Operating Procedures Best if Standardized

Having standard operating procedures may seem obvious, but the lack of them, especially written ones, may trip up a company focused on growing its business.

One reason many remodelers haven’t created operating procedures, says Rose Grabowski, CRA, director of member services for Laurel, Md.-based Remodelers Advantage, is “most firms start out as smaller companies. You’ll have the owner, some carpenters and maybe an office manager. There are only a few people, and the standard operating procedures are all in their heads. They don’t really think about the necessity of writing them down until they try to pass them along to another person as the company grows.

There should be standard procedures for all tasks routinely completed by a remodeling company, including sales, production and administration. There should be a standard procedure for everything from how an initial inquiry is handled to how a warranty call is handled.

“One of the reasons set practices are so important is that every task has a lot of steps that need to be completed for a successful outcome. If you have a standard operating procedure, you will have those steps listed, and you will be able to check to make sure you’ve completed each step,” Grabowski says.

“Also, if there is a problem, for example, in the sales to production hand-off and some information does not get passed along properly, you can then adjust your procedures to make sure that problem doesn’t happen in the future,” she adds.

Checklists have long been common in aviation and have been suggested and implemented in parts of the medical profession as well, an idea that Grabowski finds has merit. “To me, using a checklist format is just the easiest way to do it. You can check something off and see that it’s finished. You don’t have to think about it again and can go on to the next thing,” she says.

For a small company that hasn’t yet written down its procedures, the task can seem daunting. It should be a collaborative effort. “I think the team has to agree that procedures are important. Everyone needs to be on the same page with that. Then, I would recommend the person who does a specific task write down everything they do and then present it to the team,” Grabowski advises. Questions should be asked to determine if something has been left out of the procedure that other team members expected to happen — or if someone else is already doing it.

Implementing formal procedures takes more than handing everyone a completed notebook and telling them to follow the instructions. It’s important to create an atmosphere in which everyone believes procedures are important and buys into the idea. It is important that everyone from the owner on down follows procedures — especially the owner, because that’s the example other team members are going to follow.

Monitoring whether procedures are being followed is best achieved by exception — that is, it becomes evident procedures are not being followed when something doesn’t get done. “I personally don’t like companies where someone goes behind you and makes sure you check off everything,” Grabowski says.

Procedures and circumstances, of course, change, and in a perfect world a company would review procedures periodically. “It would be wonderful to do it once a year, but I don’t think that’s going to happen unless something really breaks somewhere,” Grabowski says. Rather, she advises, as problems occur, procedures should be examined and updated.

An aid in setting up procedures for the first time, Grabowski says, is mind mapping software. There are a number of products, some of them free, available. FreeMind is just one of them (freemind.sourceforge.net); there are others. They provide a means of visualizing tasks and presenting them as a flow chart that can be manipulated and discussed by participants. She recounts how one company effectively used such software to follow the overall business process of their company, starting with the initial phone call to the final payment.