The Importance of SOP’sSep 16, 2021
Building on what we looked at last time about our cultural obsession with productivity, I’ll share an example of something I learned as I was working to implement Lean Manufacturing initiatives in the facility I worked at for nearly twenty years…
We all tend to have our own way of doing certain things, right? While that’s typically true, that can wreak havoc on a manufacturing process! If each person who attempts to complete a task takes a different approach, it can be extremely difficult to produce a consistent product or nail down a reasonable expectation for how much labor is required. When quality and pricing shift with the wind, repeat business isn’t very likely. And that doesn’t even touch on how complicated these different methods for producing the same product make training new team members, especially when that training occurs on multiple shifts… Regardless of what industry we’re considering, some sort of standard operating procedure is nearly always necessary!
As we built various Lean tools into different areas of that manufacturing facility, we started with the existing workstation instructions, reviewed them with several of the most experienced employees who operated the equipment, then worked to create extremely detailed guides called Standardized Worksheets that spelled out every intricate step of the process so anyone attempting the particular job for the first time would have a reasonable chance of producing a high quality product in a timely fashion just from reading the sheet. The goal was to identify the current best way of performing the task efficiently and safely while making the widget to specification. If someone came up with a different way that they believed was better, we’d review it against all three criteria (safety, quality, and efficiency). If at least one of the three was better and the other two didn’t suffer, we’d then have a new best way of performing that task!
When you think back to what I shared about my friend coming home to a clean and organized kitchen, were you in disbelief? That sounds like quite a task doesn’t it? Especially for a mom to corral two or three dozen kids in order for it to happen… Shoot, I’m guessing you’re picturing someone you know right now who lives by themselves and has a week’s worth of dirty dishes filling their sink and scattered across their counter top. I sure can think of a few! And there lies the difference between having a system for getting something done and just planning to take care of it when we can, the best we can...
In chapter seven of The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, The Law of Design, John Maxwell defines systems as :”processes for predictably achieving a goal based on specific, orderly, repeatable principles and practices.” He goes on to share a quote from Michael Gerber stating that “Systems permit ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results predictably.”
The more tasks we’re responsible for, or the busier our lives get, the more important it becomes for each of us to follow (or develop) systems to make sure things get done. Not only will having systems in place help us avoid becoming stressed out, those same systems will help us ensure we keep the main thing the main thing even when we’re under significant pressure. That’s absolutely been the case for me!
But regardless of how great our systems are, we’re going to run into times where there’s just more stuff to be done than we could possibly get to. Next time, we’ll circle back to how we can add the three R’s to our systems to make sure we’re putting our time where it gives us the best results - and the ones we need most!