If you’ve been following our series on Standard Operating Procedures, you know that at Planify™, we love the value SOPs can bring to your company. Still, we have to acknowledge the possibility of SOP pitfalls. Even the best strategies can be impacted by human error, changes in the industry, and issues outside the company’s control.
Collecting Your Data
One major SOP pitfall is simply collecting data. Depending on how you’re set up to gather information for each individual SOP, you may struggle to get all the steps for a particular SOP.
Are your employees each filling out an SOP document for each of their tasks? What happens if you have eight employees and one is out on vacation for two weeks, one on maternity leave for three months, and one busy putting out fires for customers? Will they have time to write an SOP for how they put out each fire?
Chances are, the data collection will take time. Unless you intend to take two days with every employee spending all their time creating an initial SOP draft for each task, it will take time.
One strategy for this is to have a dedicated employee or an agency you hire to interview each employee. In a half hour interview, it’s easy to complete two or three SOPs as people are able to talk through the process instead of writing it out. The dedicated SOP agent can then compile the information into the document.
Additionally, there is the option of setting aside an hour or so per day for employees who need to get it written out. By setting aside time to focus on the task, it’s possible to get better, faster results.
Once you have your SOPs together, what next? Put it in a book as an employee manual? Keep it as a Google Doc for employees to reference? Is it organized by department or chronologically in the order the processes go? Where will you put ‘outlier’ SOPs or SOPs that may have variables?
As with many things in life, it’s handy to be flexible. Having print and digital copies are useful. Your digital copy can be on the company Drive or you can use another platform like Trello to organize your SOPs.
If the structure of your document or digital platform don’t seem to be working, you can always change it. Get feedback from employees as to what would be easiest.
In general, organizing by department works best, but it certainly depends on your industry and company.
Shifts in the Industry
Industries change. Sometimes that’s great, but sometimes it’s extremely inconvenient.
If your company produces magazines, but are facing an increase in costs and a paper shortage, what can you do? How will this impact your company’s processes and structure?
Likewise, what if new doors and opportunities open? You have all these great processes, but you have to keep up with advances in your market.
SOPs can always be changed. They are not set in stone. In the Planify™ model, we recommend keeping track of the month and year of the last time the SOP was evaluated. It’s worthwhile to go through your SOPs once a year and make adjustments based on internal feedback, but also the industry at large.
It’s also helpful to have (or create) SOPs for variables and unexpected challenges. If your supplier can’t get enough paper for your magazines, have an SOP for the process of reaching out to other suppliers and how to foster ‘back up’ relationships with them. Also, have a process for budgeting so that when paper supply increases in cost, you are prepared for what may have to decrease.
People make mistakes. There’s nothing we can do to stop them from happening on occasion. While SOPs are put in place to minimize these issues, they do still happen.
It could be a new employee or someone set in their ways and struggling to adapt to new processes. Either way, errors happen. Having a plan in place can help.
Continually remind your employees that the SOPs are there to help. Refer back to them often and make them a part of your company values. The more they’re talked about by management, the more employees will understand their impact.
Include in your SOPs a process for handling employee errors. How many chances do employees get when mistakes are happening repeatedly? What re-education options are available? Are any of the SOPs just unrealistic and needing adjustment? Are employees set up to succeed or are their mistakes a reflection on the processes rather than the person?
This largely goes in line with human error, but steps can still be missed. Who is going to train employees through the SOPs? Who is going to evaluate them as they learn and follow through?
Company culture matters. While no one enjoys a culture of micromanagement, a culture of expectation sets people up for success. As SOPs are initially being put in place, take time to value employees and share how SOPs are meant to streamline company function and, ultimately, benefit them. Ensure they understand that these processes are required and will impact evaluations, but are there to make their lives easier and answer quesions they may have.
Outside Your Control
Going back to the idea of the magazine printer, we recognize that things happen completely outside of our control. What if the paper shortage extends so far that the company cannot find a solution? Or what about an incorrect order being received? Or the paper is damaged during shipping thanks to a rain storm and insufficient protection from the elements?
Things happen. Having adequate processes in place can’t always fix them.
Sometimes, we just need to have a backup plan. It may not be ideal, but preparing for contingencies is part of the process. As you work through your SOPs, take time to think about the worst case scenario. And if you haven’t prepared ahead and something does hit, don’t forget to create an SOP for that–justt to prevent issues in the future.
Poorly Written or Inefficient SOPs
SOPs, handy though they may be, are cumbersome to put together. It takes time, diligence, and attention to detail. Sometimes, we stumble across SOP pitfalls in that they are poorly written or inefficient. Whether a supervisor doesn’t know all the steps taken by those they oversee or an writing just isn’t an employee’s strength, issues can crop up.
The best solution to preventing pitfalls in your SOPs is to have someone witth experience lead the project. This could be a person within your organization or it could mean hiring out the task. What matters most is that your SOPs are done well–so you can have an effective strategy for handling processes.
Your SOP Help
At Planify™, we love seeing businesses scale and thrive. Part of that is helping with Standard Operating Procedures and obtaining a documented process for companies we work with. If your business needs help creaing SOPs, we’re here. Reach out today and schedule a free Discovery Call.