Conducting business in today's competitive, technology-focused environment is becoming increasingly complex. As a fellow managed services provider (MSP), you know this first-hand. Today, we have to stay on top of not only our own market and technology developments, but also on the changing landscape of our clients’ markets. With all the ebb and flow of this industry, don’t you wish there was something to provide your business with more stability? Well, the answer might be to create and implement standard operating procedures (SOPs).
SOPs ensure consistency, create organization so that tasks can be easily completed, provide transparency for all key parties and make communication and training more seamless. Here are several ideas for implementing SOPs that can help MSPs increase efficiency and profits, leading to sustainable growth in the future.
Overall Creation and Organization
The last thing MSPs need to do is create a huge set of SOPs that no one uses. The first step, therefore, is assigning an owner who will be responsible for the project. That employee should be accountable for creating necessary operating procedures, storing and accessing the information and keeping it updated and retrievable. If someone is looking for a SOP and can't find it, the owner of the project should know immediately.
Typically, there are three main categories for standard operating procedures, which include:
- Company procedures
- Administrative procedures
- Technician procedures
Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories.
An example of an overall company SOP is date formats. Everyone in the company should understand how dates should be entered, whether it be numerical with a four-digit year or a two-digit year, by month and year only, or whether the date or the month notation comes first. It seems like a simple thing, but if all employees are using different formats, many problems and time-and-resource-consuming issues can occur.
For those on an administrative team, consider what daily tools you use and incorporate SOPs into that system. If you access a physical file cabinet every day, each policy or procedure should have a folder for easy location and updating. If you’re on an electronic system, procedures should be a selection on your desktops. Every administrative person should be responsible for understanding relevant SOPs for his or her particular job and be responsible for checking and updating those procedures as needed.
Technicians are more likely to be out at client sites and nowhere near a physical file cabinet, yet still need access to relevant operating procedures. Be sure technical SOPs can be easily accessed from something like SharePoint, which can be tapped from anywhere. That way, when technicians need things like monthly maintenance checklists, new PC procedures or other SOPs, they can instantly pull them up and follow them.
Training and Indoctrination
Remember the mantra: standard operating procedures will be worthless if no one uses them. Once an MSP has created important SOPs and put them in accessible places, regular training and checking in must occur. MSPs should make it clear that all employees are expected to follow SOPs and that in doing so, they will make their jobs easier, help the company run more efficiently and be rewarded for their efforts. After all, if strictly followed SOPs mean growth, greater efficiency and more profits, those should be shared and provided as motivation for those who are contributing to the SOP effort.
The creator of a particular SOP should complete the work they are trying to standardize and write down all the steps so that they can be repeated later. Once the SOP is in place, one employee should watch another employee complete the steps to make sure they are followed and vice versa. This checking in and training should occur regularly until the procedure is a habit. Over time, certain steps may become unnecessary, or others may need to be added, and the training should be revisited to make sure no one is using an antiquated SOP.
Whenever there are rules and SOPs, there must be exceptions. However, this can be a slippery slope. If too many exceptions are made, there are essentially no SOPs. The first step is working to ensure that SOPs are important, well done, and current. The second step is that employees see management using the SOPs. High-quality SOPs will help everyone, and if management is carefully following them, other employees will follow suit.
Successful MSPs need bright, thoughtful human beings to make decisions, not robots executing a list of SOPs. As a result, employees should be allowed to make some exceptions when they add value, better serve the client or simply make more sense in the long-run. For instance, one client-focused SOP may be tackling the highest priority service ticket first. However, if a technician makes an on-site visit and sees that the highest priority ticket can be completed off-site, but the next six items must be completed on-site, there should be an exception made so that the available on-site service time is maximized.
A typical exception that is frequently made – which should not be made at all – is in the area of training. If a standard operating procedure states that someone should be trained on a particular task, but an experienced employee or supervisor can simply do it faster and wants to make an exception, the long-run impact is significant. Employees must invest the time in training new or inexperienced co-workers for the long-term good of the company, even if it means some task is completed less efficiently in the short-run.
The bottom line is that SOPs are a worthy investment for MSPs to make. They should provide consistent procedures that will make each day run more smoothly, reduce employee stress and improve customer service. Quality SOPs should not simply be an outdated paper trail or internal red tape, but instead a way for everyone in the business to stay on the same page and push forward in the same direction. In doing so, SOPs can be a great way to propel MSPs into a more successful future.
Our Partner Spotlight series is designed to give you valuable and relatable content, straight from MSPs themselves! This post was written directly by one of our MSP partners. Do you have some insights you’d like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or sound off in the comments below!
By Richard Harber
By Gretchen Hoffman
By Meaghan Moraes