While Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) are widely and rightly used to control processes, there is sometimes a tendency within organizations to go “reference crazy”. In a well-meaning attempt to be thorough, a generous helping of references to other SOP’s are placed throughout the text. The resulting tangled-web of references may become so difficult to deal with that writers will compensate by creating less-than-optimal SOP content, further compounding the problem that will eventually have to be addressed.
Fortunately, the frequency and impact of SOP references can be minimized through a disciplined approach to content, and emphasis on the organization’s training program. Writers should keep SOP’s focused on describing (in simple, concise terms) the steps of a specific process. Under this approach, the need to reference other SOP’s might actually indicate poor process definition. It may also become an opportunity to eliminate redundant (and possibly contradictory) documents.
Consider eliminating any SOP reference in the “References” section that is not cited in the body of the SOP, as this is a sure sign that the reference is not part of the process. The process-focused approach also helps resist the temptation to use an SOP reference to “remind” the reader about all the other important SOP’s out there. Leave that job to the training program, which should include the requirement for an employee-specific training syllabus identifying the critical SOP’s across the quality system, for which evidence of training must exist.
Please consider the opportunity to employ these techniques to realize the benefits of minimal SOP references, the next time you create, modify or review an SOP.