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Standard operating procedures can ease loss of experience
by Joe Mitchell
A recent survey found that loss of experience is one of the top 10 concerns in the automotive industry.1 The primary issues relate to "the ability to avoid repeating past mistakes, the ability to implement operational efficiencies, and the ability to develop new talent."2
The study also stated: "[More than] three-quarters of respondents rate their organizations as, at best, moderately capable of preserving and transferring knowledge."3 While, "[more than] one-third of [original equipment manufacturer] respondents describe themselves as somewhat capable or having no capability in preserving and transferring knowledge."4
This survey is alarming for the automotive field, but loss of experience in the workforce is a concern for all industries and organizations. One technique that can help organizations minimize the effects of loss of experience is a standard operating procedure (SOP). SOPs are an integral part of a quality management system (QMS), and a properly constructed SOP will minimize the loss of critical business knowledge due to personnel changes.
Avoid repeating mistakes
Also known as work or operator instructions, SOPs serve as reference guides for employees by providing work instructions to facilitate consistent results and data quality throughout an organization.
Personnel working in a lab, for example, apply industry standards to every test. An organization-specific SOP, however, can be used in conjunction with industry standards to ensure compliance to manufacturing or procedural specifications, and organizational or governmental requirements.
Additionally, SOPs help avoid the pitfalls of inexperience by reducing the likelihood of errors during onboarding. Hiring new employees requires hours of on-the-job training and is a significant business investment. So when you’re training new employees, don’t just show them how to do the job. Review the SOP with them and make certain they know where to find this document for future reference. That way, when more experienced personnel are unavailable, a new employee can refer to SOPs for guidance on a specific task.
SOPs are critical for efficiently producing high-quality products or services at the lowest-possible cost. According to the Certified Quality Engineer’s Handbook, SOPs, "reduce variation in cycle time and produce a better, more consistent product or service and can also simplify downstream activities."5
I observed, for example, a 30% reduction in rejected product after an SOP was implemented for a metallurgical test. Previously, operators had used different hardness scales and sample preparation methods, but the introduction of an SOP resulted in a "standard work" practice.6 Following implementation, we experienced negligible variation in test results and a more efficient business operation.
Due to system changes necessitated by technology advances or customer demand, it may be necessary to periodically review SOPs to promote continuous improvement and drive operational efficiency.
While organizations cannot stop the retirement of a good employee, a good SOP can mitigate the loss of critical business knowledge and benefit any organization competing in today’s global market.
- Deloitte Consulting and Automative Industry Action Group, "Automotive Quality 2020 Report," April 19, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/autoquality2020.
- Connie M. Borror, Certified Quality Engineer Handbook, third edition, ASQ Quality Press, 2009.
Joe Mitchell is director of operations and technology at Miller Co.: Diehl Metall in Meriden, CT. He earned an MBA at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, MI. Mitchell is an ASQ member and an ASQ-certified quality engineer.