Only the Good: The Benefits of SOPs

June 27, 2020 in Standard Operating Procedures



Only the Good: The Benefits of SOPs

This post is the second in a series about the ins and outs of Standard Operating Procedures. Other posts in the series include information about what Standard Operating Procedures are, industry best practices, and how to write, implement, and automate these procedures. This post will cover the benefits of Standard Operating Procedures.

As far as we can see, there are no cons to good SOPs. We only see the benefits of writing step-by-step instructions and standardizing processes. The benefits of standard operating procedures are covered below.

The best SOPs eliminate waste, streamline processes, protect workers, and maximize efficiencies. 

SOPs avoid process shut-downs caused by equipment failure, missed preventive maintenance schedules and work orders, and a less-experienced workforce.

When expertly written and implemented, Standard Operating Procedures:

  • indicate compliance with organizational and governmental requirements 
  • minimize miscommunication and address safety concerns 
  • are valuable for reconstructing activities when no other references are available
  • are used as checklists by inspectors when auditing procedures 
  • reduce wasted work effort of machines and equipment
  • eliminate unproductive tasks and jobs
  • improve quality, credibility, and legal defensibility
  • increase efficiencies and streamline work processes
  • reduce error
  • track and measure proficiency
  • maintain continuity of standardized practices and train new staff according to these practices
  • improve productivity, consistency, quality, and compliance
Sample SOP

And here are some quick examples of how SOPs can work:

  • If an employee is out sick, SOPs help someone else complete preventive maintenance work orders on an asset or other day to day tasks.
  • Or, if a manager leaves and standardized performance reviews are needed for performance management.
  • Or, if an industry-standard on clean water changes and a new test needs to be performed every other day instead of weekly.
  • Or, a new piece of equipment replaces old equipment, and the preventive maintenance work order is completely different. A new SOP will clearly define the task.

When the proper procedures are outlined in a good SOP, any coworker can coach another to help improve work skills.

SOPs serve as checklists for auditors, inspectors, and business owners.

Completed SOPs are a historical record of the how, why, and when steps of a repetitive process. As people move from job to job inside and between companies, unwritten knowledge and skills disappear from the workplace. Regularly maintained written SOPs can chronicle the best knowledge that can serve new workers when older ones move on.

Well-implemented SOPs are a documented explanation of steps in a process under review during accident investigations. 

SOPs are especially important to:

  • create efficiency, 
  • meet regulatory compliance, and
  • ensure quality.

Standard Operating Procedures and Efficiency

Managers are always looking to improve production efficiency with their teams. Written Standard Operating Procedures are the easiest and most efficient way to become more efficient!

Industrial worker using tablet

Using manufacturing Standard Operating Procedures, managers can standardize preventive maintenance processes and quality assurance plans across teams, facilities, and functions. 

From the way a new piece of equipment runs to how a manager audits performance, repeatable processes can always be made more efficient with an SOP long term.

With digital SOP, management can quantify and organize every process that workers use. It’s not only about the shop floor. Automate the SOP for how the front office receives production updates from the floor. Digitize the SOP to alert the warehouse maintenance team that products are ready to ship. 

Any of these procedures and documented processes can be reviewed to improve, redefine, and reorganize. 

SOPs can standardize how a team communicates. Streamlining these internal communications creates efficiencies across the company. 

On the production line, for example, to measure SOP efficiency:

  1. Measure throughput. This metric measures the average number of units produced in a given time period to highlight any issues with specific machines. If SOPs and checklists are online, measuring throughput is simple.
  2. Then measure the capacity of the total manufacturing output (TMO) in a given time period. TMO identifies the production lines operating at their highest possible output. It also identifies those operating below expected output levels.
  3. Finally, use an online dashboard to combine data on throughput and output to track the efficiency of production lines.

Standard Operating Procedures and Regulatory Compliance

These days, regulatory compliance is crucial. Creating and writing Standard Operating Procedures is now a daily part of business processes. SOP templates and document management are important to quality assurance plans.

Stoplight compliance

For example, in the United States, OSHA’s General Duty Clause enforces worker health and safety. OSHA inspectors look for anything that can cause danger or bodily harm.

As global interaction increases, laws and regulations call for increased regulatory compliance and quality management through effective standard operating procedures (SOPs). 

Online, easy-to-follow standard operating procedures increase regulatory compliance by: 

  •  improving the quality and availability of compliance data,
  • documenting worker accountability,
  • preventing noncompliance,
  • avoiding SOP errors and variations,
  •  reducing downtime when staff leave or are out sick, and
  • reducing new employee learning curves.

OSHA, in fact, requires businesses to submit reports digitally

And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) promotes Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). It requires companies to distribute new or revised standard operating procedures promptly. Each employee must validate the receipt and understanding of SOP. 

From a risk management systems perspective, regulatory compliance violations can result in legal action, fines, and product removal. SOPs ensure that workers are following the prescribed way of getting the job done.

For Siemens, meeting regulatory compliance is a “management imperative.”  

Written SOPs ensure that team members perform a task in compliance with state and federal regulations.

The company website says that “If management fails to create an environment that ensures manufacturing compliance—or lacks documentation to prove all necessary steps have been taken to achieve it—it can be held accountable for compliance breaches.”

In fact, when auditing procedures, inspectors frequently rely on these completed SOPs as evidence of compliance. Good SOPs improve a company’s credibility and legal defenses during compliance audits.

CMMS helps manage SOP compliance data efficiently and effectively. To check on regulatory compliance, managers can access digital checklists, pull up dashboards, and generate reports.

Real-time insights make teams more agile, productive, and accountable. Managers can make continuous improvement requirements in areas that are not compliant and make sure that workers are in compliance with regulations.

Standard Operating Procedures and Quality

Standard Operating Procedures documentation is solid proof of quality assurance (QA) plans in action. 

Quality

Quality, as defined by Kishu Manghani, is a source of competitive advantage. “High quality is not an added value; it is an essential basic requirement. Quality relates to end products and the services a company provides. It also relates to the way the company’s employees do their jobs and the work processes they follow to produce products or services”. 

He goes on, “Company employees constitute the most important resource for improving quality. With accountability structures in place, employees and their teams are responsible for ensuring that their work processes are efficient and continually improving.”

A quality system or quality assurance (QA) plan is defined as the organizational structure, responsibilities, processes, procedures, and resources for implementing quality management. QM includes those aspects of the overall management function that determine and implement a company’s quality policy and objectives.

Quality assurance SOPs provide evidence that quality requirements are fulfilled. 

Quality control is generally the responsibility of the operational units and quality is infused into its outputs and verified as they are generated. 

Running quality systems is an important part of a manufacturing company. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) developed ISO 9000 to define a “quality management system.” Companies need to aim to: 

  • consistently provide products and services that meet customer and legal and regulatory requirements, and
  • enhance customer satisfaction through the effective application of the system, including processes to improve the system.

Likewise, the FDA’s Quality Policy states that:

Management with executive responsibility shall establish its policy and objectives for, and commitment to, product quality. Management with executive responsibility shall ensure that the quality policy is understood, implemented, and maintained at all levels of the organization.

For quality planning and quality assurance (QA), Standard Operating Procedures should include testing and evaluation features to establish an employee’s understanding of an assigned SOP. 

Online SOPs gives managers immediate access to this information and promotes quick response to any knowledge gaps or process deviation. Taking the time early on writing an SOP saves time and helps to guarantee that established rules and procedures are followed.

Real-time documentation also shows regulators that a company is committed to effective employee education rather than simply documenting the distribution of the SOPs.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) provides ISO 9000 and ISO 9001 standards for how companies should manage quality assurance and regulatory compliance. For example, ISO 9001:2015 “specifies requirements for a quality management system when an organization . . .  needs to demonstrate its ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements . . .” 

Like ISO, organizations can develop their own SOPs and regulations to guarantee quality and compliance of the products to safety, security, and design standards.

Quality management plans include strong technical and management SOP. The American Society for Quality (ASQ) defines quality as both:

  • the characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied need, and
  • a product or service free of deficiencies.

Without proper implementation and at-your-fingertips access, new Standard Operating Procedures can be ineffective, unused, or unsafe. As part of any quality assurance plan, SOP implementation is key.

This is the second post in the 4-part blog series on SOP. Check out the previous post at:

The third post in this SOP series will analyze the industry best practices and benefits of implementing SOP.

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