In the middle of the night, you wake up with excruciating pain. The next thing you know, you find yourself in a hospital intensive care unit. You have a medical condition that will require specific treatment in order for you to recover from an ailment.
The doctors and nurses use standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure the precision and accuracy of the treatment they administer. For example, they might be required to give you a specific medication critical for your recovery or even survival. The SOP they use to administer the treatment correctly is commonly known as the five rights: right patient, right medication, right dosage, right route and right time.
If any of these steps is missed, the consequences could be catastrophic. Attention to detail in human health care is obviously critical, yet this example is analogous to the health of your farm. As your business grows, procedures can enhance economic success.
Why They Work. Although technology has brought us many conveniences and much economic value, it also has increased our need for sophisticated processes. In farming, seasonality is also a consideration. Settings on planters, sprayers and tillage tools must be revisited annually, and the same is true for fertility decisions and yield monitor calibrations. More important is the fact that many operations have employees whose jobs overlap.
Without SOPs, you are at risk of having issues with all of the same problems I described in the medical analogy. Failure to pay attention to processes comes with a cost, whether damage to equipment, compaction or off-target herbicide application.
Moreover, SOPs bring value to the administrative portion of your farm. For example, crop insurance can be the most complicated decision we deal with once a year. Putting together a standard format for decision-making can make this process much more productive. Employee reviews, lender presentations, cash-flow projections, payroll management and many other office duties all stand to benefit from standard procedures.
Implementation Strategies. Identify the areas of your farming operation that would benefit most from SOPs. Think about how those processes are accomplished. How will you change or improve them, and how will you measure whether a new SOP is effective?
Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to develop the procedure. The No. 1 rule is to keep it simple. As you create your first draft, involve people in the operation who are working with existing processes. At each step, ask yourself why things are being done a certain way. It might be possible to eliminate some steps.
After establishing a new process, share it with someone outside the farm or with a younger family member within the operation and see if they can understand it. Sometimes we don’t do a very good job of simplifying processes so others understand it. It can also be beneficial to have a third party come in and work through the process to see whether the steps are accurate and listed in an understandable way.
Once basic testing is completed, go through the process yourself to ensure it makes sense and meets the necessary requirements. When you are comfortable with the SOP, review it personally with all employees and document the procedure by laminating a printed copy and posting it in the workspace.
Quality SOPs are flexible to change based on feedback and process improvement. Ongoing training is critical to ensure SOPs are followed regularly. These days, the old saying “If you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself” no longer applies.