What is an SOP?
An SOP is a step-by-step “how to” instruction for any process, task, operation, or function that an organization has need to accomplish.
That is all good and great sounding but…why would an organization want to have SOP’s? Is it worth the effort?
As a brief side-note: Let me add that SOP is my favorite term but the step-by-step instructions can also be known as OI’s “Operating Instructions”.
Let me give you my top 6 reasons for using standard operating procedures.
- Create uniformity.
- Reduce potential errors.
- Create a standard to measure success.
- Allows Accountability
- Help newbies.
- Saves TIME.
Here is a scenario we are going to use:
I want you to imagine you work for a fairly large organization as a Windows System Administrator.
You care a lot about your job and take pride in the work you do every day to help this organization accomplish it’s mission.
However, you have a co-worker named…..lets say….Logan. Logan is not like you. He shows up to work simply to get a pay check. That’s it. Logan does not go the extra mile. In fact, he rarely even goes the first mile, and even when he does it is lackluster.
One of the primary responsibilities you both share is the management of a file server. As part of this you are expected to ensure each person in the organization has the proper permissions to access files that allow them to do their job.
Because you take pride in your work and want the best result for your efforts, you have researched “best practices” for managing a file server. You have even sent an email to co-workers explaining what those are and how to implement them.
Number 1: Create Uniformity
I’ve found that each person in a work center has particular ways of doing things. Sometimes this is bad. We all know that co-worker who loves to take shortcuts so the task can get done ASAP. Sometimes this attitude is born out of good intentions. Like trying to get a user up and running sooner.
In our scenario lets say that you and Logan both get tickets to add file permissions for a user. Those best practices you researched and told Logan about mention using security groups instead of direct folder permissions. You keep coming across users complaining about folder access. When you look at their account you find there are conflicts with the direct folder and security group permissions. Logan has been simply adding users directly to the folders instead of security groups.
This makes it more difficult to audit who has permissions to what. It also can create conflicting permissions when not done correctly. Resulting in frustration for you and the end user.
Using a SOP would be perfect for showing Logan and others how the task should be done. Since everyone is using the SOP you have accomplished a degree of uniformity.
Number 2: Reduce Potential Errors
An SOP done right will outline exactly what needs to be done. It may even explain potential issues/problems that may arise and how to fix them.
Going back to the scenario – Maybe Logan is someone who needs an outline to accomplish the folder access permissions correctly. Your SOP could list the security groups and which folders they apply to. This makes it easy for Logan and therefore reducing the potential for him to add the wrong group or give the person direct access to the folder.
Number 3 and 4: Create a standard to measure success and Accountability
I’m joining these two because they are very similar.
An SOP can set a standard or minimum level of performance. This allows managers to compare an employee’s performance with a measurable result. A often overlooked aspect of management.
The SOP may say you need to perform a task in a certain order and gives a checklist to ensure you don’t miss anything.
Now Logan who is not following said SOP can be held accountable to the established standard. It gives management an easy tool to use for correction.
Number 5: Helps Newbies
Let’s add to the scenario a bit.
A new employee joins the team. This person is sally. Sally is pretty new to systems administration but is eager to start helping. As the person assigned to train Sally you refer her to the new SOP “Organizational File Permissions” which contains detailed instructions for assigning users permissions.
You then allow Sally to complete the next few support tickets that enter the queue for practice. Since the SOP has written instructions and pictures it is easy for her to follow along and complete the ticket. All you need to do is a quick audit of the work. Easy peasy.
Number 6: Saves Time
As an administrator you likely have a million duties and things that need to get done. Saving time is huge! Sometimes you have a certain task that is rarely performed. In this case having an SOP can reduce the amount of time you spend trying to remember how to do something because it is a simple click away.
I’m sure you guys get the point. SOP’s are awesome. In a future TNSA article I will go into detail the many different ways one can go about creating and implementing SOP’s. For now though…you can watch this YouTube Video I created to show you how I would create an SOP using Microsoft word.