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Ubiquitous across industries, a standard operating procedure (SOP) is a series of step-by-step instructions that help workers successfully and efficiently execute routine tasks. While incredibly useful to our everyday work, SOPs also have considerable benefits at a wider, enterprise level.

Unfortunately, many companies rely on sluggish analog workflows and word-of-mouth or paper versions of SOPs that kneecap quality and safety from the get-go. Any SOP that is hard-to-find, hard-to-follow, vague, or lacking will produce inconsistent or subpar work, as well as overlook safety hazards that could lead to injuries.  

Having the right tools and processes that effectively describe, circulate, and manage SOPs is critical, particularly for organizations with field teams. As we’ll see, digital field service management platforms are the most effective way to deploy accessible and customizable SOPs for better, more consistent safety and quality outcomes. 

To start, let’s take an in-depth look at the pitfalls of poorly managed SOPs and the problems field workers face when it comes to performing consistent safety and quality work.

Barriers to consistent, safe, quality work

Without an effective way to circulate and manage them, SOPs are often not uniformly followed, jeopardizing worker safety, quality output, and field team productivity. And as companies struggle with worker shortages and budget cuts, ineffective SOP management becomes even more problematic, as shown below:

Isolated workers. Staffing and resource shortages result in fewer managers to go around, with field team members left to their own devices. Under pressure to complete the task and move on, they will be forced to make best guesses, a scenario that quickly leads to safety hazards and subpar quality. 

Inconsistent, resource-heavy training. Resource crunches also exacerbate the onboarding process, especially as new hires often show up on site with limited experience. Assigning veteran workers to become trainers is an expensive, time-consuming option. In addition, any training that occurs using paper-based SOPs is not likely to be kept current, nor are updates likely to be provided to existing staff. Without SOPs that are easily accessible and updated, both new hires and experienced workers will struggle to follow safety and quality standards.

Lack of visibility. Supervisors still need to check up on the work of all employees, not only new hires. Full visibility into the execution and progress of tasks, the abilities of individual employees, and the overall pace of a project helps supervisors adjust on the fly to meet quality and safety standards, as well as budgets and deadlines. Without a clear view of the work performed, supervisors are blind to emerging issues and forced into a constant reactive state that has them putting out fires as they come up. 

Poor quality control. Progress checks, alongside ongoing and historical field data, is crucial to maintaining quality controls. Lacking the visibility into how workers follow SOPs, on both present and previous projects, managers can assess neither their ability nor the validity and reliability of step-by-step instructions. This prevents them from implementing crucial adjustments, whether streamlining workflows, tweaking SOPs, or reprioritizing resources to improve quality and prevent rework.

Safety and compliance fails. Given a project’s wide operational scope spread across sites, teams, and equipment, it can be challenging to implement and scale effective safety and quality programs. Any system where the transmission of clear, updated, and precise SOPs is lacking will suffer from poor or inconsistent quality work or inspections that lead directly to both compliance failures and safety hazards. And without the ability to see subpar work, remediation is often too late, after people have been hurt and fines levied. 

How digital SOPs help improve safety, quality, and consistency

To circumvent these challenges entirely, leading digital field service and data collection platforms deploy tech-forward checklists, accessible mobile apps, cloud-connected data, and insight-driving performance dashboards to automate and scale SOPs. Here are a few of the ways that digital SOPs and automated workflows help improve safety, quality, and consistency.  

Make quality and safety standard. Digital platforms improve quality and safety by baking consistency directly into checklists, which can be purpose-built with step-by-step instructions that serve as a guideline for doing the work itself. Quality checks can be inserted directly into SOPs to ensure high quality from the start and less rework at the end, and include safety measures as an integral part of processes instead of an afterthought. On the same company-wide platform using the same cloud-connected data, a digital resource like an SOP becomes the record of choice from which your entire workforce can execute tasks consistently and with a rigor that improves overall performance. 

Easily onboard new workers. No matter the task, digital checklists quickly onboard new staff to required standards, regardless of their experience. Supervisors can create customized SOP checklists for new hires using dropdown menus with step-by-step instructions and, following that, go beyond checklists with easy-to-use picklists, photos, and references. By only showing the steps needed based on current conditions, your field teams avoid confusion and get the job done right every time, which improves their confidence in their job -- and your confidence in their work.

View progress from wherever you are (and they are). Always cloud-connected and collecting shareable data, digital platforms let off-site managers remotely monitor real-time task execution and project progress to ensure work is always done correctly. Quick uploading also means field teams can instantly share photos, videos, and audio files so supervisors can more granularly spot-check work, while automatically geotagged records guarantee workers are always where they need to be.

Show remote workers how to do their work. As a shared, accessible, multimedia tool, a digital platform bridges the information gaps that lead to poor safety and quality outcomes. Quickly circulating data –uniform, reliable, and context-rich – can be streamlined into automated workflows across sites and teams, letting supervisors provide any additional guidance on the fly, whether reference photos and videos, OSHA regulations, instruction manuals, quality guidelines, schematic drawings, statements of work, and more. 

Turn everyday actions into data. No matter how routine their work, almost every worker generates a rich and constant stream of data with their everyday actions that can be used to further address safety and quality issues. Whether inspections, tailgate briefings, site visits, remediations, toolbox talks, or more, digital platforms let you extract situational, training requirement, location-specific, and ROI data from tasks that people do as part of their everyday jobs. This value-added data widens visibility into emerging trends and root causes affecting your team’s ability to do quality work safely and effectively, leading to better insights and decisions.

SOP: Super Operating Platform

Digital checklists help workers execute tasks –  that’s a given. But at a much more fundamental and far-reaching level, having digital SOPs change how individuals perform their work, making every task more reliably up to desired standards. 

So once you multiply these improvements across teams, you achieve a cumulative, enterprise-wide consistency of work that is impossible in traditional or non-digital systems of field service management. When everyone knows exactly what to do and when, it is this consistency that forms the basis of effective and efficient safety and quality programs. 

And with the full power of their automated workflows, field service management software seamlessly bridges the disparate parts of your workforce with timely and reliable information, becoming the backbone of an efficient workforce that consistently has safety and quality baked into each task. 

Sign up for free trial to see for yourself how your teams can consistently do safer, better-quality work with digital SOPs and field inspection and data collection processes.

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About the author

Fulcrum is a field inspection management platform built to streamline safety and quality processes, field operations, and asset inspections, especially for mobile teams.

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