Project Management

Master the mundane with SOPs that fit

I was at a conference recently where the speaker quoted

someone (unfortunately, I can’t remember who) who said that “the best run

organizations are those which have mastered the mundane.”

That is a pretty profound statement because, if taken literally,

it means that the organization has perfected its day-to-day activities to such

a degree that it is free to focus on being agile and responsive to the forces

that affect it in a proactive way.

The path to this mastery is partially through efficient and

effective standard operating procedures (SOP). SOPs are defined as “detailed,

written instructions to achieve uniformity of the performance of a specific

function." In other words, procedures that make sure that inputs to a

process result in the same outputs in terms of quality, quantity, consistency,

etc.

SOPs by design, should be based on the best way of doing

things in your organization, often reflecting the best practices of the

industry. Thus, we have a tie-in to methodologies such as COBIT, ITIL, and ISO.

So in general, SOPs are a good thing. However, it never

ceases to amaze me how organizations can take a desire to implement best

practices and SOPs and completely miss the boat on what they are doing and why

they are doing it.

The purpose of SOPs is to make your organization perform

better and faster, with higher quality, increased customer service, and

accountability. The SOPs ARE NOT the end product, nor are they designed to be

so rigid as to make conducting business painful. You know where I am coming

from here. I'm talking about the kind of "procedures" that are so

cumbersome and time consuming that they make you want to pull your hair out

(what’s left of it); that make work for people whose only reason to exist in

the organization is to enforce the "procedures;" that were designed so

long ago they haven't kept up with the changing organization, or for IT,

changes in technology.

I have witnessed the logistical operations of UPS and Fed Ex,

and I can tell you that these organizations have truly mastered the mundane. Their

cargo handling capability is literally a science and they have achieved mastery

not just by creating SOPs and sticking to them, but by constantly re-examining

their processes to make them more efficient, effective, and consistent. Because

of this mastery of the mundane, they have had the opportunity to come up with

creative ways to expand their respective businesses—ways that would not be

possible if they were still operating on the same set of SOPs they first

developed when they started handling packages.

Looking strictly at IT, it is important to remember that

your organization is unique and that plopping in a best practice without

considering the individual quirks of your environment is usually a bad idea. You

need to take the procedures, methodologies, and best practices that have been

hammered out by others and refine them for your own uses. You need to tailor

them for your environment – not adhere to them as if they were gospel.

That is why I like ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) so

much. ITIL teaches you about good practices in IT, but it is not prescriptive

in how you get there. The work in ITIL is translating the outcomes from the

Library into a methodology for your organization that will achieve the results

you are looking for.

In summary, IT, as a service-based organization needs to

master the mundane in order to have the flexibility to work with its business

units and add value. Mastering the mundane is accomplished by implementing

procedures that insure a quality output on a consistent basis. Flexibility and

agility is gained by constantly examining your procedures to insure that your

operations are purring like a kitten. IT organizations can get a head start on

those procedures that help guarantee success by adopting structures and

methodologies such as ITIL and COBIT.

But smart organizations know that they need to examine these methodologies in

order to make them fit within their environment and realities of their

organization. Pretending to do otherwise will lead you down the wrong path and

make you one of those organizations with disjointed, out-of-touch SOPs that

make it harder, not easier to do business.

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