Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)


3 min read

Why create a visual SOP? How to create a SOP Example SOPs Additional resources

A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a series of steps to be followed to accomplish an end result. On our farms we often have team members with different experiences, capability and languages, which can make it challenging to ensure that everyone in the team knows and understands the expectations.

One of the communication tools available to help all team members know what to do is visual Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). It’s good to have instructions written down or communicated visually so we’re not just relying on verbal instructions. Keep SOPs simple, easy to understand, and regularly review and update them.

Why create a visual SOP?

Complex tasks on-farm, if completed incorrectly, could present a significant risk to your business. An SOP is a great way to minimise this risk. To ensure that the whole team is committed to following the SOP it is important to get them involved in creating it. This allows for:

  • Clarity of expectations of how things are done on your farm, that can be understood by all team members.
  • Consistency – the process is carried out the same way, every time, regardless of who is doing it.
  • Robustness – no steps in the process are missed.
  • Risk mitigation – minimises the room for error and ‘key person risk’; if someone is away unexpectedly, then whoever steps in can follow the process and get things done right.

We all became far more organised, expectations were really visual and obvious.

Farmer quote

Creating a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

What you will need:

  • A large, long, clear surface – this might be a clean whiteboard or a sheet of long brown paper.
  • Plenty of post-it notes or small paper tickets or cards.
  • Pens/whiteboard markers.
  • The whole team.
  • Allocate time – don’t rush this exercise

Things you'll need for creating a standard operating procedure.

Things you'll need for creating a standard operating procedure.

Step 1: Identify the task you need to develop an SOP for

Examples of this might be:

  • Effluent management
  • Mastitis control
  • Managing lameness
  • Feeding calves
  • Milking (including vat cleaning, plant wash)
  • Pasture management
  • Supplementary feeding

Step 2: Create a rough Process Map

Pre-populate some of the post-it notes or cards with some of the steps in the process. Don’t worry about getting them all at this stage.

Get the team to brainstorm and map out all individual steps involved to complete the task. They will need to add all the steps you have missed, and then put all the steps in the right order.

You will likely find that each team member is doing things in a slightly different way. It’s important to acknowledge there is no one ‘right’ way, especially if there wasn’t a SOP in place previously.

Process mapping allows everyone to agree on one way that is most efficient and works for the whole team.

3: Creating and testing the visual SOP

Delegate responsibility for turning the rough process map into a visual SOP to someone in the team who has high attention to detail and would enjoy the responsibility.

Use photos and easy-to-understand markers wherever possible. Include health and safety alerts where appropriate. An example of markers is numbering switches and handles using ear tags and cable ties.

Test the SOP, it can be useful to test this on newer team members to ensure it makes sense and contains everything a new person would need to know.

Ensure the SOP is reviewed regularly, and all employees are trained in the SOP.

Example SOPs

Adjust these with your team to ensure they work for your farm.

Example of a plant wash Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).

Example of a vat wash standard operating procedure (SOP).

Example of milk silo wash Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

Example of a calf feeder cleaning Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).

Last updated: Jun 2024

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