You know what’s no fun? Chores. They are what you might call a, “necessary evil.” One of the hardest transitions in life is when you first leave home, and you suddenly realize A) just how many chores your parent(s) or guardian did that you took for granted and B) that you have no idea how to complete most of them. Fortunately, most of us are able to pick up the phone and get instructions on how to sort laundry (don’t mix colors with whites) and if popcorn kernels can go down the garbage disposal (probably not a good idea). If we’re smart, we take notes, in essence creating our first set of standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Now you’re in a work environment, and everyone has a bunch of tasks you could call their, “chores.” Tasks that are not particularly exciting, but important to your organization’s success. The difference with the work example is that you don’t move out, instead your parents (Read: critical employee) decide to move to Hawaii*, leaving you to watch the house, feed the dog and maintain the yard. Now you’re wishing you’d documented your processes because no matter how much you call, lets face it your parents are to busy soaking up the rays to answer the phone. So before all your processes walk out the door to go wear a grass skirt on the beach, make your New Year’s Resolution to document your SOPs. Here are a few steps to get you started.
Audit Current Documentation
Many organizations actually assume they have more documentation than they really do. But when they start actually looking closely, they realize current documentation is outdated, sparse, or just missing. Auditing means that someone goes in and does a close read of existing documentation. Ideally it’s someone who didn’t create the documentation but also knows enough about the process to know if something doesn’t make sense.
Outline a Timeline…and Check In On It!
Once an audit is complete, set up a timeline of when the documentation will be updated. Don’t just say, “All SOPs updated by X date.” Break it up into manageable chunks. Ideally more than one person can be involved in the process, in which case have a weekly 10-minute check in to “celebrate” the small victories. That being said, there should also be a larger celebration when it’s all done.
The End is Just the Beginning
Now that your SOPs are up to date, setting up a SOP that regularly updates the SOPs is critical. Just as the business is constantly changing, so should the SOPs document be a living document that is updated and revised on a regular basis. The easiest way to accomplish this is by incorporating the SOPs into the organization instead of writing them and forgetting them. SOPs should be used as part of the new staff training. When staff have questions about how to do things, you could refer them to the section of the SOPs that addresses their question. Creating a culture where people reference your SOPs does several thing:
- Ensures processes are consistent across the organization.
- Reduces the amount of time staff, particularly for IT, spent addressing mundane issues like, “Where do I submit my expenses?” or, “How do I reset my password?” freeing them up to take on bigger challenges.
- Ensures the SOPs stay up to date, since as soon as they become out of date, someone will notice because they will be referencing the SOPs to do their job.
Getting Creative with Your SOPs
If you’ve finished updating your SOPs, but what to take it a step further, here are a few options:
- Build them as a wiki – SOPs are prime for a wiki. The wiki allows for collaboration and it allows for sections to get reused. In any set of SOPs, there are baseline parts of every process (See: Step 1 – Login to the system). A wiki will allow you to link to those details, for anyone who is new to the process, while more advanced users can focus on only the big picture steps.
- Add graphics/screenshots – While step by step directions are great, breaking them up with screen shots helps, especially with arrows pointing to buttons. And, there are plenty of great screenshot tools out there.
- Tell people why – One of the biggest challenges when trying to implement new technology based on your current SOPs is understanding why current SOPs exist. In some cases, current SOPs exist because of an issue with the current technology, but if no one remembers that, the current process will be moved to the new technology. So be sure to note why SOPs exist (ie required by bi-laws; system limitation; marketing director indicated this was a must), that way when the time comes to update, not only will processes be documented, you will have the underlying assumptions to go with them.
We hope you have a productive 2017!
*Note: Just in case you think the author is being overly hyperbolic he wanted to point out that his parents did in fact move to Hawaii and leave him in the house his freshman year of college.