Part 3: Information Availability with Text-Based SOPs

By Dee Carri, Thursday, 3rd April 2014 | 0 comments
Filed under: SOPs, Work Instructions, TPSoP®.

How Much Do You Love Your SOPs Part 3: Information Availability

Read the introduction to our 'How Much Do You Love Your SOPs' blog series here >

The Goal of Information Availability: The ability to search, find and deliver current, relevant information in the right context, at the right time.

The topic of Information Availability and Big Data are, in themselves, huge topics and beyond the scope of this post. For our purposes, our observations are provided against the backdrop of a typical multi-national pharma company that has approximately 1,000 SOPs, 400 employees and who knows how many Work Instructions. SOPs and Work Instructions comprise a mixture of Local, Functional and Global procedures.


Information Availability Problems with Text-Based SOPs

Time lost to ineffective search

Many text-based procedures are long and unwieldy, they contain references to many other documents, guidelines, structured and unstructured information and they need to be read in the context of regulations, policies and guidelines. They may also need to be used in conjunction with IT systems, email, file shares, the web, on-line forms, manual forms, and a wide range of other business applications. Most of the information contained in these heterogeneous systems is unindexed, making it unsearchable. And of course most search engines are inadequate, which forces Users to perform multiple searches with multiple tools across many diverse information sources.

Given this background, it is very difficult for people to know where to look and to know how or who to ask for the information that they are seeking and, with the current and predicted explosion in data, the issue of information availability is set to increase.

Confirming this point, IDC says knowledge workers spend a whopping 15% to 35% of their time searching for information.

Figure 1. Time Spent searching for, and gathering information


Consequences of not finding information or finding duplicate information

Searches that result in no “find” or more than one “find” creates new dilemmas for the User on the best way to proceed: “Where do I go now?”, “Which procedure / instruction should I use?” This situation is especially challenging where the procedure / instruction needs to be followed now, but the procedure / instruction global and the owner is located in a different time zone.


Time lost through convoluted, badly presented information

Some SOPs are so convoluted, long winded and mixed up that they are extremely inefficient so Users just can’t use them effectively. To use the SOP, a User needs to constantly flip back and forth through the SOP (some of which are very long). This is highly impractical with the result that, once the basics are understood, the User abandons the SOP a situation that flies in the face of good practice.


Time lost in using references

In the main, references contained in text-based procedures are text-based and manual, forcing a User to re-key or copy/paste the reference into another system, or systems, in order to follow and find the source of the reference. Also, references are usually contained in a separate section of the SOP, making it difficult for the User to link the reference to a specific step in the procedure.


Time lost through information overload

Many SOP and Work Instruction authors follow the diktat that “more is better” with the result that their procedures contain lots and lots of references to other sources that may, or may not be relevant.

Consider this example:
A 20 page SOP references Legislation, Policies, Guidelines and Standards bringing the total pages to be “read and understood” by the person performing the work to 198 pages, including some pretty dense legalese. Analysis reveals that only 8 pages of the referenced material are relevant to the SOP in hand. Of course, there can be no realistic expectation that the person performing the work will actually understand what is contained in all this referenced information, it’s probable that the author and owner of the SOP don’t understand it either. Quite apart from the waste of time spent reading an unnecessary 170 pages, this also raises an important question about the value of the “I have read and understood” signature. Has it been devalued?

Ponder for a moment the consequences if this scenario was recreated in another setting such as a flight cockpit or an operating theatre.

One pharmaceutical company I know, in an effort to contain the “more is better” trend, has imposed a limit of displaying 35 attachments per SOP. Wow! To an outsider, the notion of viewing this change as an improvement is quite incomprehensible, perhaps even ridiculous. Nonetheless, for the company in question and it is not alone, this is the reality of their workplace.


Errors and time lost due to defective references

See our previous blog for a list of “Common Defects Found in SOPs” 


Lost value of undocumented employee knowledge

In my opinion, perhaps the biggest failure of information availability with SOPs and Work Instructions is that in many cases, the real “know-how” is unavailable because it remains locked in employees or subject matter experts heads. Capturing tacit knowledge and collaborating with others doing similar work is simply too difficult for Users. Quite simply, traditional content management tools don’t support knowledge development and collaboration as they were simply not designed for this purpose. A vast opportunity exists in this area yet only a small number of visionary organisations understand and appreciate that information contained in work instructions and SOPs is available for transformation to knowledge. Its early days but there are those who are beginning to view their SOPs and Work Instructions as strategic assets, combining them with other social media, collaboration and analytical tools to serve all information necessary to empower workers in their job.



Searching takes time and it robs productivity.

There is a very high cost for organisations that cannot find information readily. The maze of information and where or how to find it, and whether it is even relevant or not, is resulting in duplicated efforts, lost productivity and poor or late decisions. These instances are not one-off problems and can cascade through the entire organisation.

Visionary companies are beginning to differentiate themselves by embracing process-based practices and new technologies that enable them to tap into their collective information, transforming it into knowledge and providing it to those who need it, when it is needed, first time, every and every time.

The effect? Employee productivity will rise and profits will soar.


In the next blog in our SOP series, we'll focus on the topic of “Time to Effectiveness”. And if you missed the introduction, you can find it here >
In the meantime, we invite you to provide feedback, comments and your experience in the comments section below.


Further learning:
What is TPSoP® and how can it help? >



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