Sanjeev Kotnala: Have your SOPs lived their life?

02 Feb,2017

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Every self-respecting department in a growing organisation has defined standard operating processes (SOP). The problem is simple. Most of the process were created when the organisation was of a different size, operating in a zone with market dynamics that may not be now relevant. However, like religious rituals and family traditions, they remain unchallenged. In fact, quite a few are really the new bottlenecks or barriers to streamlined efficiencies thus increasing the possibilities of error and delays.

If you start scrutinising processes, it will not be surprising to find that many do need recalibrating.

It could be the steps to be followed in generating a report, reminders built in for updating, the way to access and resolve consumer complaint or even manufacturing or indenting a product. Trust me, inefficient old traditional processes may actually be the cause and high contributor to business disadvantage, stress, missed deadlines and increased cost.

It is recommended that businesses must evaluated and re-calibrate their processes at a regular frequency.

Every team and department work with set documented procedures that are well-established and passed down the order. Advertising and marketing is no different. These are fondly called Standard Operating Procedures. They tell you what to do under which situation. They promise that if you did what they suggest, you can be absolved of any irresponsible behavior. You may, in fact, be branded an organisational man.

Don’t take me otherwise, SOP are important and hugely critical when they deal with safety-related, legal or financial objectives.

SOPs are designed to streamline the way people work. When everyone follows a well-tested set of steps, there are fewer errors and delays and there is less duplicated effort. With time, new set of SOPs get accumulated within the system. Naturally with time, redundancy does creeps-in unannounced. If you have been updating everything and techniques in life, why not the SOP’s.

If and whenever you experience a problem of relevance with a SOP, it is review time. It is time to update or upgrade to something that  keeps the process relevant and result oriented. Or in some cases, you could be best adviced to drop the process.

The process revival and re-engineering are an art in itself. Maybe, you could do with some preliminary steps.

MAP THE PROCESS. Identify the process needing intervention. Document each step and sub processes. Use flow charts to capture every step. Detail out the phases and sub-steps with the help of regular users.

ANALYSE THE PROCESS. Investigate the observed and felt problems in the processes. Check for redundancy duplication and technology intervention.

One of the ways is to get answers to some simple questions. What makes the user frustrated in the process? Which steps are bottlenecks? Where is the delay happening? Is there a need to decrease interdependency? Which steps are no longer required and can be replaced? What are the areas which are impacting negatively the cost and quality?

Check how other organisations handle a similar requirement. Remind yourself, you need to fix the problem and not just the symptoms.

RE-ENGINEER THE PROCESS. Tweak or redesign to take care of identified issues and challenges. While doing so, you will be better served to speak and interact, include real SOP users in your re-engineering approach. They are the one who will know best and also be able to suggest new approaches. Explore multiple possible solutions to the issues. Choose the one which is best in the real-life context. Check – recheck time-effort-cost-risk -end customer experience and impact before taking it for final discussion.

Once you are through with re-engineering the SOP with your team and there is a collective buy-in, formalise it with proper documentation and authority. Don’t wait for the processes to get irrelevant and users to raise their voice. Plan review of the new process and mark that date on the process document.

IMPLEMENT. Implementing a process is a mini project in itself. Before pressing pedal, you must communicate the new process to every stakeholder and resources groups ( like UT/ HR/ Finance/ Documentation) that may need to intervene for its perfect implementation.

Present the benefits to the users. Bring everyone to the same page. It is important for all stakeholders to understand the reason for change and how it impacts them and the organization. There may be a need to educate and involve external business associates for perfect implementation. Their systems may need to be re-calibrated to accept the new process.

SUPPORT. Even after you have run a successful pilot, trust, the new processes will have its own bugs. You must have an FAQ designed to take care of minor issues and an empowered service team to take up major issues.

Unfortunately, you only realise the issues post the process has been implemented. The first review is a pre-determined time for ironing out unexpected challenges. And it must be done ASAP. Allow an empowered user  team to retweak if necessary and finalise the new porcess. Cap this with a built-in review / expirey date. You will find that a small change like this expiry / review dates will suddenly make changes more acceptable.

Don’t forget – PERFECTION is always WORK-IN-PROGRESS


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