Editor's Points: Does Your Firm Have SOPs?

January 25, 2011
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Within a matter of weeks after Christmas, my son already had a pile of broken toys thanks to shoddy manufacturing or design.

A recent thread in the professional online community illustrates this point. Two experienced surveyors at the same firm are tasked with locating monuments and creating boundary and parcel lines in AutoCAD to produce easements and documents. However, each surveyor approaches his work in a different way. When the points are brought into AutoCAD, the linework doesn’t match up. As a result, one surveyor spends a significant amount of time checking and correcting the other surveyor’s work.

At the very least, this type of situation can cause a firm to lose productivity. There is also the potential for significant problems down the road if an error is not caught before it is passed along to a client.

A number of individuals offered their advice in the thread. Several mentioned a possible need for training to ensure that all of the surveyors and CAD technicians understand how to use AutoCAD correctly. Others suggested direct confrontation regarding the problems. Many provided helpful recommendations. But this point in particular stood out to me: “When multiple people are working on a project with the same tools, in this case software, they all need to be following identical rules. Those rules need to be spelled out before you start. … You need to come to an agreement on what ‘correctly’ actually is.”

The idea seems simple enough−many quality control problems boil down to a lack of (or, in some cases, a disregard for) standards. It’s the same old argument of accuracy versus precision applied on a broad scale. If one person’s work is precise but doesn’t meet the accuracy required by the firm, the client, or the software being used to create the drawings, problems will inevitably result. But how many firms develop a formal, written approach to procedures? And for those that do, how many provide the required training to ensure that everyone understands how to follow those procedures to ensure an accurate, high-quality result?

We would like to believe that such problems are isolated. Surely experience and skill, combined with the use of advanced technology, prevents this situation from occurring in most firms. But are these parameters really enough if standard operating procedures (SOPs) aren’t written, understood and enforced? (Incidentally, it’s worth noting that merely making the lines “snap” in AutoCAD won’t necessarily make for a correct survey or a good SOP. Both Jeffery Lucas and Milton Denny address the art versus the math and science of surveying in this issue, albeit in slightly different terms. 

Following clearly defined procedures is imperative to ensuring quality in any industry or profession. How does your firm measure up?

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