Written by Howie Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant, NAPL

New Advances in Standard Operating Procedures

Believe it or not, not everyone has faith in Standard Operating Procedures or SOPs. Most people agree in principle that SOPs are a good management tool. But anyone who has ever gone through the process knows that it takes a long time to create SOPs, and after the initial excitement, it doesn’t take long before they’re sitting on a shelf, gathering dust. But good news: there are new ways to create and access SOPs, which is creating a renaissance of interest.

Traditionally, SOPs are written documents describing how to use hardware or software, and they are often difficult to understand. For anyone that has ever tried to understand an SOP, you often find yourself reading the same passage over and over again, trying to understand or visualize what you’re supposed to do. Once a company recognizes the time and energy investment required in creating the SOP book, they may be reluctant to update them.

However, while leading companies still see the value in a traditional SOP, they are using new technologies to overcome the issues that inhibit success. For example, when it comes time to actually use an SOP, it’s usually considered an inconvenience. You may be in the pressroom or the bindery and have to walk across the plant floor to find the SOP book and try to figure out what you need to do. Years ago the SOPs were simply words. More recently pictures have been added, but it’s often still hard to understand the procedure.

One new strategy is to take advantage of video training. Most of us have videotaping capabilities on our smart phones. The new SOP process involves creating videos of procedures that not only show what to do but also has someone talking and explaining what they’re doing, why they’re doing it that way, and what to avoid in this process. Some companies are even placing large QR codes on equipment throughout their facility, providing employees with an easy and streamlined way to obtain SOPs (simply point, scan and watch).

Regardless of how the videos are created or stored, this new process allows all production personnel to easily access and digest SOPs, whether from their smartphone or personal computer. Advantages of video SOPs include:

  • They don’t take as much time to create,
  • They are not as difficult to update,
  • They are more convenient to use and
  • More effective in showing what needs to be done.

What’s your opinion about SOPs? Have you created them? Are using them? Have you found ways to improve them? Or are they sitting on a shelf gathering dust?


Howard Fenton is a Consultant and Business Advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity through workflow management, adding and integrating new digital services, and adding value through customer research.