SOPs and How To Write Them

SOPs or Standard Operating Procedures are needed in every business. SOPs are the recipe for creating consistent, predictable, and repeatable results.

Why are they needed?

Simple. Because they answer these questions:

Who?

Who is supposed to do the work? SOPs frame the responsibility of the team member. This addresses the need for accountability.

If you have ever wondered why nobody is picking up the phone, taking out the trash, or staying late to catch up on missed assignments. This is it.

Part of your SOPs has to include your team. Who answers that.

What?

What is the work that needs to happen? An SOP frames out the process and describes the action that needs to be taken.

This is the “Here’s what we are doing” statement. Step by step, what needs to happen?

Every. Single. Time.

Why?

Why is this work important? Of all the questions, I think this one could be the most important for SOPs. Answer the why question.

Why should we count in the inventory the same day it arrives? Why should we stage all of production today for tomorrow’s work? Why do you need to enter the shipping information on the order at the time of order entry?

Why are we doing it this way?

Look at your biggest problem lurking in your shop. Chances are you haven’t answered the why question thoroughly.

When?

When is all about timing for your SOPs. The more credence you give to when something should happen, the better.

In the next hour? At 10:00 am? By the end of the day?

When something should happen is crucial to map out. You are detailing your SOP to start and stop the clock.

If a customer asks for a quote, can I send it tomorrow? Maybe the following day?

UPS just dropped off 37 boxes of inventory. When do we process them?

How often should you change the filters in your air compressor? What about sweeping the floor?

How?

Exactly how is the work to be performed? What is step one? Can you detail what quality looks like?

Your SOP needs to be detailed enough to describe the the proper way to do something.

Can I read the written SOP, watch the SOP video, or have someone mentor me in the proper procedure? The goal is for every staff member that gets trained in the SOP to do it the same way.

The Easiest Way to Write an SOP

There are too many functions in a business or a shop to catalog them all in a blog article. Rather than writing an article on how to write an SOP for quoting, burning a screen, or how to hoop a denim jacket for embroidery, I think it best to detail how to write a Standard Operating Procedure for any step in your business.

The hard part isn’t writing it.

The challenge is going to be in deciding exactly what is the best way to do something, and then later having the discipline to stick to it.

But, if you create SOPs for your company and have your crew trained and using them you will find that a lot of areas will improve. Quality will increase. The time it takes to do something will decrease.

It is a natural. When people know the right way to do something, then it’s just a matter of execution and performance. If everyone does what they are supposed to, you can move faster.

SOP Step One

Document where you are now. How is the work being performed currently? Does Bill do it one way, but Maria handles it differently?

Write the steps down. Step one is this. Step two is that. And so forth.

How does Bill do it? Show how Maria handles it.

Use your phone and record video. Take pictures. Draw a sketch if you have to.

The SOP Step One is to catalog the action that exists now. This includes any inputs or work from another department. “We can’t start our work until they do that.” What is that step?

Write down how you handle something. Every step.

SOP Step Two

What works perfectly? In the current process, what can everyone agree on that always clicks.

There is never a problem. But, you have to do it this way.

Write that down. These are the things you may want to keep.

SOP Step Three

What isn’t working so well? Where is the struggle? What is the problem?

Can you articulate that? Trace it back to the root cause?

What needs to change? Can you get agreement on the challenge?

Write that down. These are the things that you need to research on how to do it better.

SOP Step Four

How do other people handle this same work? This work doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Chances are, other companies just like yours are doing this same task.

What are the industry best practices?

Is there a better technique, software, equipment, training, method, or something out there that you could bring in to improve the process you are wanting to standardize?

Hint: the answer is probably a big fat “Yes.” This is usually where I come into the picture by the way.

The challenge is that for a lot of folks in this industry they are not willing to be open to learning something new, or admitting (the horror) that they haven been doing something wrong for years.

Improvement starts with an open mind.

Find out how other people handle things. Write that down.

SOP Step Five

Bring it all together.

While it is easy to have the department manager or the business owner dictate how things should happen, a better way is to get the input, thoughts, ideas, and concerns of your team.

There is an old adage that states, “Man supports what he helps create.” Meaning, if you help me build the SOP, chances are you will follow it because you had a say in how it was drafted.

In this step, examine all of your information. Your documentation. How Bill does it. How Maria does it. What is working. What isn’t working. How other shops are having success.

Then your team has to come to an agreement on exactly how your company is going to do something. It will be the “insert your shop name” way of handling something. This will be the right answer from now on.

After the agreement document the correct action. Write down the steps. Film the work being performed the correct way. Take pictures of what success looks like.

SOP Step Six

Put all of that into a three ring binder or folder on your server. Name it for easy search later.

The binder and server folder will become your “Shop Operations Manual.” This is how we do things.

For new, existing, and even veteran employees this becomes a training platform.

“Here is how you do this work.”

This also means that you have established the first step in accountability. Once you document what success looks like and train your staff on how to achieve it, you can demand that they hit the bullseye every time.

They can’t do it their way, if you insist on the Shop Way Of Doing It.

SOP Step Seven

Be open to change.

Somewhere, at sometime, and really who knows when, there will be new information that comes out on how to do something better.

There is a new consumable. A new technique. Some new equipment. An upgrade.

Don’t worry, this stuff is coming to you soon. What I want you to be thinking about constantly is how we can improve our SOPs?

It is 100% ok to tweak them. Make them better. Change stuff to improve.

SOPs are not written in stone.

In fact, once you have them when something new comes along you will actually find it easier to implement than before. “Hey, we’re doing this part with this new way. Let me show you.”

Onboarding that new part of the process becomes easier, as everyone is already doing the other steps successfully. You are not starting over, you are starting at Step Twenty-Two.

Standard Operating Procedure Wrap Up

Will creating Standard Operating Procedures make your company operate better, with more efficiency, at a lower cost, and improve your quality and speed?

Yep.

So why don’t more shops in this industry have them if it is so beneficial? Good question.

For starters, writing everything out and creating SOPs is work. It is a time management problem usually. The way this gets completed is that you use a calendar and start blocking off small chunks of time to work on this.

You aren’t going to write SOPs for your entire company in a week if you are starting from scratch. Let’s be realistic.

Prioritize the work. I would suggest start at the beginning. Write the SOPs for customer lead generation. Marketing. Quoting. Sales. Order Entry.

Then, move to production. Follow the steps of a typical order through your business. Each week or so, document and write the SOPs for the next step.

After each one celebrate the work. And as you go, keep testing to ensure that the SOPs that you are creating, are in fact, working.

Tweak them constantly. Get your staff training and following them.

That’s how you succeed.