What is an SOP? (and why your business needs to create them)

Every time you bite into a hot McDonald’s cheeseburger, you’ll experience one of the most successful SOPs in the history of American business.

Ray Kroc is the man behind the golden arches. In 1955, he began revolutionizing the fast food industry with meals in less than 60 seconds.

How did he do it?

He believed in the power of the assembly line and the necessity of the SOP. His 75-page manual on making the perfect burger played a vital role in helping McDonald’s grow to 25,000 worldwide stores.

What is an SOP?

SOP is the acronym for “Standard Operating Procedure”.

Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, defines an SOP as a “predefined process used to complete a task or resolve a problem”.

A SOP can be in the form of a single page PDF, to a multi-page manual (like McDonald’s 75 pager). They are typically stored in a central electronic database where employees can access them quickly.

Why creating SOPs are not a waste of time

You might be thinking “our employees have this information in their head, it’d be a waste of time to document the procedure.”

There’s truth to half that statement, and a “waste of time” is not that part.

When employees have a recurring business task — regardless if it’s just answering the phone or solving a complex problem — they rely on their memory and current ability to focus.

But, mistakes can happen — it’s part of being human. Details, especially when the task or problem is monotonous, can be overlooked. Mistakes impact a business’ accuracy, efficiency and ultimately their profitability. SOPs reduce mistakes.

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it’s the same problem you had last year.

— John Foster Dulles, former U.S. secretary of state

What SOPs can do for your business

A well written SOP minimizes the amount of time and effort on a task because you’re not reinventing the wheel every time. They’re less about bureaucracy and more about getting things done!

When SOPs have this intent, they help:

  1. Improve accuracy
  2. Increase speed
  3. Train new employees

What can your business learn from the famous McDonald’s SOP?

mcdonalds-cheeseburger
McDonald’s used an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) to make a burger that revolutionized the fast food industry

Mr. Kroc instructed employees to cut fries at 9/32 of an inch and ensure all burger patties weighed exactly 1.6 ounces. His SOP outputted a quick and tasty burger for every single customer.

Consistency is the stamp of an excellent product or service. McDonald’s mastered the making of a simple burger in 60 seconds — to an exact specification — even when a disinterested and distracted 16 year old is flipping the patties.

What aspect of your business needs consistency? What employees need SOPs? Regardless if it’s your part-time receptionist or your most talented sales person — both will benefit from a standard operating procedure.

For the record, though I appreciate the McDonald’s-successful-burger-making-SOP, I’m more of a Five Guys type of guy. :)