Latest guide to managing your standard operating procedures
Standard operating procedures play a major part in your business information system
Standard operating procedures (SOP’s for short) are one part in a total business information system, a system that:
- Creates information
- Stores it
- Controls it
- Is searchable
- and is accessible by those who need the information
Standard operating procedures via policies, procedures, work instructions and so on explain how certain processes should be carried out within your organisation and to a given standard and are therefore vital in the day-to-day process of running a business.
Standard operating procedures and business information systems can take many forms and may involve:
- HTML files
- Spreadsheets and power points etc
Managing information correctly maybe the single most important thing you could do
If you now own or have owned a business you’ve probably experienced the feeling of a sense of loss of control as your business starts expanding and you put more people on. A little voice in your head is saying “why didn’t you stay small, I didn’t have all this paperwork and wages to contend with before, what have I done?“
Don’t worry, it’s a good sign, it means your business is growing, it’s just reminding you that you need to match production with capability. Deep down you instinctively know that untrained staff who are not on-board with your systems can lower capacity and that needs to be addressed.
To do this you have 2 options
- Hire expert people or in other words buy skills and knowledge (which can be costly with no guarantees) or
- Develop good sop’s in a great information system, this will bring even average skilled people up to speed very quickly
Obviously I’m proposing you go with option 2, because:
- It will improve your business continuity as you will be relying on good systems as opposed to brilliant people who may leave you anytime.
- and it ensures you are adaptable when key people leave (and they will eventually, that’s a fact of life)
- and finally it will save money and time in the long run
If you are like me you hate it when someone proposes a great theory but then offers no real suggestion of how they might implement it.
So I’m not proposing for you to suck eggs with the usual 3 steps to doing blah..blah
Instead I want you to engage with using the information system structure of “CREATE, STORE, CONTROL, FIND & ACCESS” in developing your own standard operating procedures and to ultimately improve your business information system.
CREATE – information – start with a Task-Job-Analysis
First we need to know what it is we do and what needs to be documented. One of the best ways to do that is to do a Task-Job-Audit analysis. This is a worksheet that can be filled out by individual staff members (preferably as they know what they do better than anyone else) or a person who has a good grasp on what goes on in the business (e.g. owner, manager etc)
The Task-Job-Audit analysis displays a table like structure like those shown below. The staff member or a person assigned to list jobs will simply go through and list every task, job or function done by them or the organisation.
Everything from how to set the security alarm to how the factory or toilets should be cleaned. This document will be used to then create policies, procedures, work instructions and processes which will then form your organisations standard operating procedures.
You can task-job-audit-analysis here.
|Staff Members Name||Mary Smith|
Job or Task name
How often is is done
Done as which role
Is this a priority for documentation
|Prepare payroll||Every 2 weeks on Tuesday||Accounts/Payroll||Payroll clerk||yes|
|Send statements to clients||Once a month (last Thursday of month)||Accounts/Accounts Receivable||Bookkeeper||yes|
|..and so on|
Please note the last column is more for administration purposes and is for prioritizing which tasks your business would greatly benefit from being documented.
For example when you complete this Task-Job-Audit analysis you may have over 300 or so jobs that you want to document, some of those jobs are important but not critical, others are so critical that special attention is warranted, so document these first.
STORE – information
Next you to decide where and how you are going to store your standard operating procedures.
You could use :
A shared network drive, google docs drive or even a drop box shared folder where you:
- Create folders and sub folders representing each category and sub category of your business
- Then under each category you create documents relating to each job or task that you have listed in your Task-Job-Audit analysis
or you could use software such as:
- TKO Business Modeller (forgive me for this shameless plug)
or Website applications like
- WordPress (WordPress is a content management system) largest on this planet for handling any information
- or TKO Policy Guides (another shameless plug about our really simple web-based knowledge management system)
There are many software systems out there and most will save you a lot of time but that’s up to you.
CONTROL – information
Which ever way you go you need to be able to control these documents so that they become the single source of your information. You don’t want different versions of documents sitting all around the place.
To do that:
- Make a policy that only these folders (the ones you have set up if doing it yourself manually ) and or certain software systems and only those are to be used for storing and managing your documents
- then designate which users can access them
FIND – users need to be able to find information
Next you need to set up a way for all your staff to find these standard operating procedures when they need it.
- Create a master word document which has hyperlinks links to all other documents in your folders so the master document effectively becomes an index page or
- Create a simple html page and place it in a shared folder. The html page will have hyperlinks to all documents in your relevant folders and users would simply click a link to a url from their web browser to view the index page
- Or use software as mentioned above.
ACCESS – who can view and edit
Next your content needs to be accessible to all those who need it, plus you may need to be able to grant either read only, write or both access to various users so that only users with the required permissions can access the content. e.g. who can edit content and who can view only.
To do this on a shared folder simply right-click on the various department folders and use the security tab to grant varying degrees of access to various users.
In the case of software usually there is a way to set permissions for each role so that only users with certain roles and or in certain groups can view or edit content. Refer to your software application for this. For example in TKO Policy Guides users can be assigned read only roles or edit roles or even be assigned to certain groups so that they can only see or edit documents in their group e.g. users in the accounts group can only see records assigned to the accounts group
Can you do this manually?
Yes if you are prepared to put in the time, but thankfully we live in the 21 century and there are plenty of tools out there to help you manage this easily and at a very low-cost , some I have already mentioned above. It’s up to you.
Download a Task-Job-Audit analysis spreadsheet here and start analysing your current business tasks.
It’s a good place to begin
See also Standard Operating Procedures for manufacturers
- 10 Rules for Managing a Small Business
- 3 Tips to writing policies and procedures
- Best practices in policies and procedures
- Business model or a business plan?
- How to use bottlenecks in your business to help you write effective standard operating procedures (SOP)
- SOP Software to help you manage your standard operating procedures (SOP)
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