Why and How to Make Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Your Business

by | Jun 15, 2022

On December 20, 2021, a Boeing 777 plane — Emirates flight EK231 — taxied off a Dubai International Airport runway at 248 mph and was at 269 mph at an altitude of only 75 feet. In other words, the plane ran anomalously fast on the ground that it almost drove out of the runway before becoming airborne, seconds away from plowing a nearby airport neighborhood.

Nothing happened, so all’s well that ends well. However, this incident highlights the importance of standard operating procedures development for any organization or enterprise.

Standard Operating Procedures and the Flight EK231

In an apparent reaction to the flight EK231 incident, the airline issued a notice to air missions alert. It reminded the crew not to set the aircraft’s mode control panel (MCP) altitude window to airport elevation upon landing or shutdown.

It’s a long, convoluted explanation about how setting an altitude target window of 0000 could have caused the almost-crash. Suffice it to say that if missed and thus left alone in the crew cockpit setup, that setting would have caused the plane’s flight director display to show the wrong take-off angle or pitch, which could have thrown off the flight crew — thus, the almost-accident.

Again, there’s no confirmation from the airline or anywhere else that this was what happened. This is all conjecture at this point. What we do have is that reminder from the airline to its flight crew that “… there are no FCOM Normal Procedure (NP) requirements to change the MCP after landing or shutdown.”

In other words, the airline reminded crew members that changing the altitude target after landing or shutdown was not part of the Boeing flight crew operations manual — i.e., the aircraft’s standard operating procedures.

Therefore, it is clear that some flight crew members must have practiced their own procedures instead of following the airline’s standard operating procedures.

What Are Standard Operating Procedures?

Standard operating procedures are written documents with step-by-step, detailed instructions for specific processes or procedures that people can follow to achieve a set outcome.

You can write SOPs for all sorts of things. The following are just a few examples.

  • Onboarding new employees
  • Terminating employment
  • Making wire transfers
  • Filing travel and entertainment expenses
  • Verifying a customer’s identity
  • Handling customer complaints
  • Billing customers
  • Launching a product
  • Sending business-related emails
  • Finding properties to add to real estate listings
  • Accessing the internet in company premises and networked devices

Standard Operating Procedures: Why They Are Important

Standard operating procedures serve as a guide that helps different people in an organization do the same things correctly and according to existing standards. SOPs systematize, set clear boundaries, introduce necessary controls, and document business processes.

With SOPs in place, accountability and responsibility are clearly and easily established. This ensures that an organization that must comply with government regulations will maintain its compliance. The systems in place — i.e., the company SOPs — guarantee it.

More importantly, SOPs allow organizations to achieve consistent (i.e., standard) results whenever a process is performed or a procedure is done, regardless of who did the task.

It wouldn’t matter if the employee concerned is a veteran or a new employee. Since they follow a set of predetermined steps and guidelines, the company can rely on the results being the same and best practices to be enforced every single time.

In organizations, consistent standard results are crucial. In business, many processes are interwoven and interlinked. One procedure could depend on so many others.

Finally, SOPs are essential to risk management. SOPs ensure that business processes and procedures are done correctly, which mitigates risks.

The flight EK231 example underscores how crucial standard operating procedures are and, more importantly, how critical it is to abide by them. When one doesn’t follow them or when people introduce procedures of their own, issues — which could be catastrophic in scale and cost — could arise.

Allowing individual personalities to dictate procedures, especially in critical business operations, can have dire consequences for your organization. While not as dramatic as what could have been in the example above, they can be just as disastrous, like millions-of-dollars-level catastrophic.

Developing Standard Operating Procedures

Follow these steps when developing standard operating procedures.

1- Identify the purpose, scope, and audience of the SOP.

From the start, it should be clear which process or procedure your SOP will document. Is it an SOP for onboarding new employees? Then it should do no more, no less than that. Even so, the bigger picture must also be clear from the start. Where does this particular SOP fit in, and which processes depend on it?

It should also be clear from the get-go who will use the SOP. The language should be adjusted accordingly.

2- Write the SOP.

First, you need to decide on the SOP format. You can choose from among the step-by-step, hierarchical, or flowchart format. The format you choose will largely depend on the purpose of the SOP.

This is appropriate for simple procedures, say, SOPs on accessing the company network on a personal device. This SOP will contain the sequence of steps one needs to perform and the dos and don’ts to protect the company network’s integrity.

A hierarchical format is appropriate for more complicated procedures. It has broad, overarching steps. Then, some or all of these general steps will have step-by-step procedures of their own.

Flowcharts are visual SOPs, and they are best used with procedures that require case-to-case decision-making. Flowcharts make an excellent format for customer-facing SOPs.

After deciding on the format, get down to writing it. Just write out the steps, and be as detailed as you can. Also include cautionary guidelines, what should be done and what should not be done and why, if possible.

The actual document can have the following elements.

  • Title
  • Description
  • The department or division that will implement the SOP
  • Date of publication
  • The date of the last review
  • A checklist of deliverables
  • The actual steps, instructions, and guidelines

You can modify the actual structure according to your organization’s specific needs.

3- Review, Test, and Review

After completing the SOP, request feedback from the people who will use it and other people in the organization it will impact upon implementation. Adjust as necessary based on the feedback you gather.

Next, implement the SOP to test its real-life viability. Adjust again according to practical considerations.

Then disseminate the SOP and make it easily accessible to everyone that needs it. Cascade it not only to the concerned department or division but also to other departments or divisions that rely on the result of that process.

Finally, fully implement the SOP. Enforce its implementation until it becomes what it is meant to be, a standard operating procedure.

However, periodically review it — say, every six months — to ensure it always remains practical, practicable, and relevant to the organization.

Start Writing Your SOPs

There’s a saying which goes like this: “It’s not enough for people to be good. There must be systems in place that force them to be good.”

Standard operating procedures are such systems. They ensure people’s compliance to company best practices and safeguard the organization’s interests.

Contact us if you need help evaluating and developing your standard operating procedures.