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What are SOP or Standard operating procedures?

 I wear many turbans, serving as a teacher, consultant and advisor to many organisations most of whom are quite sincere in their efforts to improve performance and profitability. 

Sincerity is key for success, as are the attitudes, skills and knowledge, of people. Yet organisations fail to succeed primarily because of a lack of good and relevant management systems.

Good or bad, every functioning organisation evolves a culture a system and a way of doing things. 

Good systems are well thought out and are relevant. They delight customers, improve morale and helps the bottom line. Customers are usually delighted by high quality of products and services, and prompt deliveries.

Their design is robust and effective, preventing problems and facilitating rapid correction with minimum heartache and headache. 

Bad systems on the other hand lead to bottlenecks and paralysis, caused by too much centralising of work or a large lumbering bureaucracy.  

Centralising occurs when organisations and systems revolve primarily around the capabilities and efforts of a handful of strong individuals. Generally such organisations grows rapidly and even profitably in the beginning. After some time both the health of the individuals and the organisation begins to decline or at best stagnate. It can happen in both small and large organisations.

Sometimes in an effort to keep watch on everything and everyone, bureaucracies come into existence which  demand mountains of unnecessary data entry and paperwork from numerous procedures which destroy both morale and cost a fortune. Eventually customers and key staff are lost.

Many organisations employ sophisticated computerisation and automation in an attempt to get out of the rut but actually make the situation worse. 

They would do well to pay heed to the words of the legendary Bill Gates.
"The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation or computerisation when applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation or computerisation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."


Organisations and even civilisations which have succeeded throughout history share three important characteristics. 

1. They design and implement a systematic way doing things.  
2. They have a strict code of ensuring compliance
3. Whenever any weakness is found in the system, it is promptly rectified and even improved.

This fundamental and systematic approach is the keystone for the success and progress of any good organisation and government. 
In modern times this style of management is called using Standard Operating Procedures (SOP in short).

Most organisations that struggle to perform, do so because of ineffective management systems / SOPs. Most managements are aware about this shortcoming but find it difficult to implement them.

SOP design and implementation is not only a discipline, but also an art. It is not a management fad but an essential tool, and like all tools if not understood and applied properly causes more harm than good. 

Use of SOPs is not difficult to understand or implement. It does however require some training and a disciplined approach in their design and implementation. 


Many readers have requested me to share my experiences on management issues also. Hence this article.

Facilitating the systematic and structure growth of organisations has been  one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.


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