My kids are terrible at doing their chores. Each day, my highly organized wife leaves a list of items that must be accomplished before the younglings are allowed to breach the lock screen of their mobile devices. Each day, I walk in anticipating the majestic tones of children’s voices echoing throughout the house, insisting the chores were completed as instructed. However, I return home from work only to find the contents of the dishwasher strewn about the countertop, the back patio still scattered with leaves and twigs, or piano and trombone practice books still tucked nicely into backpacks.
My initial reaction each time is to punish: quarantine the phone, abolish privileges, shed any semblance of kindness until the chores are completed in as thoroughly as I myself would have done. It must be a defect in the behavior of these youths to think the work they have performed meets the standards that are clearly outlined in my mind, right?
The Need for Standard Operating Procedures
I am a manager here at InterWorks. I lead a team of highly talented engineers who need very little instruction to perfectly complete a complex task. They need so little intervention from me that I can spend hours writing a blog, ignoring my email and logging out of my phone, all while remaining confident the work is being executed beyond all expectations. If, for some reason, an assignment was not performed exceptionally, I don’t question the ability of the team member—I question the process. Why do I treat my kids differently?
Our first reaction when something is not being done in a way that meets expectations should be to question the process, not the individual.
If we have clearly outlined the process and expected outcome of the task, anyone should be able to meet those expectations. Standard operating procedures, or SOPs, are simply step-by-step processes for completing a common task. It sounds so industrial, so corporate-y, but in all honesty, every task has an SOP. It may be in the mind of the delegator or scratched out in a poorly transcribed email, but every task has a step one, step two, etc. Laying these tasks out in a procedural manner ensures the job is done in the most efficient way, guaranteeing the best quality and consistency in the outcome.
Step One: Break Down the Task or Job
List out every detail, every step, every piece of material that must be used to complete the task. If there is a piece of hardware that is needed, include it. Who is responsible for completing the task? Where should the task be done? How frequently should it be completed, or how long should it take to complete? What is the expected outcome of the task? This step should be a culmination of every single detail that will ensure the job is accurately completed.
Step Two: Question Every Detail
Now that you have all the steps, hardware and materials listed out, review every single step and question if it is imperative in the process. Are there times when something is being double-handled when it could be combined with another task? Is there a step that could be removed, or could the steps be reordered to more efficiently produce the same outcome? What about your environmental factors? Are your expectations of who will complete the task correct, and are you considering them when creating this SOP?
Step Three: Get a Partner
You should never write an SOP alone. Not because you can’t handle the project solo because I’m sure you can! But you need a partner to test your process and help verify that you have the most efficient and concise process documented. Have them perform the task using your SOP and ensure the outcome meets expectation. Next, gather any feedback on the process and adjust if needed. Test again to see if the process improves.
Step Four: Continue to Adapt
Your SOPs should continue to evolve and improve. The process should be vetted regularly to authenticate the validity of the procedure. Have hardware or materials evolved, has the environment changed, is the expected outcome still the same?
When done correctly, anyone should be able to use the SOP to complete a task with little to no additional instruction. After the person performs the task using the beginning SOP, they should move onto an advanced SOP. The advanced SOP hits the high points that someone better acquainted with the task can use to certify expectations are still being met.
Creating Opportunities for Future Improvement
Once you have documented the process and thoroughly confirmed the task can be done by others using the methods outlined in the SOP, you have now eliminated the process as the primary reason the job is not meeting expectations. Now, it is time to tighten up your managerial/parental belt and deal with the other possible underlying causes. But I think I’ll save that for another article…
Note: This is a high-level overview of creating basic SOPs. There is a plethora of resources available on the internet, including templates, tips and examples. Search it up!