8 Steps to Implementing SOPs in Your Maintenance Team

Answered September 02 2020

Implementing a standard operating procedure

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) can improve quality control, facilitate training, ensure compliance, and keep machines running efficiently. However, implementing them may be a challenge. In this article, we’ll discuss various aspects of how to tackle this challenge in your maintenance team, including:

  • What to consider before beginning SOP implementation.
  • Steps to follow when writing and implementing SOPs.
  • Tips and best practices to remember during implementation.

Implementing SOPs: Factors to Consider When Starting Out

Like any new process in maintenance, implementing SOPs in your maintenance team requires some preparation. Before writing up your procedures, consider the following factors.

Consider the Purpose

First of all, determine the purpose for using SOPs in your maintenance team, or in other words, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Some of the goals you might reach for include:

  • Achieving consistent results with PMs or other tasks.
  • Saving time on tasks.
  • Improving safety.
  • Supporting training, particularly for new hires.
  • Ensuring regulatory compliance.
  • Improving equipment reliability.
  • Assisting root cause analysis and accident investigation.

While it’s true that standardizing your processes through SOPs can achieve any of these results, it helps to know what exactly you’re striving toward before you begin. That way, you can check your results against your goals to make sure they align with your company’s objectives.

Determine Which Processes Need SOPs

If you’re looking into creating standard operating procedures for your maintenance team, you likely already have some ideas in mind for what processes you want to standardize. However, it’s worth double checking to see whether they really merit SOPs.

Generally, SOPs are best for routine or repetitive tasks. They’re generally not appropriate for tasks that involve complex decision-making or for finding creative solutions, though some formats do allow for a certain amount of divergence in tasks.

Some processes you might want to codify into standard operating procedures include:

  • Performing routine inspections and PMs (in which case they’d be standard maintenance procedures).
  • Gathering data (such as using diagnostic tools or inputting data into a CMMS).
  • Maintenance scheduling.
  • Assigning maintenance tasks for each shift.
  • Filling out or completing work orders.
  • Handling MRO inventory, checking out tools or parts, etc.

In addition to nailing down the tasks you need to standardize, you’ll also need to determine the scope of each task. Some are short linear procedures, while others may involve more complex processes with multiple steps and sub-steps.

Find the Right Person to Write Them

Just as important as knowing what procedures need SOPs is determining who should write them. The right person for the job will:

  • Have some knowledge about the process (or access to those who do).
  • Know your process for writing SOPs.
  • Have knowledge about the environmental and safety concerns involved.
  • Be able to write clearly and concisely.

It may be necessary to train your SOP writer on your process for writing procedures and get them connected with your technicians starting out.

Define Your Audience

Writing is all about your audience. As such, it’s the writer’s responsibility to make sure the steps and directions in your SOPs are clear and understandable. To that end, it’s worth taking the time to hash out what your audience needs from your procedures. Some factors to consider here include:

  • Technical skills – What do they already know how to do? How much will each step need to be broken down?
  • Job description – Are the tasks within the scope of the end user’s job duties?
  • Current practices – Are there practices or habits that need to change as a result of using the SOP?
  • Communication barriers – Are there language barriers or other obstacles to account for?
  • Breadth of the audience – Will you need to account for different departments and skillsets?

Not only should you keep these items in mind before writing your SOPs, but you should also revisit them after drafting them to make sure they are user friendly.

Develop a Procedure for Writing Procedures

In order to make sure your SOPs are truly standardized, your writing process needs to follow a standard procedure as well. In the next section, we’ll go over several steps that can act as a standard workflow for you to follow.

Once you have an SOP writing procedure down, make certain your writer is aware of your process and follows each step.

Steps to Implementing SOPs for Your Maintenance Team

When developing SOPs for your maintenance team to follow, consider using these steps.

1. Get input from your technicians

First of all, get input from your technicians on what needs to be done for each task. Doing so will not only make sure you get some expert input on what to include in each step, but it can also improve employee buy-in. After all, your maintenance technicians and other personnel are more likely to follow procedures that they helped develop themselves.

Tip: It may even be a good idea to get them to write the rough drafts of your processes. Afterward, you can easily edit them, so they conform to a standard format.

2. Determine key components of the SOP

With input from your maintenance team, outline the components that personnel will need to complete the procedure. These components include:

  • Equipment and tools, including PPE.
  • Required skills.
  • Materials and parts.
  • Safety hazards and related procedures.
  • Steps needed to perform the task.
  • Additional documents, such as schematics or instruction booklets.
  • Number of people needed to complete.
  • Relevant regulations or standards.

These will provide the skeleton for your standard operating procedures and facilitate the writing process.

3. Determine the right SOP format

The right format to use in creating an SOP depends on the procedure’s complexity. In general, you’ll have three types to choose from:

  • Standard – A short list of steps to follow, best for straightforward procedures.
  • Hierarchical – Steps (1, 2, 3) with sub-steps (1a, 1b, 1c) for more complex procedures.
  • Hybrid/Flowchart – Steps with different paths for decisions, “if-then” statements, etc.

It’s also worth determining whether you’ll need diagrams or pictures to go along with the procedure outline. In some cases, they may not be necessary, but more complex procedures certainly benefit from having some visual aids attached.

4. Write the procedure

With the information in hand, it will be time to create a draft of the procedure. When writing an SOP for a maintenance task, you might use the following format:

  • Title and document number.
  • List of needed equipment and materials.
  • Potential hazards.
  • Skills required.
  • Number of personnel needed.
  • Time needed to complete.
  • Recommended frequency for completing the task.
  • Steps to follow.
  • Space for feedback.

Once the document has been completed and reviewed, you’ll want some space for approval signatures and dates.

5. Review procedures

When you have your procedures written out, it’s time to review them. Have personnel at all levels review them to make sure the procedures align with your objectives. It’s also strongly recommended that you put them through a testing phase in which your technicians will use them and offer feedback.

Tip: You need to be proactive when seeking feedback from your maintenance technicians and operations personnel. They likely won’t offer it by their own initiative.

After the review process, make any needed changes and publish your SOPs.

6. Make procedures visible

Even the most well-written SOP will do no good if it isn’t readily accessible by your staff. Make sure your procedures are kept in a place where your personnel will most likely see and use them. Integrating them as electronic documents into your business’s enterprise software system can help fulfill that need in a much more efficient way than filing away paper manuals.

In the case of maintenance procedures, including SOPs as checklists in your CMMS can help your team use them more consistently. Posting them at machines or work stations can also help increase visibility.

7. Train staff

In tandem with making SOPs visible, you will also need to train your staff to use them. Without that training, your team will likely just ignore them, defaulting instead to prior ways of doing things.

Your training is not only to make sure your staff knows how to follow your procedures, but also to help get more buy-in. Instruction should focus on why your SOPs are important, what you hope to accomplish, and how they make your technicians’ lives easier.

8. Monitor and update

After training your staff and implementing your SOPs, make the effort to monitor the results. Keep track of how they’re used in the field, make note of any updates to training you might need, and most importantly, check to see if the procedures need to be adjusted to better achieve your goals.

This process of monitoring your success and updating your procedures is central to the principle of continuous improvement, and it’s likely something you’ll need to keep doing year after year.

Additional Points to Consider

In the course of creating and implementing your standard operating procedures, there are a number of best practices to take into account. These include the following:

Be Clear and Concise

When writing each step, make sure it’s brief and to the point. That way, it will be easy for staff to quickly understand and follow the steps you set forth.

At the same time, however, you also need to make sure you provide enough detail for your staff to follow your SOPs consistently. That can be a difficult balance to reach, and rarely will any SOP be perfect in this regard, but it’s something worth striving for nonetheless.

Focus on Safety

Throughout the writing process, make sure you reiterate when something may involve a hazard. Repeated warning statements throughout the document can help your technicians keep their safety in mind and comply with best practices as they follow your instructions.

Fact: Major safety issues, such as tripping hazards, poorly maintained electronic components, and leaks occur far less frequently in facilities that use and follow documented procedures.

Use Follow-up Training

Training is an ongoing process, and you should perform follow-up training sessions after the initial rollout. Doing so can give you some insight into how your SOPs are being received, help you correct any mistakes in implementation, and allow you to solicit feedback to help make improvements in the future.

Conclusion

Implementing standard operating procedures in your maintenance team is a process that requires careful planning as well as input from everyone involved. When implemented correctly, maintenance SOPs can improve reliability and safety in your facility.

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