Seed World

Getting Flexible with SOPs

When should an independent seed company implement a standard operating procedure?

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are common place for large companies. The Brampton Small Business Enterprise Centre defines an SOP as a procedure specific to your operation that describes the activities necessary to complete tasks in accordance with industry regulations, provincial laws or even just your own standards for running a business.

Basically, if you have a “how-to” document for your business, you have an SOP. 

SOPs can feel a little restricting sometimes — it can be a straitjacket limiting a business’s movement. However, that’s not what they’re intended to be. 

“Whether you’re working in mechanical work, processing or production, an SOP is the first thing you have to do to map a procedure,” says Danny Klinefelter, a professor and Extension Economist at Texas A&M University. 

The Brampton Small Business Enterprise Centre says that SOPs can create:

• Create efficiencies and profitability

• Consistency and reliability in production and service

• Fewer errors

• A healthy and safe work environment

SOPs are made to help businesses, so how do independents ensure they aren’t limiting themselves when creating an SOP?

Klinefelter says the first thing you need to do is ensure you have a top-notch team during the creation process. This will not only help the process move forward more smoothly, but ensure consistency throughout the process. 

“Depending on how big your crew is, you need a few people on your team to make an SOP,” Klinefelter says. “The best person to be on this team is the person who’s doing the job.”

By gathering together team members who are actually working the job that would be affected by the SOP, you can ensure its accurate and fair for the job. For example, if you’re working on an SOP about processing seed, you’re going to want a seed processor as your No. 1 contact for working through the procedures. 

“Another benefit of having an employee who knows the tasks involved is they know the exact order of every step,” Klinefelter says. 

This is imperative, in particular for onboarding employees. 

“When someone’s onboarded, they can get a direction of what to do in their new job and why they’re doing that,” he says. “It’s a good way to fill in the job description. What is this particular job and what does it involve?”

After an SOP is implemented, Klinefelter says another benefit is when you have a problem, you can write down a solution.

“Since you map the process, you have all the steps you need,” he says. “What I think is most useful is over time, as things go on and problems emerge, you can put standard problems that are being faced in your SOPs. Then, when you find the solution for it, you can write it down.”

This ensures that when the same problem emerges, you aren’t wasting time searching for a solution. 

“Start with the biggest problems first, and if anything goes wrong, you won’t have to hunt around forever,” Klinefelter says. “Instead, you’ll have it right in front of you.”

However, that means a business needs to be on top of their SOPs and review them consistently. 

“Over time, some things become irrelevant,” he says. “It’s important to ask yourself: ‘Does this benefit the whole business? Is there a way to streamline this process?'”

Klinefelter says at times, you might need to combine certain steps together, add a new step or delete some steps altogether. Keeping on top of technology helps this too.

He uses the example of artificial intelligence (AI) emerging in agriculture. 

“When you add things like AI into a company, you need to look at how that can help,” he says. “What things can be changed on the fly? Seeding rates? Irrigation rates? All of that can change your SOPs.”

Klinefelter cautions that if you aren’t staying on top of your game, it can be dangerous for your business.

“The most dangerous phrase in a business is ‘We’ve always done it this way,'” he says. “You have got to keep reviewing SOPs and keeping them as up to date as anything else in your company.”

As for when to implement an SOP, Klinefelter says that’s easy.

“When you start your business, the first question you need to ask is what you’re doing and what you need to be doing,” he says. “That’s where an SOP comes in. Set priorities and prioritize those priorities. Then, if a new priority comes around, reevaluate.

“It’s a continuous learning process that dictates how you do something,” Klinefelter says.