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How to Create Electronic SOPs

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It’s no secret that having standard operating procedures (SOPs) for your shop is important. But undertaking the task of creating—and maintaining—SOPs for every procedure in the shop can seem daunting.

That was the case for Eric Pohlman, owner of Eric’s Auto Service in Hamilton, Ohio. That’s why he decided to invest in a program to create electronic SOPs. Although Pohlman uses a program called Zavanta, there are a number of programs that can be utilized, even one as simple as Google Docs. Since then, Pohlman says he has not only better organized his handbooks and SOPs, he has also added more and is more effective at updating existing procedures.

I’ve been using electronic SOPs for about two years now. Previously, I was housing all of my SOPs in Microsoft Word. That included my employee handbook and all procedures. The problem with that is if you make a change, you have to change every page. It was a lot of work. You had to change the page numbers in the table of contents, make sure that everyone had the updated copy, the list goes on. Also, I found that people don’t often read handbooks that are just sitting in their toolboxes. Finally, I was worried about the security of our procedures. What happens when a guy leaves? If we don’t do a proper exit, the book goes with him.

I decided to invest in an online-based, electronic SOP program that you can access on your laptop or on your phone. I needed to make an instruction manual for Eric’s Auto Service. I use mine for everything. I put my equipment repair manual, user manuals and equipment inventory in with it. You can do this in a number of different ways but I chose the Zavanta software because I can customize it any way I need to and I own the manual. I also found that it was easier for employees to read and it was the most-user friendly of the systems that I tried out. The way it works is that it’s basically a private website, so everyone has a secure link they can open.

Regardless of the system, these are the items I’ve found that every SOP needs: The top of every SOP should have a general description: Why do we follow this procedure? Then, it has warnings. For example, for the vehicle inspection procedure, it might say “failure to follow this procedure could lead to employee termination.” Then I will have the steps for the procedure.

Another advantage of using an electronic system is that I can link to other SOPs. So, if one of the steps for vehicle inspections is “test drive the vehicle,” you can then link to the test drive SOP. It makes it easy.

I can also include pictures and screenshots from programs we utilize, or even training videos. If something is easier to explain in a video, you can embed a video directly into the SOP or include a link that they can click to view a training video.

Using a dedicated electronic SOP program allows you to use already existing templates. In most systems, there are a number of categories that you can choose from (policy, information sheet, etc.). I pick which category it falls into and then go through the prompts to fill out the information needed.

With an electronic system—even using something like Google Docs—you can also include attachments, which I frequently do with our equipment. I have an equipment inventory for each piece of equipment in the shop. Let’s say I’m out of town and the alignment machine breaks down. My manager can pull up the SOP for the alignment machine, which includes a picture of the machine in the shop, the serial number and the plates. Then, I also have the contact information for our equipment vendor, who to call for parts, and the equipment manual attached. The reason I did that was because I got tired of those manuals being in a drawer. And as it turns out, it was as easy as Googling the piece of equipment and the model number to get the manual and download it as a PDF. Besides the ease of having everyone on the same page, the other benefit to doing this is that if the building burned, you have proof of what was in the building.

If we change vendors or a process changes, it’s very easy to do a revision without reformatting. By using an electronic version, you can simply type in “revised on this date” and you don’t have to print new versions for everyone in the shop.

I also include our entire employee handbook. It has the shop policy, uniform guidelines, safety information, request for time-off form, etc. That way, it’s all in one place and you can create different versions of the handbook. For example, management has one, the technicians have one and the service advisor has another. So when they click on the link, they only see information that pertains to their positions.

When a new employee starts, I can also verify that they’ve read everything through a virtual “DocuSign.” They do a digital signature and confirm they’ve read and understood the handbook and SOP.

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