Writing SOPs


SOPs are crucial for companies to operate effectively, create quality products, ensure compliance, and ensure an injury-free workplace. Yet so many organizations' SOPs are out-of-date, hard to read and/or understand, and to put it simply, fairly useless. For many companies, the SOPs they have are in place only because the company knows it has to have them, but it also knows that they're pretty useless.

Years ago, I was asked to create SOPs for a large company (that shall remain nameless!) because they didn't have any. This company produced wood products and management was upset because the quality of the products that were being produced varied, and varied tremendously! What I discovered when I began interviewing workers was that many of them had no real understanding of the process and most had learned how to do their jobs either a) by watching others do the job and/or b) from oral instructions provided by others who either had been involved, or were currently involved, in the work. To figure out how a particular job was supposed to be done, I interviewed several workers involved; interestingly and almost without exception, all of the workers had different ways of doing the work, different shortcuts they would take, and different approaches to solving problems. It was no real wonder that product quality was suffering.

That was a great lesson for me and one that I've carried with me in terms of understanding SOPs. Many organizations, while they have SOPs in place, aren't all that different from that wood products' company I worked with years ago. That is, their SOPs, because they're out-of-date and unusable, aren't much better than learning how to do a task by watching or getting verbal instructions because the SOPs aren't user-friendly. Users find the SOPs hard to read and impossible to follow and therefore, they find other ways to figure out how to complete the task. And this kind of "work-around" methodology results in worker injury, poor quality, and a lack of standardized processes.