How to Establish Good Standard Operating Procedures
Much of our work consists of repetitious activities: correcting digital files, changing plates on a press, controlling print quality during a press run, operating a rewinder, and packaging finished product.
Repeatable tasks can be studied and improved. We can determine the most efficient, reliable, easiest, safest, and most productive way we know how to do this work. We can then document that method, teach it to everyone involved in the task, and reinforce its continual use in a variety of worker-friendly ways.
Standardizing a task around a single, best-known method results in a better product and service for customers, greater ease in training new associates, and improved ability to solve problems. It also serves as a basis to further improve the process. While the best-known method is being used as a part of the routine, employees can continue to study the task to come up with an even better method. This is how continual improvement occurs.
What Is a Standard Operating Procedure?
A standard operating procedure is a documented, best-known method to perform some task or process. A standard operating procedure combines technical knowledge and process know-how, putting them in a written form so everyone can use them. The purposes of standard procedures are to:
- make it easier for people to do their jobs
- assure safe operations
- minimize the seven wastes
- make it easier to track down the cause of a problem
- make it easier to teach new employees
- eliminate unnecessary variation caused by too many methods being used to accomplish the same task
Characteristics of a Good Standard Operating Procedure
- Clear and specific. It describes precisely what steps to take, when to take them, how to do them, why to do them, what to monitor, and how to respond to signals of problems.
- Designed for the Uninitiated. It should be understandable by new and not fully trained employees. It should be understandable by those who fill in when the regular process operator is out sick or on vacation.
- Realistic. It should be workable and easily followed and understood, and must include nothing unnecessary or contradictory.
- Agreed-upon. The standard should come from a consensus of those who must use it. They should study the methods and use data to determine which one method will work best.
Effective standard operating procedures are at the core of a strong system of continuous improvement.
2020 Continuous Improvement Conference
The 2020 Continuous Improvement Conference (April 5-8 in Columbus, Ohio) is the only industry event focused on helping printing and converting companies achieve operational excellence and Lean leadership. Attendees directly link reduced costs, lowered waste, and increased profit margins to ideas gained from conference presentations and networking. The conference is presented by PIA and SGIA, with association support from FPA, FTA, and TLMI. To learn more about the event, visit ci.printing.org. Click here to register to attend.
John is owner and principal of Compton & Associates, a consulting company dedicated to improving the people, processes, and profits of its clients. He is professor emeritus of the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he taught quality systems and process improvement while serving as director of the Center for Quality and Productivity in the Graphic Arts. Most recently, he served as vice president of quality and training at Vertis Communications and prior to that, he served as vice president of quality and organizational development at Fort Dearborn Company. John has authored and co-authored several books dealing with quality and productivity in the printing and imaging industry. He is a Master Lean/Six Sigma Black Belt and a senior member of the American Society for Quality. John has served as a consultant to the Continuous Improvement Conference since 2010.