Standard operating procedures are written instructions that explain the work steps you use to carrying out your construction quality methods and policies.
I’m going to explain how to write standard operating procedures for your construction quality plan. But, first, let me explain why you should have them.
Why you need SOPs
While your construction QA/QC manual describes your quality approach, your SOPs are the instruction sheets that provide the additional and much needed detail.
Here’s an example. Say you have a policy for handling nonconformances — and you should if you’re following quality best practices.
In your quality manual, you describe your nonconformance policy by saying:
“Should a nonconformance be identified by an inspection, there is a systematic method to control the item to prevent inadvertent coverup.”
That’s just a basic policy overview; your quality manual will cover the topic at length, but you get the idea.
So, when your inspector identifies a nonconformance, what work steps will he or she follow to prevent an inadvertent cover-up? Will your inspector use a tag, warning tape, or both?
And, how do you know that your nonconformance policy was followed? Moreover, how do your records help you prove it in court if you’re involved in defect litigation?
That’s where your standard operating procedures come in.
Format for Writing Standard Operating Procedures
SOPs contain specific information and follow a generally accepted format.
In the header portion, you’ll identify the section in your QA/QC manual where you’ve described this particular quality policy.
Next, to prevent old versions from mistakenly being used, you’ll list the version date. Then, you’ll add the approval date and who approved the procedure.
For the main body of the SOP, you’ll include the following:
• Responsible Person(s)
Click on the thumbnail to enlarge the example of an SOP for construction nonconformance reporting:
Notice how the body of the procedure has numbered steps that describe the work process step-by-step.
How much detail should you add?
A general guideline is to keep the procedure as simple as possible, but not so simple that the lack of details could adversely affect quality.
I have seen many SOPs that fail to find the right balance between completeness and simplicity. Too simple and you do not achieve your goal for controlling a quality process. Too complex and you cause unnecessary work for yourself (the procedure writer) as well as the people responsible for carrying out the work.
Multiply the efficiency by the number of procedures and the balance you find can determine the success of your quality system.
About the Author - Ed Caldeira is founder of First Time Quality, LLC, specializing in submittal-ready construction QA/QC plan templates and custom quality plans as well as construction quality inspection and punchlist software.