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Lean Leadership

Developing an Effective Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

A Standard Operating Procedure, or SOP, is a set of written instructions that document a routine or repetitive activity followed by an organisation. We’re very familiar with SOPs and their importance here at Clarity and in this latest post, we’re going to explain a little more about how they’re essential to your Lean programme and how SOPs can be made even more effective when combined with engaging visual management.

The Importance of a Standard Operating Procedure

Standard Operating Procedures are more often than not used to define business processes. However, they can be used for virtually anything requiring instructions needing to be exactly followed. Creating and implementing SOPs supports a strong, positive quality system by detailing how to perform a job or function correctly in order to ensure consistency in the quality and integrity of a product or service.

SOPs may be written in the form of instructions, worksheets or guidelines and it’s considered best practice to ensure that they are as formalised as possible.

The development and use of SOPs minimises variation and promotes quality through consistent implementation of a process or procedure within the organisation, even if there are temporary or permanent personnel changes. SOPs minimise variations and promote a consistent, high-quality product or service. They reduce the chance of miscommunication and safety concerns. SOPs can be used as “look-back” documents when reconstructing past activities when no other references are available – all this makes Standard Operating Procedure’s an absolutely essential tool within any organisation.

Finally, SOPs are frequently used as checklists by inspectors when auditing procedures.

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Each of us learns something every day as part of our daily working lives and Kaizen Events are an amazing way for the teams involved to refine their skills working with a number of different styles of problem-solving.

The Benefits of an SOP

The primary benefit of an SOP is to document the important steps within an organisation that need to be followed exactly. That said, there are some secondary benefits, outside of this primary goal, that SOPs can deliver for an organisation; these include:

  1. Reduced work effort
  2. Reduced training time for new employees
  3. Improved comparability
  4. Standardised processes
  5. Credibility
  6. Legal defensibility
  7. Assistance in task delegation & easier task handovers
  8. Ensured business continuity
  9. Less waste
  10. Greater added value for your customers…

As you can see, Standard Operating Procedures add much greater benefits for an organisation than being a mere document to tick a box. The latter two benefits are especially important because they’re directly linked with your Lean and continuous improvement programmes. SOPs are all about taking a process and documenting the essential steps into a concise, easy-to-follow format, you don’t document wasteful steps in an SOP!

Writing Your Standard Operating Procedure

Your Standard Operating Procedure should be written in a concise, step-by-step, easy-to-read format and well-written SOPs enhance consistency within an organisation and reduce human error. 

Follow our guide of “must haves” for your next SOP document:

  • The information included should be unambiguous and not overly complicated
  • Use the active voice and present verb tense
  • The term “you” should not be used, but implied
  • The document should not be wordy, redundant or overly lengthy. Keep it simple and concise
  • Information should be clearly and explicitly presented to remove any doubt as to what is required
  • Include a flow chart to illustrate the process being described
  • If your organisation has a style manual, follow it

Updating Your Standard Operating Procedure

  • SOPs need to remain current to be useful.
  • When procedures are changed, update and reapprove the SOP
  • A time for the systematic reviews of all SOPs should be set by management to ensure that the policies and procedures remain current, appropriate, and necessary
  • Add the review date to the SOP after each review
  • Eliminate and archive all SOPs that describe processes that are no longer followed
  • Keep the process as simple as possible

Communicating Your SOPs

SOP-Stand---Standard-Operating-Procedure---Clarity-Visual-ManagementHere at ClarityVM Consulting, it will come as no surprise that we are huge advocates of the effectiveness of visual controls when communicating essential information to employees within a workplace. Using visual management to communicate Standard Operating Procedures can be done with a variety of specialist tools, such as our SOP Display systems.

SOP Displays ensure a consistent message throughout your workplace through a standardised system of displaying standardised procedures. These specialist tools include SOP Stands, SOP Wall Units and SOP Desk Systems – what’s more, you can take advantage of our bespoke visual management boards and include your Standard Operating Procedures right on your own boards.

Using visual management in this way is new for a lot of businesses who are used to using it to communicate numerical and graphical displays, such as tracking KPIs, monitoring production or showing the current state of work. That said, visual management works so well for communicating SOPs because it’s designed to instantly engage whoever is present in the workplace, whether they’re familiar with the environment, or not!

As we know, SOPs are essential in ensuring that a process is followed exactly to guarantee the work is done in the right way – because they are so essential it’s just as important to know that team members in the workplace know where SOPs are and that they can be easily accessed when needed

Do you need some help to take the next step?

Here at ClarityVM Consulting, we coach clients both far and wide about how they can use a Lean programme and visual management to achieve their goals, exceed their targets and make financial savings which would otherwise be lost to waste. We work with our clients to create a bespoke strategy that ensures Lean is set up for success before providing specific, high-quality visual management products to sustain the initiative and make Lean work in the organisation long-term.

You can read more about the work we’ve undertaken with our clients by browsing through our Visual Management Case Studies


The work Clarity has done for our site has revolutionised the way we operate our lines; staff are actually communicating with one another and we’re all using the data and hard facts shown in the KPI boards to make decisions.

Paul Mann - Hub Operations Manager, DPD

Working with Clarity as a partnership really works for me; you’re open to different challenges and the team that I work with have been really responsive, they’ve also come up with some ideas which I’d not thought of. I see myself as an expert in visual management but you guys have still managed to teach me some things.

Craig Wilkinson – Network Rail

Thanks to Clarity, we follow all our KPI’s through visual management. Alongside the manufacturing successes we’re seeing with Clarity’s visual management, we’ve also seen a 30% reduction in our general waste and are saving £40,000 a year on one part of our waste management visual solutions through standardising our processes.

Steve Lomax – Crown Paints

Clarity’s solutions have played an important part in our visualisation success in Network Rail’s LNE, and are essential to the programme. Clarity supported us to reduce our Operations and Maintenance expenditure from £180,000,000 to £166,000,000. That’s a £14,000,000 saving! We also saw a 20% reduction on workforce and irregular working accidents and general performance across operators on the East Coast Mainline has improved.

Phil Verster, Managing Director of LNE

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