Future of SOP Design & Improvement

Not as a business owner, but think in general how you used to do shopping 20 years back. The only option available to you was probably visiting a market in person and buying from a store in the market. There came eCommerce and boom, you can shop while sitting on your couch and get what you need and order home delivered. The emphasis here is not on eCommerce or technology but on your shopping process. With eCommerce, you plan your shopping differently. You have more options as a customer. You need not go out. Your purchase is delivered to your doorstep. Your shopping process has shrunk while providing you with a plethora of other benefits. Can we say your SOP for shopping has changed? Now apply the same makeover to your business processes and think about what can happen to them in the near future. In this blog, we are going to do the same and help you decipher how SOPs (the map of business processes) are likely to transform into in a future not far away from here.

SOPs in digital forms

Today, if not all, a large majority of retail businesses use paper-based SOPs. It is still something that cannot be done away with. The integration of operations and technology is not yet so advanced. Besides, there are many jobs in retail that require little use of technology. For example, a floor sales executive in a traditional store has to spend the majority of their time dealing with customers. Their jobs may not entail any major use of digital devices. So, paper-based SOPs are more suitable for such work profiles. They can keep a physical copy of their work manual and refer to the same in their free time.

Paper-based SOPs become an obstacle when a job is tilted more towards the use of IT and automation than complete manual efforts. For instance, when automated checkout is adopted by a retail store, the role of floor sales executives cannot remain the same. The emphasis of their job profiles will shift towards maintenance. Such work will call for the use of digital tools and technologies. Work manuals and instructions (SOPs) then must be incorporated into digital forms.

As the rate of technology penetration or the use of process automation in the execution of business processes increases, the utility of paper-based SOPs will get more limited and digital forms of SOPs will find higher prevalence. Anything digital can be easily integrated into an already digitised environment. It is also easier to update SOPs when they are in digital formats. With a few centrally-made software changes, SOP changes can be applied across all the stores and branches of a company.

Use of data analytics

We depend on our existing knowledge, additionally accumulated information, and intelligence to design any course of action. We also do the same thing in business planning. The problem with this approach is that our intelligence to derive hidden patterns or collect and process certain deep information is limited. For example, if we can have analytics on our daily routines, it can shed mind-boggling insights. Try installing a smartphone usage app to ascertain this. The surface-level statistics alone will shock you. The same principle can be applied in the execution of business processes as well. Also, if analytics can be used for so many areas of planning in business, why can’t it be used for SOP development? Analytics can help examine and shed light on the efficacy of SOPs, adherence levels, areas and reasons for non-adherence, conditions of adherence and non-adherence, scope of improvisations, etc. Let us grab this with an example.

Suppose that a retail business wants to improve its customer complaint handling SOP as negative reviews are increasing on its customer support capabilities. No more inputs are available from employees and the management has run out of information to improve the SOP. Applying analytics (feeding/integration of existing data is necessary) can help derive many valuable and objective insights. As an example, analytics can help reveal which products or services are attracting high negative reviews and ratings, commonly cited reasons for complaints, timing of complaints, etc. This information can be directly correlated with specific components of the SOP. If timing turns out to be the focus area, all the elements associated with that timing can be looked at so that the SOP can be corrected accordingly.

Personalization of SOPs

Personalisation is a term often heard with customising product/service recommendations to customers. However, there is an emerging trend of personalising SOPs to suit individual employees. This is done by customising the SOPs after taking into account the specific user’s role or level of expertise and experience. It also includes allowing employees to alter the workflow without disturbing the operational requirements. Sometimes user behaviour is also taken into consideration to customise the SOPs. For example, the graphical representation of SOPs for a new employee can be combined with short fact nuggets about the company that may be a relevant piece of wisdom for that particular task. Another example would be to cut short or lengthen the workflow based on the efficiency and effectiveness shown by an employee in completing a task. Say, an experienced employee might be able to complete a task without not necessarily strictly adhering to the steps shown in SOPs but yet completing the task as per the operational requirements. In such cases, there may be no need to unnecessarily extend workflow definition when the performance and output meet the required standards. On the other hand, an employee having difficulties in completing a task can have a more elaborate SOP to help him better follow the required procedure and meet the required standards. SOP personalisation is an interesting development that can have a tremendous impact on improving the engagement level of employees.

Real-Time SOPs

Currently, most organisations follow the plan-implement-review-improve tactic to manage the effectiveness and efficiency of their SOPs and keep the same relevant. No one saw a problem with this management style until technology began to cast its disrupting shadows. There is no good reason to support why technology cannot be assigned with the task of keeping the SOPs relevant and effective. The underlying leverage is significant here especially, if it is looked at from the perspective of operations management. It will help business owners rectify operations planning automatically or with minimum human intervention. It will reduce the burden of managers or team leaders by reducing the need to monitor operational details for improved execution of business processes. They can then focus on other important issues. Real-time improvements will also help in quick adaptation to changes in a business environment. At the most, business owners and managers have to approve those changes. In a digitised operation framework, these approved changes will also get automatically notified to concerned process stakeholders. The element of external entities that might be affected by these changes could be addressed by proper communication, notice, and incorporation of necessary changes in the SLAs.

Real-time SOPs are a novel concept. Businesses must first build the right IT systems (including data sources) to incorporate it. Employees must also be ready for such a work system. The most important consideration is checking for the adaptability of implementing this concept. Real-time SOPs are useful for those business processes where the flow of work and operational requirements tend to vary or call for customisations or where any dynamic is involved.

Improved SOP training

The importance of SOPs for robust operations is now a common realisation among all businesses – small and big. However, having SOPs in place is one thing and ensuring that employees imbibe it thoroughly is another. Habits and convenience often take over processes and procedures when SOPs are not well understood. To avoid such a situation, SOP training becomes a necessary initiative. SOP training comes before supervision and ongoing support. The need for the latter can be drastically reduced if employees are made to become well-conversant with SOPs. In this pursuit, in the near future, technology will play a bigger role in making the SOP training process more immersive and valuable to employees. The training programs will become more interactive instead of being just one-way with simple Q&A features and classroom exercises. The use of various multimedia tools like videos and animations will be superseded by AI-based applications, gaming and AR and VR tools. This upgrade will help in imparting a better understanding of business processes that are set to become more complex and more dependent on automation in future. For example, AI-powered chatbots on smartphones or any other company-provided mobile digital device could be used to assist employees with real-time informational support on SOP implementation specific to their jobs.

SOPs for Phygital and Omnichannel Retail Environments

Today, a majority of retail businesses are in brick-and-mortar format. That explains why most of the SOP solutions and templates available in the market today are designed to suit brick-and-mortar retail operations. However, this is changing with the increasing rate of conversion among traditional retail businesses into omnichannel and phygital formats. As SOP consultants, we expect that retail SOP templates and solutions available in the future will be aligned to suit phygital and omnichannel environments by default. The paradigm of approaching marketing and operations management in retail and eCommerce will be more about handling multiple channels of sales and distribution. Traditional SOP templates will become a rare sight. The reasons for this phenomenon to happen are many. Competition will make it impossible for players in the same market to confine themselves to a single channel. The generation of youngsters who will become tomorrow’s customers will expect retail and eCommerce brands to provide them with a seamless shopping experience via omnichannel and phygital means. Digitisation of businesses will become unavoidable which makes going omnichannel an obvious choice. Technological developments combined with improved logistical capabilities and fewer trade barriers will make reaching out to new markets in another state or country a routine possibility. In such a situation, retailers will not be able to afford to keep their target markets confined. New business models and value propositions cutting across channel barriers will continue to emerge. All these and other supporting factors will slowly lead to a tectonic shift in how retail operations are even talked about.

Use of AI for SOP improvisation

While there has been a remarkable shift towards digital SOPs, paper-based SOPs are still a proven technique for documenting and using SOPs. Most businesses still use printed SOP manuals. The existing SOPs, which may have been used for a long time, still provide a solid ground for process improvisation and supervision and monitoring purposes. The digitisation of SOPs often appears as a difficult choice. The transformation from paper-based SOPs to digital SOPs is also a big operation for any company that can hamper its routine operations. However, the rise in the use of AI for different business purposes is influencing retail enterprises to think differently. Today, AI is used in a myriad of business functions including personalisation, customer service, market research, sales and marketing, employee retention, etc. Like in so many business areas, AI is also likely to be used more for improving operations. This is where AI and SOP come face to face. While it may take some time for this to bear reliable and proven results, businesses need to first develop the SOPs and become process-oriented enterprises.

Use of other advanced technologies for SOP improvisation

Currently, SOP improvisations are dependent on observations and reviews carried out using a combination of both manual and software intervention. This is the best approach companies have so far. For example, monthly review meetings can shed light on areas where SOP improvisations could be made. The use of any analytics software could also present the data evidence for the identified improvisations. However, this technique may not remain effective in the face of the use of advanced technologies like AR and VR. Think of any AR/VR application made for customers to virtually visualise their potential future purchases. It enables customers to improve their product selection. The same advantages are available when AR/VR is used to virtually visualise business processes. It will give the planners and decision-makers a much more realistic representation of how things actually are at the execution levels.

Let us get this through an example. Employees may not hold the authority to recommend changes in SOPs but with an advanced application like AR/VR in place; their recommendations can be cross-checked by the concerned authorities. If the recommendations are found to be valid, an implementation plan could be devised where virtual scenarios could be presented to other employees/process stakeholders to highlight the differences. This way employees will be more welcoming to any procedural change in their routine work.

Sustainability in SOPs

We may never recover from the damage if we indulge in the wastefulness of the past. According to an estimate, about 10% of the global forest cover was lost in the last 30 years. Industrial waste disposal systems around the world continue to contribute to air pollution, water pollution, contamination of rivers and oceans, and soil and groundwater contamination. The use of excessive packaging leads to the generation of mountains of garbage every week in every big city. When outdated or inefficient machines and practices are used, they consume excess levels of fuels leading to more greenhouse gas emissions. While economic growth is always used as a reason to cover such deliberate degradation of our environment, governments and businesses around the world cannot shy away from responsibility. The environmental consequences of our activities have already begun to show in various forms like the melting of glaciers, drastic floods and rains, and changed timings of the four major seasons.

Although the role of big corporations will be much higher in this shared responsibility every small and big business enterprise too will have a role to play. Their policy decisions will have to be reflected in their operational details. This is where sustainability will make its place in business SOPs. While delivering this environmental responsibility can be a part of branding for some time, in the long run, let us hope it does not have to be enforced as a statutory measure.

Promoting stress-free working

We are meant to eat berries in a cave but are working like machines. We do not realise this but our minute work patterns may be unhealthy. For example, while having targets and KPIs is good for growth and performance as an employee working for an organisation, the same tactics have rebound effects on our health. Inherently, SOPs are a great way to complete a task with a step-by-step approach. But if you make the SOPs too complex and lengthy, every step in it becomes stressful for employees. While SOPs ensure accuracy and consistency in performance, if you put too many standards in one place, it becomes stressful. While SOPs grant a sense of importance to the success of a process, if you attach too much accountability to one role, it becomes stressful. In every benefit of SOP, there is a cost involved which overflows in the form of stress when the right balance between the two is not maintained. It will be a delicate situation to address or deal with. Think of a job application process. Some portals allow job applicants to simply apply with one click; others come with a plethora of activities with unique terms and conditions for each. That becomes stress. People as customers or employees or job seekers will not entertain such demands in the near future affecting how the SOPs are designed for any business process.


As technology and process automation are finding increasing relevance in the execution of business processes, the utility of paper-based SOPs will get more limited and digital forms of SOPs will find higher prevalence. Close to digitisation is the use of analytics science. If analytics can be used for so many areas of planning and decision-making in business, there is no reason why it cannot be used for SOP planning and implementation. SOP personalisation is another interesting development that can have a tremendous impact on improving the engagement level of employees. The use of real-time SOPs will help business owners rectify operations planning automatically or with minimum human intervention. In SOP training, the use of various multimedia tools like videos and animations will be superseded by AI-based applications, gaming and AR and VR tools. As SOP experts, we expect that retail SOP templates and solutions available in the future will be aligned to suit phygital and omnichannel environments by default. While the use of AI in SOP improvisation may take some time to bear reliable and proven results, businesses need to first develop the SOPs and become process-oriented enterprises. The use of other advanced technologies like AR and VR will give planners and decision-makers a much more realistic representation of how things actually are at the execution levels. In fulfilling environmental responsibility, sustainability will make its place in business SOPs. People, customers or employees or job seekers, will not entertain stressful process definitions in the near future affecting how the SOPs will be designed.


There may be no straightforward, universal answer to this question but here are some of the important landmark KPIs in the process of designing and implementing SOPs.

  1.       Define the process prerogatives, process objectives, desired process outcomes
  2.       As-is mapping of the existing processes and practises
  3.       Process gap analysis
  4.       Development of the new SOPs
  5.       Validation (Adjustments and improvisations during pilot/trial runs)
  6.       Identifying IT/software solutions
  7.       SOP-IT integration
  8.       Software customisation and installation
  9.       SOP Training
  10.   Mechanism for improvisation and adjustments

If there is a process, we can help you time-machine it. To know more about our SOP consulting services or to speak to one of our business process consultants, please drop us a message and we will reach out to you. Please visit our website to read more about our SOP design and implementation services.

Author Bio


Nikhil Agarwal

Chief Growth Officer
Nikhil is a calm and composed individual who has a master’s degree in international business and finance from the United Kingdom. Nikhil Agarwal has worked with 300+ companies from various sectors, since 2012, to custom-build SOPs and achieve operational excellence. Nikhil & his team have remarkable success stories of helping companies scale 10X with business process standardization.

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