Friday, January 20, 2012

SOP Friday: Keeping Your Standards and Procedures Organized

Last week we talked about hardware upgrades. Next week we'll talk about software upgrades. Today we're going to take a bit of a break and talk about the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) process as a whole. How do you organize all this stuff so you can find it, use it, and make your business more efficient?

Of there isn't one perfect way to do things, so I'll just talk a bit about what we do.

First, consider who creates SOPs? Answer: Everyone.

Everyone has duties. The receptionist, the office manager, the bookkeeper, the service coordinator, the technicians, etc. Everyone who does something has to document what they do. Ideally, each person in a role will inherit documentation and procedures. Also ideally, that person will update those procedures. For example, when a web site changes or you switch to a different payroll system, someone needs to update the instructions for payroll.

Maintaining documentation should be a piece of everyone's job description. Employees won't put a priority on it if you don't.

Note: For all documentation, we tend to have one file for each policy. Yes, you can combine them into a large document, but that's actually harder to manage when it's large and you need to make changes. You might occasionally scoop up all your documentation into a single document, but it is probably easier to manage day-to-day if you keep it in individual files. You can still flag the files with categories and sub-categories in order to make them easier to organize.

Second, consider where you put documentation.

I'm not sure why, but the default answer people want to give is that 1) All documentation should be in the same place, and 2) All documentation should be in some big, electronic thing that's 100% accessible from anywhere on earth. That might work, but we haven't found that approach useful.

Administrative folks use one set of files and folders to do all their work. So we created a "Policies and Procedures" folder within that work area for them. That way, they don't have to go log into some tool they never use. For us, the full path is x:\Operations\Policies and Procedures.

Technicians never go there. Why would they? In fact, they don't have permissions to the Operations folder. Technicians have a different place to store stuff: SharePoint. They have an area filled with monthly maintenance checklists, technology SOPs, favorite white papers, New PC checklists, etc. This information is available no matter where the technician is - inside the office or out.

Note: IF your admins use SharePoint all the time already, then keeping their documentation in SharePoint makes sense. But if they never use it for anything else, you're setting yourself up for failure if you ask them to go do this one thing only occasionally.

Third, consider who manages the overall documentation.

At America's Tech Support, this is Mike. He knows where all the documentation is for admins and for techs. He cleans things up occasionally. If we need to print things out to store in a binder, he does that (but not too often).

The person in charge of documentation is responsible for making sure it's organized and accessible. There's nothing worse than trying to find documentation you KNOW you have, but you don't know where it is.

Documentation naturally divides into two simple categories in the I.T. business: Admin and Tech. But one top of all of that is a third category, Company Policies. Company policies are the "philosophy" topics we've discussed and the SOPs that apply across the board. For example, the philosophy about three-year upgrade cycles (see last week's article) and the SOP on Date Formats apply to everyone.

Everyone, especially technicians, needs to know about the philosophy on three-year upgrade cycles. But they don't need to edit it, print it out, or deal with it in any way. Similarly, everyone needs to know and use the approved date formats, but they don't need to edit it.

I prefer to keep these company-wide policies and procedures in with the Admin policies and procedures. These items need their own sub-folder and should only be edited by management types. You won't edit them very often, so it's important that keep them where you can find them!

Finally, consider how you'll backup up all your SOPs.

Ideally, you're already backing up the core data files, and x:\Operations\Policies and Procedures is part of that. You'll also need to backup SharePoint, or occasionally do a file/folder copy over to the Operations folder.

Electronic Options

Aside from SharePoint, there are plenty of electronic options for saving all your docs. For us, the PSA system has never been convenient. We used to use ConnectWise. Now we use Autotask. Both are great for time tracking and billing. Both are clunky for things like this. It's just not what they do.

In my opinion, this activity is so straight forward that you just don't need a big database filled with Word and Excel docs in order to organize your documentation.

. . . and you might just decide to keep it all in one big file.

Bottom line: whatever works for you is what you should do. But don't just let everyone put their documentation in whatever folder they feel like. Then it will be lost forever. Whatever you decide to do, you should have a very clear policy about where documentation is located and who uses which system. And this should be so thoroughly embedded into your daily operation that you never have to ask someone to help you find documentation: It will always be in the only place you will ever look.

Your Comments Welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next week's topic: Software Upgrade Policy


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  1. Anonymous11:37 AM

    Thanks for the great info on this site. Regarding this topic of organising standards and procedures, we use Dokuwiki for this purpose and find it fits our needs perfectly. Easy to implement and maintain and the learning curve for the users was pretty shallow.

    1. Anonymous8:05 AM

      We do use dokuwiki as well but do recommend printing a copy to have offline.


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