How SOPs help Eliminate Process Gaps

Planning is critical for performance. Your big business planning and strategies could go futile if the execution is not precise. You should focus on operational planning as much as you concentrate on planning for other strategic areas of your business. Of course, technology and automation have big roles to play here. But even before that, you have to do some groundwork with the pen and paper and define the Standard Operating Procedures or the SOPs. SOPs help accomplish many objectives but in this blog, the focus is on how SOPs help in process gap analysis and eliminate the loopholes or the gaps in business processes and operations.

Every Outcome Possibility Considered

Each activity in a process leads to a possible set of outcomes. And every outcome possibility has to be treated in such a way that in the end, the process objectives are achieved. In SOP development, every possible outcome is identified and mapped as per the requirements of the process. For example, in an eCommerce refund process, it is possible that a wrong amount may be credited to a customer. What to do in such a scenario? Not having a solution for every possible outcome creates process gaps. By SOP standards, such a situation leads to a new chain of activities, within the same refund process, to rectify the mistake while the original objective of refunding the right amount to the right customer remains the same albeit with different timelines now.

Triggers Established

A trigger is necessary to initiate a process or a process activity. If it rains, we take an umbrella. The rain is the trigger point. If the inventory levels reach the ROL, it is time to initiate the reordering process. The ROL is the trigger point here. Identifying and placing triggers is an important aspect of SOP development. And by doing so, processes dictate when to initiate an activity. Not starting a task on time creates early gaps in processes and affects their performance. Not placing an order on time could leave a retail outlet with empty shelves. Not initiating the payroll process on time could delay the disbursement of salaries. Almost every business activity needs a trigger point for initiation. By having the triggers established, SOPs contribute to the elimination of these early process gaps. 

High Degree of Detailing

SOPs define every process, operation, and activity with comprehensive detailing. A good SOP seeks to define and establish the following for every operational activity:

– What are the output/objectives to be accomplished (the why)
– What is to be done there
– How to do it (the methodology)
– What input resources are required
– What are the standards of input and output
– When to do/start doing the activity
– When to finish doing it
– Whom to be reported to
– Who are the other process owners
– Where to do
– Where to deliver the output

As SOP consultants, we always maintain that when a task or an activity is defined to such or even higher degrees of detailing, there remains little scope for leaving anything to chance or vagueness. In other words, the possibility of gaps in the process activity is nearly eliminated. And when this is applied to all the activities, processes and operations in the bigger picture, operations become flawless. 

Flow of work with Input-Output (I-O) Approach

The output of one activity is the input for the next activity/other activities of the same or other interconnected processes. That is how SOPs are designed to function; with an I-O approach. When SOPs are religiously followed, there is no way the defined order of activities could be violated. A task simply could not be even started without receiving the input from the one preceding it. Take ERP implementation as an example. Without the inputs from the discovery and planning stage, the design team simply cannot move a brick. This approach also helps bring accountability in the execution of duties and responsibilities whether a task is flowing up or down an organisation structure. The possibility of having gaps between operational activities is brought down to near-zero levels. An entire process benefits from such strong interlinking between activities.

Interdepartmental Coordination Mapped

Wherever interdepartmental coordination is involved, the chances of slowdowns and mistakes soar up. One reason for this is that often employees tend not to take the processes of other departments as their own. This takes away the seriousness of the activity and slows down the process. Processes that cut through departments also carry the significance of information sharing. The essence of the process outcome can be easily lost as a process passes through various departments. By specifying the responsibilities, standards of performance, and input/output requirements, SOPs help businesses focus on the process and its outcome instead of depending on people and departments to show up process ownership.

Quantifiable Standards

Assigning quantifiable standards help businesses keep a better tab on their performances. And this goes down to hold true for the micro, operational level activities. Having a number is always better than not having one. For example, when an employee knows the time to finish a task, it enhances the possibility of completing that task on time. If a task is consistently missing the timeline, it gives an opportunity to assess its causes. That way many process gaps get fixed. The same principle applies to production or sales targets, metrics used in digital marketing, inventory management, etc.

Traceability of Deviations

Whether it is a gap in the process definition or the performance of the process, SOPs help identify the deviations in a process. Take the example of delayed tax filing. By having a defined process, it becomes easier to spot the activities that are taking more than the established time or are giving rise to complexities in the process of tax filing. Without SOPs, such identifications are purely left to the skills and competence of the employees involved in the process.

The points covered above are not the only ways SOPs help fill the process gaps. The experienced business process consultants could tell that as SOPs are implemented, businesses begin to find their own universe of better process management. The moot point is SOPs are the language of operations. You set for yourself a planned way of carrying out an operation. From start to end, the defined flow of work never lets you deviate. Imagine if this is the way your entire business begins to function.

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