the site of the work to be done, they are of little use. The efficiencies created via the SOPs are lost by the inefficiency of having to go in search of the SOP. Likewise, if the outcome of the SOP is not available for managers in real-time, it is also of little use. If and when inspectors show up, online SOP information can serve as checklists for quality assurance plans and regulatory compliance.

In fact, failure to follow a company’s Standard Operating Procedures is a common observation during inspections. TheFDA notes that poor content, lack of clarity, and no training are reasons most cited by employees for not following an SOP.

SOP Automation

Digitizing SOPs and work orders makes the entire SOP process efficient, reliable, consistent, and cost-effective. Workers should have access to SOPs on their handheld devices so they can follow the SOP, look at graphics, flowcharts, and diagrams on the spot, and report back on the success or failure of the SOP on the spot of the work. Managers and owners should have access to SOP outcomes, dashboards, and checklists to find out firsthand how employees, assets, and systems are operating.

When work instructions contain the optimal steps needed to perform a process, improvements are recognized in a variety of areas, including:

●      Consistency of your product

●      Quality of your product

●      Safety of your operators

SOP implementation is fairly simple. In addition to reviewing new and existing SOPs with those best trained in the SOP scope, management can implement technical SOPs by:

●      Distributing the SOPs to the relevant employees

●      Making sure employees are trained to complete the SOP

●      Monitoring employee performance of the SOP

●      Reviewing, updating, and revising the SOPs as necessary.

●      Repeating this process any time an SOP, asset, regulation, or company standard changes.

One of the reasons that SOPs fail is that management hasn’t created the process for them to succeed. Even when procedures don’t change, SOPs should be reviewed regularly. Quality SOPs reviews ensure that policies and procedures are current and cost-effective and follow new or changing regulations, standards, and quality assurance plans.

Pivoting to digital SOPs right now--as we continue to adapt to a new normal during COVID-19–makes strategic and good sense. We don’t know who will be doing any one particular job from one day to the next right now.

Across industries, the benefits of going online with Standard Operating Procedures include:

●      Being prepared for audits at any time

●      Adhering to regulations and quality controls

●      Sharing data and documentation on the spot

●      Reviewing and editing Standard Operating Procedures in real-time

And with the time saved by automating SOPs comes more time for innovation. As markets tighten and shift, we all need to be thinking about business as no longer usual.

SOP and CMMS Solutions

With cloud-based Standard Operating Procedures, companies can operate with the assurance that all processes are available, consistent, and repeatable.

Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) solutions make tracking compliance easy–from OSHA requirements to quality assurance and product standards to planned maintenance and manufacturing regulations. With digital audits and checklists, management can easily track teams’ production processes and work orders.

With CMMS, companies can stay on top of planned and preventive maintenance SOP.

Customizable dashboards, audit trails, and reports allow management to view completed preventive maintenance plans and regulatory SOPs in real-time.

As people move from job to job within and between companies, unwritten knowledge and skills disappear from the workplace. Today’s modern workforce requires companies to build a mobile knowledge base where employees can find step-by-step instructions when and if they are called to take on a new task.

Pivoting to digital Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) create the flexibility and quality control we need right now to ensure safety, efficiency, and productivity across manufacturing facilities.

With foolproof systems in place, business owners don’t need to rely on one specific person to get something done. Digitized standard operating procedures clearly lay out the SOPs for the job. As a result of social distancing and who and what is considered essential, day-to-day operations are changing. Standard management systems and business processes may need to change too.

You can easily improve accountability and communication at all levels with a platform designed to take your SOPs to the next level. Two business growth levers you can’t put a price on. If you’re ready to create processes that adapt to this moment and will scale your business after, get started on your SOPs today.

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Caroline L. Eisner is a writer and editor with experience across the profit and nonprofit sectors, government, education, and financial organizations. She has held leadership positions in K16 institutions, serving as a vice president, provost, academic dean, and as a professor teaching courses on professional and academic writing. She has led large-scale online projects and interactive websites, as well as running her a business writing consultancy. Caroline earned a PhD from George Washington University, MA from Middlebury College, and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.   

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