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Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Standards

Lean Manufacturing Tools and Techniques


Standards should represent the current best way of doing something. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) document this ‘best practice’ so it is clearly understood by all. Advantages of standards include:

  • They clearly demonstrate the best way to undertake a task.
  • Procedures help maintain quality by minimizing the likelihood of defects and process variation.
  • Standards ensure consistency regardless of who is performing the activity.
  • As the best way, they ensure resources and time are used as efficiently as possible and so minimise waste and cash.
  • They assist the training and guidance of employees.
  • Procedures help retain skills and expertise.
  • Standards capture and document the experience of an expert, from which others can learn. In this way they ensure knowledge isn’t lost when employees leave or retire.

Key Considerations for Manufacturing Process Documentation 

Ideally standards and SOPs should be documented by the individual(s) doing the job. In doing this, they should receive support and help from managers and potentially industrial engineers. Standard Operating Procedures produced by those using them are most likely to accurately match what truly takes place. Also there is a vested interest and a sense of responsibility, if you produce the set of rules to which have to work. Ideally to get the best SOPs, individuals should be clear about the benefits they deliver and why they are necessary. Business benefits are good, but personal benefits are more likely to produce the most effective SOPs. Think about and establish these before starting.

The advantages of personal incentives should not be underestimated. Buy in and commitment from the workforce is central to maintaining motivated employees. Responsibility for drawing up and maintaining standards is part of this mix.

So what should Standard Operating Procedures look like?

Well there are a number of common considerations worth including:

  • Essential steps necessary to undertake a task or process. These should be clearly listed in sequence.

  • The steps may also show the expected time taken, together with other details such as any materials or inventory, quantities and helpful information.

  • Standards may take different forms, for example checklists or flow charts. Visible standards such as these are often better received and therefore more likely to be followed.

  • Photo images and diagrams, together with colour coding, add to the relevance and visual appeal of SOPs.

  • Standard Operating Procedures should clearly define what is expected with no ambiguity. They should be easily understandable.

  • SOPs should be quick and easy to update. In the spirit of continuous improvement, rapid updates should be both possible and encouraged when opportunities to improve processes are identified. Version control should manage changes.

  • Standards should pay particular attention to quality. Information about specialist tasks, or those that are particularly tricky should be highlighted with helpful     tips. Consider showing the correct way, positioned next to the wrong way, in side-by-side images to highlight key points.

  • Related to this, standards should not only highlight what is expected when things are normal, but also what to do if things go wrong. This may include what the operator can do themselves to rectify the situation, as well as contact numbers or     email addresses for more problematic issues.

  • As well as production staff, managers and design engineers should also consider documenting standards for the processes they follow.

  • SOPs should be enforced by managers. All employees should be clear about what is expected of them and what the implications are, both for the product and the individual if standards are not followed.

  • Where as procedures may initially sound bureaucratic, they need not be. Aim for light touch standards that list the minimum required to obtain the desired level of     quality. Again, use images and flow charts to communicate what is expected. Short is better than long.

  • Communicate standards to employees. Mount copies of them where they should be used – at the workstation, in the production cell or elsewhere on the shop floor. Use them in training and refresher courses. Refer to them in meetings when discussing quality. Ensure they are widely and easily available on the company IT network.

  • Standard Operating Procedures form the basis for ISO and other quality management system accreditation. Apart from demonstrating controlled processes and professionalism, they are a prerequisite for tendering for work in the supply chains of key industry sectors.

 Standard Operating Procedures 

Standard operating procedure from UMP

Standard Operating Procedures for Small Business - Why you need them and what's the best SOP tool by Help me Leverage

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