How to create meaningful Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

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Post on 22-Feb-2017




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    Written by:

    Sudha Kesavan

    ProjectingIT, Mumbai, India




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    Looking at todays dynamic global economy, all corporates are taking a stride towards standardization and thats where the very purpose of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) gets defined. Now, what is a SOP? SOPs are quintessentially a set of processes and procedures for the operations group to adhere for delivering desired business outcomes. In my earlier projects, we spent a lot of time in creating several SOPs for the teams to follow and deliver results. While trying to fathom the effectiveness of the SOPs (whether they are meaningful or not), I had the following question in my mind... Are the SOPs created are really useful? Is it possible for the team to adhere to the processes and procedures prescribed? Is it adding any value to the team and to the customer? How these documents get updated or upgraded? As unbiased feedback was most imperative, we got few experts from other Projects to not only go through the SOP documents but also Interact with the team members. The prime aim here was to collect data points for the last few months so that we understand the trend along with the current practices. And as we guessed, the unanimous verdict was that the SOPs weren't effective noting the fact that these SOP documents are created by subject matter experts. What struck me most was that these documents were more like making 'wishes' whereas the 'how' part was never explained. Just to cite one example, statements like 'Project Manager has to allocate work to the team and keep track of progress' never supplemented with how this can be done. May be Project Manager should conduct daily stand-up meetings to allocate work sounds more meaningful? Another interesting thing that we found while talking to the team members was that the only time the SOPs are popular and being used are during audits. So, before proposing a solution to the problem, we wanted to understand the root cause of it. Why are we having ineffective SOPs? During the brainstorming session, there are many reasons identified. Some of the significant ones contributed to the failure were the following: 1. These SOPs are created without consulting or engaging with the team. Surprisingly,

    some of these were just borrowed from other projects and were never tailored

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    2. The current practices and as-is processes of the project were never take in to account

    3. No metrics to track and monitor to see if the SOPs are delivering value

    4. No training or orientation given to the team on using the SOPs When the root causes were identified it became easier for us to take required steps to improve the quality of SOPs and adequate metrics to ensure that the processes add value to the team and to the customer. When we recently got a chance to do a consultation for a Retail Giant in India for creating Standard Operating Procedures, Process Charts and Operational metrics, we want to ensure that we create a meaningful SOP and Process charts by doing the following: 1. Identification of primary stakeholders:

    As recommended by Prince2 methodology, the three primary stakeholders of the project were identified at the beginning. Executive The sponsor of the project and overall responsible for the project success Senior User - Represents the team that will be use/maintain the project's product Senior Supplier - Provide resources and expertise to deliver the project Our role was to fulfill the responsibilities of Senior Supplier by engaging with Executive and Senior User to clearly define the product scope, acceptance criteria and quality requirements of the project.

    2. Documentation of As-is process - The current processes and practices were

    discussed with the team along with pain areas (what is not working), expectations and areas of improvement

    3. Engagement with the team - We have conducted several review sessions and

    workshops with the team members along with Primary Stakeholders to review the SOPs, seeking ideas, getting feedbacks and also suggestions that needs to be incorporated in the SOPs

    4. Identification of Best Practices from similar businesses - Several best practices were documented and discussed with the team for feasibility and relevance

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    5. Comprehensive metrics with targets that can be tracked and reported on monthly basis - There were around 60 metrics identified to capture data points on every aspect of the Store functioning to constantly measure and see if the process is adding value

    6. A one day workshop was organized with all the team members to do a walk-through of the SOP, Process charts and Metrics, along with the expectation from each and every one to make it work. The session was concluded with an evaluation with open and close ended questions

    We got a complete buy-in from the team on this initiative, because we engaged with them effectively throughout and we took the team's inputs and suggestions rather than forcing our thoughts. No initiative would yield positive result if they are not accepted by the on the ground. Finally, three things that contributed to the success of the project that I want to highlight are:

    1. Engagement with the team from start to end 2. Having Metrics to quantitatively measure the success 3. Following Prince2 methodology to deliver the project. Prince2 methodology

    helped us specially to clearly establish the product scope, defining the product acceptance criteria, configuration management during the project as well as post production and stakeholder engagement

    Prince2 also helped me solve several project management challenges with ease. Do give it a try. Share your inputs and feedback. Also any questions you have regarding the application and usage of Prince2, please write to