Most people don’t think about all the moving parts involved with direct mail production. IWCO Direct’s ability to flawlessly print and mail our clients’ campaigns results from a combined effort from all our employees to create and follow standard operating procedures (SOPs). We have several teams dedicated to creating these SOPs: project teams, our Continuous Improvement (CI) team, a Business Process Standardization team, technical writers, trainers, and individual departments—all working together to form a knowledgebase of work instructions.
Without SOPs, our employees would encounter ambiguities and conflicting ideas of what the “right” way of performing tasks should be. This leads to inconsistent processes, breakdowns in communication and handoffs, and, ultimately, quality issues.
An SOP for (Nearly) All Occasions
At IWCO Direct, we have a formal review process for all SOPs and publish them in an online database, a central location on our intranet, for all employees to search and access. Our SOPs for direct mail production follow a consistent outline:
Overview: The overview of each SOP explains which departments and roles use the SOPs, what the SOP teaches them to do, and why the procedure is important.
Step/Action Table: Each step of the SOP is an action, written in present tense and active voice because we assume the reader will be doing the work at the same time they are following the instructions. Each step also lists who is responsible for completing the step—which is especially helpful for processes involving multiple people.
Revision History: At the end of the SOP, we track the history of changes, who made them, who approved them, and when. This history is helpful down the line because we can quickly gather information on anyone who contributed knowledge to a process and create a team of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to provide valuable insight into that process and answer questions.
How We Keep Our SOPs from Becoming “Stale Old Processes”
Even SOPs face a devil’s advocate in Jeff Bezos, who recently cautioned companies not to get so fixated on processes that they ignore outcomes. And he is quite right—compliance with a standard process can never justify sub-par performance. Thankfully, we have a process (pun intended) for avoiding that complacency: a Continuous Improvement team that makes it easy for teams to review and update SOPs regularly, especially when internal investigations uncover a process that should be streamlined, enhanced by better technology, or even eliminated altogether.
Implementing SOPs for direct mail production takes teamwork and, in some cases, a long-term training effort. This includes a post-training monitoring period to ensure a new process is followed and that any feedback about that process is heard and addressed by management and Continuous Improvement.
No matter how complex the SOP is, our teams at IWCO Direct understand a concept best articulated by Mark Twain: “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” Our tireless effort to capture and publish standard processes, review them regularly, and improve them over time has proven this to be true.
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