Standard Operating Procedures: SOPs challenges

April 23th, 2024
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The principle behind Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) is simple: they provide a detailed description of a given procedure. Chartered engineer and author Giles Johnston even describes SOPs as "the best agreed way of documenting the carrying out of a task." These operational tools are tremendous drivers of efficiency, safety and quality for companies. This is why they play a key role in the supply chain, especially in today’s challenging context.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP): Meaning

Standard Operating Procedure, also called Standardised Operating Procedures, consist of describing a procedure or work process with the purpose of improving efficiency. More specifically, they take the form of a set of written instructions explaining how a process should be carried out in minute detail.

Any effective Standard Operating Procedure features the following requirements:
  • The name of the company;
  • A descriptive title;
  • Identification numbers (date, version, etc.);
  • The objectives;
  • Each person’s responsibilities;
  • Clear, step-by-step instructions.
These tools are generally used for strategic, recurring tasks to simplify communication, avoid errors and ensure a degree of consistency. It is an excellent way of ensuring that each team member applies the same processes to complete a task. They also make it possible to determine each person’s roles and responsibilities, as well as execution times.
Ultimately, these guidelines have multiple functions and are used for:
  • Employee onboarding
  • Team training;
  • Promoting versatility;
  • Ensuring skills transfer;
  • Guaranteeing compliance;
  • Reducing risks;
  • Standardising problem resolution…
These techniques can be implemented in a host of areas. However, they are an essential aspect of any supply chain, particularly in sensitive industries (pharmaceuticals, food, etc.). They ensure that supply chain operations run smoothly and securely. With supply chain reliability and fluidity under strain, this offers undeniable advantages to decision makers seeking to optimise their operations and internal processes.
There are as many types of SOPs as there are ways of doing things in a company. Procurement departments can implement procedures for managing calls for tenders, sourcing suppliers, managing contracts, (re)negotiating conditions with suppliers, eradicating maverick spend, managing quality, etc.

What are the benefits of SOPs?

Thanks to SOPs, companies can optimise and better control their entire supply chain for improved long-term efficiency.

Improving performance

By encouraging optimised use of resources and eliminating inefficiencies, SOPs contribute to improved performance. With well-defined, standardised processes and documentation, it is easier to identify bottlenecks, reduce lead times and improve overall supply chain productivity.

Reducing costs

SOPs make it possible to reduce operating costs. By optimising business processes, companies can eliminate all waste. In Lean terminology, these are all the activities that consume resources but do not provide value for customers. This operational efficiency translates directly into improved profitability.

Managing risks

SOPs play a crucial role in risk management and compliance with industry regulations. By establishing clear protocols and ensuring rigorous monitoring, companies can better anticipate potential risks, respond appropriately in the event of incidents and ensure compliance with applicable standards and regulations.

Improving communication

SOPs establish a common language within the organisation. They make exchanges between the various supply chain stakeholders easier, thus promoting collaboration and coordination between departments, suppliers and external partners. This improved communication helps reduce misunderstandings and conflicts, thereby strengthening business relationships.

Implementing SOPs: 5 steps to follow

Implementing Standard Operating Procedures requires a structured approach and the involvement of all stakeholders. This can be broken down into five necessary steps.

1. Assessing needs

It is essential to understand your company’s specific needs in order to design and write a suitable SOP. To do this, you should discuss matters with the team that will carry out the relevant tasks.

2. Designing procedures

SOPs must be designed in detail, taking into account all elements of the supply chain. This means identifying objectives, scope and appropriate SOP format. Once the procedure has been written and supplemented with relevant resources, it is vital to test it in a controlled environment.

SOPs do not follow any specific format. They may take the form of a text document, chart, flow chart, short video, etc. When creating an SOP, you need to choose the format that makes it easiest for everyone to understand and adopt procedures.

3. Training staff

Training is an essential step to ensure that every team properly understands and follows the SOPs. As part of the training programme, it may be useful to include practical scenarios illustrating how these procedures are applied in real situations.

4. Progressive implementation

SOP implementation must be gradual to enable a smooth transition. For example, you could start by implementing SOPs in a pilot department before extending them across the organisation. If you are updating an existing procedure, it is important to inform the relevant teams of the main changes.

5. Continuous improvement

SOPs are not set in stone. It is essential to monitor their effectiveness and improve them on an ongoing basis in light of the feedback giving by users. In parallel, companies can initiate the digitalisation of their procedures using dedicated management software. These solutions significantly facilitate monitoring and continuous improvement.

Standard Operating Procedures are therefore a cornerstone for guaranteeing efficiency and safety in a company’s supply chain. They lead to greater efficiency, improved profitability and increased customer satisfaction. While introducing SOPs requires meticulous planning, the many benefits they provide means this should be viewed as a strategic investment when developing activities.

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