A standard operating procedure is a written document composed of step-by-step instructions used to complete a complex routine operation. Written technical and management SOP achieve efficiency, uniform performance, quality control, and regulatory compliance. Standard operating procedures make business processes clear and doable.
SOP documentation also helps when an employee is out sick and someone else needs to perform a task or take over the preventive maintenance work orders on an asset.
Or when a manager leaves and standardized performance reviews are needed.
Or if an industry-standard on clean water changes and a new test needs to be done every other day instead of weekly.
Maybe a new piece of equipment replaces old equipment and the preventive maintenance work order is completely different. An SOP will clearly define the task.
What’s an SOP to do?
Standard Operating Procedures communicate across all levels and team members of an organization. They involve business owners and employees by department, manager, function, and/or asset. One of the important parts of SOP is they provide important information to workers and managers about work being done, how it is being done, and if something is getting in the way.
One way to think about Standard Operating Procedures is to think of them as either technical SOP or management SOP.
Technical SOP detail how to perform and complete a task. They are often in the form of a repeating work order, a preventative maintenance work order, or an inspection.
This may sound silly but companies often need SOP to manage their SOP.
There should even be a management SOP about how all other SOP are created, updated, and distributed.
In addition to providing guidelines about how to write Standard Operating Procedures, management SOP should include information about:
- Who reviews and approves the SOP
- When the SOP is revised and how often
- Who implements and manages the SOP
- Who checks to make sure the SOP works
That’s why management SOP coordinate the technical SOP. Management systems and management SOP can be checklists to audit results and evaluate completed work.
They also can provide data on meeting safety and inspection standards and help manage the regular cycle of writing, approving, and revising the SOP in use.
Standard Operating Procedures documentation is solid proof of quality assurance plans in action.
Management SOP outline the processes and procedures to define, document, and implement Standard Operating Procedures. They also outline the process to review and revise the SOP as needed.
This also means that management SOP need to be checked and reviewed as often as technical SOP.
One of the reasons that technical SOP fail is that management hasn’t created the process for them to succeed. Whenever procedures, employees, assets, functions change, SOP need to be updated and re-approved. A management SOP can simply be about updating technical SOP.
And even when procedures don’t change, SOP should be reviewed regularly. Quality SOP reviews ensure that policies and procedures are current and cost-effective and follow new or changing regulations, standards, and quality assurance plans.
Also, when employees change, management needs to make sure that the new employee is trained to carry out the SOP.
This SOP management process is an important Quality Assurance Plan because even the best SOP fail when not followed.
The best SOP are clear, concise, to the point, and make sense to the person who has to complete the SOP.
In fact, failure to follow a company’s Standard Operating Procedures is a common observation during inspections. The FDA notes that poor content, lack of clarity, and no training are reasons most cited by employees for not following an SOP.
One of the best ways to ensure that SOP are followed is to explain WHY the SOP is important. After employees know WHY the SOP is in place, make sure that it can be performed successfully by those assigned to the SOP.
We know that Standard Operating Procedures, both management and technical, are important. According to the FAO, the purpose of a Standard Operating Procedure is to “carry out the operations correctly and always in the same manner.” Most importantly, the FAO says that an “SOP should be available at the place where the work is done.”
This is why SOP need to be digitized. No one needs to go back to the office to retrieve the hardcopy SOP notebook on the shelf. Digital SOP on a handheld device mean guidelines, work orders, and checklists go wherever you go.
The benefits of digitized Standard Operating Procedures are that:
- Cloud-based checklists are available for auditors and inspectors
- Digital dashboards provide information about job performance and time-on-task
- Processes are uninterrupted and are completed on schedule
- Operations are performed properly and consistently
- Procedures are in compliance with company quality standards and government regulations.
- Employees are kept up-to-date and trained on new procedures
- Trends and anomalies can be monitored and improved
In fact, if and when lawyers get involved, having SOP in place—and easily accessible through a digital platform with audit trails–makes a huge difference. Quality Standard Operating Procedures show lawyers and the courts that a company adheres to standards and regulations.
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 SOPs can be ineffective, unused, or unsafe. As part of any quality assurance plan, SOP implementation is key.
Management can implement technical SOP through a digital solution, such as MaintainX, by:
- Distributing the SOP to the relevant employees
- Making sure employees are trained to complete the SOP
- Monitoring employee performance of the SOP
- Reviewing, updating, and revising the SOP as necessary.
- Repeating this process any time an SOP, asset, regulation, or company standard changes.
With cloud-based Standard Operating Procedures, companies operate with the assurance that all processes are available, consistent, and repeatable via a digital solution such as MaintainX.
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
- Throughput of your process
To stay competitive, companies are going digital. Management is moving workflows, Technical Standard Operating Procedures, Management Standard Operating Procedures, checklists, and performance tracking onto digital platforms.
MaintainX brings it all together in one place, under one app.
Invest in software that reduces the time-consuming, clunky ways of the past. Provide workers more time to be productive and in compliance instead of wasting time tracking down the old paper SOP stuffed in filing cabinets.
Read more about Standard Operating Procedures and Regulatory Compliance.