Authored By: Christon Valdivieso
Edited By: Afton Knight
Recently, I wrote about the seven complexities (7Cs) and how they add waste and increase costs. The solution to most of the 7Cs is to create standards to help increase effectiveness and reduce waste. It is only natural, then, that we take some time and talk about SOP's as well. Most of us know that SOP stands for standard operating procedure and understand the value of having them implemented. Unfortunately, for many operations—especially those with un-managed complexities—SOP means “Sometimes Our Policy.”
The problem originates with organizational focus. Companies with ASAP management approaches are inherently reactive and usually cannot be proactive. Leadership is generally too focused on the now to develop SOPs that proactively drive the future. This is because ASAP management is exception based management focusing on current needs while SOPs create a standards-based management system that can focus on future needs. This truth forces two basic questions:
1) Is my company an ASAP company?
2) How do I institute lasting SOPs?
The first question is relatively simple. Begin by looking at deadlines, lead times, and planning horizons. If they consistently seem too short, are always rushed or interrupted, or if they are "floating" and do not actually exist, you probably operate in an ASAP environment. This is frequently synonymous with "do whatever it takes" and sometimes even the "just make the customer happy" environments as they engender exception based operations.
Take Robert, for example. Robert works in a warehouse for a wholesale company providing goods to box stores in Northern California. This company prides itself on next day delivery to its customers and requires its sales team to have orders in by 2 pm to ensure they can pick, pack, and stage orders for the next day. Frequently, however, orders continue to roll in until 3 pm and the end of each day is usually a scramble—regardless of how much planning went into it. While the company believes it has established a 2 pm cut-off “standard,” the cut-off is floating and thus exceptions are made almost daily in order to “make the customer happy.”
Question two requires a bit more work. SOPs provide a solid foundation for training and allow organizations to hold people accountable. SOPs provide associates and supervisors a reliable reference for how tasks need to be done, and teaches team-members that the organization is serious about their processes and expects them to be followed. To ensure lasting SOPs are instituted, three main steps should be followed:
1) Ensure the purpose of the SOP is understood by leadership and associates
2) Engage appropriate stakeholders
3) Ensure the SOPs are distributed and read
4) Monitor Compliance
While these four steps seem simple, the reason SOPs fail most often is because one of these four steps are violated. When supervisors are promoted—especially from a different department—do they understand the purpose of the SOPs or even where to find them? Are the trainers passing on the SOPs as intended or are they teaching their own version? Is the training documented?
When I worked in restaurants, we talked about the same SOPs at every shift meeting all week before going to the next topic and circled back to them several times a year. This ensured every person—new or seasoned—understood the standards and did not deviate from them over time. How well are SOPs re-visited at your organization? Are you in an ASAP company? The truth is SOPs are easy to implement, but sustained SOPs require a commitment to teach and re-teach as time goes forward. Without the commitment, SOPs will quickly go from “standard operating procedures” to “sometimes our policy.” With that said, I supply this thought: What does “SOP” mean at your organization?