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Mika Javanainen

Quality Insider

A Fresh Take on SOP Management

Enterprise information management improves collaboration and ensures consistency

Published: Wednesday, June 3, 2015 - 12:12

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are woven into almost every facet of the manufacturing world to help employees and subcontractors complete their tasks safely and in compliance with regulations and standards. It sounds simple enough: Describe the processes in SOPs and verify that they are understood and adhered to.

In reality, SOP management requires many tasks:
• Authoring SOP documents and any subsequent revisions
• Routing the new or revised SOPs for review and incorporating feedback
• Getting approvals of final versions
• Distributing new and updated SOPs to employees, and maintaining the archives of previous versions if necessary
• Setting up and ensuring completion of training
• Generating reports for management and compliance teams
• Making necessary adjustments for workforce changes (e.g., employees leaving or joining the department)
• Linking deviations to these processes to ensure continuous improvement of the quality system

In rare cases, a company can rely on its original set of SOPs for long periods of time. More commonly, a manufacturer will need to revise many SOPs multiple times each year, and when products and regulations change rapidly, a traditional approach to SOP management can quickly choke the business.

SOP management is a less-than-efficient process for many companies due to several factors. The quantity of required SOP documents and the level of detail in each often make it difficult for companies to effectively create, update, and manage them.

Large manufacturers typically must manage multiple sets of SOP documentation—different departments and processes often have unique ownership rules and considerations for SOP workflows. In this environment, it can take even longer to update and disseminate updated SOPs.

Historically, SOP management consisted of a paper-based system where printouts of SOPs were stored and managed in large three-ring binders, which was inconvenient at best.

This approach for managing SOPs led many manufacturers to transition to managing SOPs in electronic format and email. However, simply scanning documents and storing them in a traditional folder-based file system does little more than replicate the inefficiencies from the paper-based approach. All of the inefficiencies of the previous paper-based processes related to file duplication, version control, the inability to quickly find information, and not being able to confirm that recipients have read and understand the information sent to them are carried forward into the digital environment.

Transitioning from manual to automated SOP management

SOP management is becoming more widely recognized as a core component of creating and nurturing a culture of quality. The shift comes as a result of solutions that enable a more automated and flexible approach to SOP management compared to traditional manually managed methods.

Many companies looking for new approaches to SOP management are finding it advantageous to leverage enterprise information management (EIM) systems. EIM solutions can organize and manage information intelligently based on content type and characteristics, automate the process of distributing SOPs and verify that they’ve been read and understood by the appropriate employees, and provide management with instant insight into all SOP-related content, tasks, and processes.

When new SOPs are written, templates can be created within the EIM system not only to save time up front, but also to make sure that all the necessary elements of an SOP are covered, such as who is responsible for maintaining the document, and who should follow that SOP. File access controls ensure that SOPs have been developed and reviewed only by authorized individuals.

The publishing and distribution of new and updated SOPs can also be automated, and can be easily adjusted to reflect personnel changes. Other workflows can be similarly automated, such as status checks and report generation. Training activities can be integrated with and linked to SOP management within the EIM system, and on-demand interactive training options provide for further productivity improvements and give employees more convenient choices for scheduling.

The built-in intelligence of an EIM platform allows employees to more quickly locate SOPs without having to remember where they are stored. Many EIM solutions also offer mobile apps that can provide employees with access to SOPs and participate in related workflows from their mobile devices, a particularly helpful feature for staff working on the production floor. By giving employees more convenient access to SOPs, an EIM platform can remove the temptations to duplicate SOP documents or create “cheat sheets” and thereby avoid behaviors that put compliance and consistency at risk.

Nurturing a culture of quality

When it becomes easier to follow guidelines and suggest changes to them, processes become more efficient and safe. Forward-thinking manufacturers that can align SOP management with enterprise information management are benefitting from improved collaborations and results because of their ability to ensure consistency and quality across the organization.

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About The Author

Mika Javanainen’s picture

Mika Javanainen

Mika Javanainen is vice president of product management at M-Files Corp. Javanainen is in charge of managing and developing M-Files product portfolios, roadmaps, and pricing globally. Prior to his executive roles, Javanainen worked as a systems specialist, integrating document management systems with ERP and CRM applications. A published author, Javanainen has an executive MBA in international business and marketing. Follow him on Twitter @mikajava.