Pity the SOB who is SOL Without an (Updated) SOP

By Scott Mackey | May 28, 2010

 Aka, “Document What you Do, and Do What you Document”

Even the definition of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is dry and robotic: “An established procedure to be followed in carrying out a given operation or in a given situation.”

However, as structured and boring as they sound, many companies live (and die) by their SOPs For example, manufacturing and life sciences – including the pharmaceutical and medical devices markets – are two key industries where SOPs are central to daily operation.

Imagine a worker on the shop floor tasked with making a pacemaker according to a specific SOP – but the version they’re using is 6 months old and missing a key update that will better protect the patient!

SOP Needed to Generate an SOP

I nearly choked on my coffee when I first heard the notion that these kinds of enterprises even need an SOP on how to generate SOPs!  It boils down to documenting what you do as an organization, and then actually following what has been documented. The intent is to ensure consistent, quality output upon which customers can rely.

The following are typical stages involved in a Standard Operating Procedure:

  • Create it
  • Have it reviewed by experts
  • Get it approved by management
  • Release it to those that are to follow the guidelines
  • Revise as new information becomes available
  • Archive it, or make obsolete, when it is no longer needed or relevant

These stages can be greatly accelerated today with electronic formats and automated business processes.

Over the lifespan of the SOP process, the PDF format is being used to share each successive version of an SOP – ensuring that the content is easily distributed and accessible to everyone involved and secure from unauthorized access.

PDF is an ideal format for the SOP process because:

  • Everyone has the free PDF Reader (or can get it)
  • PDF offers features like watermarking to indicate a document is ‘draft’ vs. ‘approved’
  • PDF Security restricts view/print access as required
  • The final PDF can be published to the corporate portal with watermarks indicating that it is the Approved version
  • Includes a ‘freshness’ stamp that allows the consumer to see that the SOP is only valid for a period of time.

So, while SOPs are a pretty dry topic they are a perfect example of how automating a business process – and using the capabilities in a PDF solution – can provide real-world benefits to a company, both in terms of increased productivity and reduced risk.

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