Now More Than Ever: Digitizing Your Standard Operating Procedures

April 10, 2020 in Standard Operating Procedures

Now More Than Ever: Digitizing Your Standard Operating Procedures

During the COVID-19 pandemic, as we adapt to remote work and staggered workforces, we need to rethink how we currently operate. What do we need to streamline? What are we doing now that we may become a permanent part of our new reality? Which employees are qualified or trained to perform a specific task?

Social distancing and new efficiency measures may mean that employees come to work in isolated shifts to perform specific jobs. They may leave before or just as the next isolated shift comes in. 

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.

Digitizing these instructions and procedures can not only improve training but also reduce errors and enhance productivity amongst your workforce.  Standard operating procedures reduce the need for in-person meetings, increase consistency and enable iteration in their development process. 

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

Good SOP document the best processes and procedures that can help new workers when other employees are not available. Digital SOP provide excellent opportunities for continuous improvement because they are at our fingertips on our handhelds. They no longer sit up on the dusty shelf in the dusty and outdated procedures three-ring binder. 

Online step-by-step instructions, Standard Operating Procedures, provide the space for employees to mark the status of work orders. One of the important parts here is that workers can leave notes for work orders that are unfinished or incomplete. Digital notes on the open work orders mean in-person meetings to communicate workflow are no longer needed.

Standard Operating Procedures that are not easily available serve little purpose. Pivoting to digital Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) create the flexibility and quality control we need right now to ensure safety, efficiency, and productivity. 

Standard Operating Procedure SOP

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 SOP 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.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) Definition

Standard Operating Procedures are written instructions that define how your business should perform repetitive tasks to achieve the desired outcome. The US Environmental Protection Agency defines an SOP in a similar but more straightforward way:

“A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a set of written instructions that document a routine or repetitive activity followed by an organization.”

The focus is on performing routine tasks to increase performance and to improve efficiency. Instead of letting your employees decide what they want to do, the optimal path is to provide them with foolproof guidelines to follow.

Isin Akyar’s definition is more standardized as it uses terms such as operator and operation without any explicit mention of routine tasks:

“Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) is a process document that describes in detail the way that an operator should perform a given operation.”

Standard Operating Procedures come in all sizes: a single document or multiple forms, including table of contents, videos, checklists, steps, procedures, and flowcharts. Remember that we learn and process information differently. Create SOP that contain both text and graphics work for both verbal and visual learners. 

Standard Operating Procedures are specific to industry, company, facility, and unit to maintain quality control and assurance processes. SOP also indicate compliance with organizational and governmental requirements. They are crucial to onboarding and training new employees and for those tasked with taking on new or different jobs. 

Also, inspectors frequently use Standard Operating Procedures when auditing operations. And, in the case of legal action, SOP can serve as crucial defense documentation of procedures followed within industry guidelines. 

Creating Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

We recommend writing a Standard Operating Procedures through a continuous improvement process, often referred to nowadays as Planning, Doing, Checking, and Acting (PDCA). It’s a cycle that promotes efficiency, effectiveness, and flexibility. 

PDCA graphic 
Continual Improvement Cycle

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 same employee who writes the SOP should then work through (do) the procedure as written to make any necessary changes. The writer will also clarify the text and add graphics 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. Again, this step can include adding additional steps to break down tasks into smaller pieces and to add more graphics for clarity.

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 be added to the workflow. Employees can now act on it and report back that the SOP is complete.

SOP and Quality Assurance

The PDCA quality-improvement cycle makes room for changes at all stages, reinforces best practices, and gets both employee and management buy-in. To be of real use, SOP need to be reviewed regularly. Employees should report any suggested updates and improvements to managers. The most current and approved version of the SOP always needs to be accessible and scheduled appropriately in Word Orders.

Standard Operating Procedure

In the current circumstances, pivoting to digital SOP makes strategic and good sense. We don’t know who will be doing any one job from one day to the next right now. 

Standard Operating Procedures formalize processes, coordinate team members, help maintain productivity, and reduce risks. 

SOP ensure that work is uninterrupted and preventive maintenance remains on schedule. Well-executed SOP avoid process shut-downs caused by equipment failure, missed preventive maintenance schedules and work orders, and a less-experienced workforce. 

Pivoting to digital SOP right now–moving all current Standard Operating Procedures documentation online, into easily accessible templates, demonstrates a company’s intention to operate efficiently and correctly. 

Automate Your SOP

As we scramble to make sense of COVID-19 restrictions, creating and managing multiple standard operating procedures for all your organization’s departments is challenging as your company grows. You can automate and globally update SOP easily with MaintainX. The platform offers a complete solution to managing workflows, communication, and accountability.

MaintainX makes SOP implementation fairly simple. Your managers can track SOP progress in real-time and see how their teams are performing and if they’re following SOP. The best part is that your team can complete procedures from any mobile device with ease – no more paperwork that needs to be typed into an outdated system or worse – filed away and forgotten.

You can easily improve accountability and communication at all levels with a platform designed to take your SOP 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 SOP today

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