Many owners and leaders avoid making SOPs, checklists, and workflows because it takes time from doing the actual work. But when you look at what doing the actual work entails, it’s spending time doing stuff that SOPs, checklists, and workflows would prevent.
After nearly 15 years of running with and teaching business owners and leaders, I’m still flummoxed by how little most businesses and entrepreneurs value SOPs and checklists despite paying lip service to them. My military experience was the exact opposite: SOPs and checklists were everything.
For instance, how we packed our rucksacks, where our canteens were on our belts, and where we packed extra food and supplies in vehicles were all the same, not for mere cosmetics, but because you might have to switch vehicles, grab a ruck, or use muscle memory to reach for your buddy’s canteen. You didn’t have time to go looking for where things might be because you already knew where it was.
But it wasn’t just stuff that was standardized. Battle plans, medevac requests, training schedules, and the military decision-making process were all standardized, too. This was so that any leader could jump into a situation, figure out what was going on, and communicate in ways that everyone else understood.
The argument I’ve heard is “Sure, we know why military teams need that, but civilian teams don’t. And, plus, it takes a lot of time (away from doing the work) to develop SOPs, checklists, and processes.”
Except, when you look at what doing the work entails, it’s a lot of either figuring out what the work is, correcting what wasn’t done right in the first place, or running through a byzantine maze to get a decision because there’s not a clear way that decisions are made.
It’s the business equivalent of having to find your keys every day. That takes a lot more time for the very thing most people have nothing to do with.
A caveat: most startups and early-stage businesses need to organize and standardize after they make a mess rather than documenting what messes they might make and how they might clean them up.