The Detail Dilemma (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Procedures)

Turns out that managing operations is hard work! Worse is when self-admitted non-detailed oriented people (like myself) tend to make it harder than it needs to be by ignoring one of the most powerful tools in our belt: the Standard Operating Procedure, or SOP. Tell me if any of these scenarios look familiar:

  1. You get into the office, grab your coffee, and sit down to your tasks when you are suddenly bombarded with a flurry of deadlines, due dates, and the ever-present “can you just take a look at this for me?” Last you heard this was supposed to be a slow week, but now you know you’re going to have to forgo this evening’s episode of House of Cards.
  2. Today’s the day a longstanding project is due to deliver to the client and you are feeling confident because the things have been pretty quiet. However, it hits your desk half complete… and tomorrow is the deadline.
  3. A new project requires that you schedule resources over the weekend. Aside from becoming about as popular as a Scrappy Doo, you put a plan together and set it running. Monday comes around you realize that the project never took off and you can’t blame it on “those pesky devs” because they never received the plan in the first place.

Each of these scenarios is rooted in a lack of proceduralized management that is often the case with those who take pride in their “on the fly” problem solving or “as it comes” approach to everyday business. Not to say those aren’t great traits, but don’t fall prey to Maslow’s Hammer. In fact I’ve found myself raging against procedures because I don’t want to get “bogged down” in the details! It’s a cognitive bias that, if left unchecked, will cause you to spend more time putting out fires than actually managing your projects towards quality and efficiency.

The best way to start is to get in the habit of front-loading your effort. Keep a pad and pen with you, write down notes, set up lists of actions that need to be taken as soon as the project is conceived, ask questions as soon as you see a hole in your process. Do not depend solely on your memory to track your tasks! It may seem like a lot of work now, but that investment in time will pay off dividends down the line.

As you begin to write down your procedures make sure to keep them handy and organized. You’ll notice that many projects have procedural overlaps that will allow you to refer to steps you’ve documented before. In no time you’ll have a suite of operating procedures that will act as your “second brain”, keeping all of those little details on track for you.

So take a second look as SOPs and learn to love them. You’ll come to realize they aren’t bane of the non-detail oriented manager. Put the time into their development and they will take care of the details for you, leaving you to be the hot-shot problem solver you love to be!

To learn more about established management practices check out the Project Management Institute’s CAPM or PMP certifications.

Written by Jon H.