Back by Popular Demand: More on Writing Standard Operating Procedures


3 Tips for Creating Transparent SOPs

Co-written with Terry McGinn

Each company in a regulated industry is required to follow written procedures.  The written procedure describes how steps or tasks are to be followed to achieve the desired outcome or result.  Having these steps identified permits the distant or precise way to achieve the end of your process or practice. 

Knowing the critical nature of having written procedures, your standard operating procedures and best practices need to follow a few procedures of their own so you can replicate what you do across your organization.  In other words, your standard operating procedures need to be transparent and streamlined.

One of the many purposes of the SOP or best practice process is to ensure that the process flow can meet expectations. Done well, your standard process or procedure should result in a quality product or achieve the desired result every time.

Knowledgeable and trained  personnel must have the SOP available to follow because no matter how many years’ experience they may have, even experts get stuck for a variety of factors. In fact, some experts know their jobs so well that they think they can skip or modify steps, take shortcuts, or do it from memory. This is a red flag!

The SOP should be written in a logical process flow that will allow someone looking for the cause of a failure later can pinpoint where  a difficulty arose. Reviewing the SOP with someone internally or externally who is checking or auditing your procedure should allow them to identify what and where things  went wrong.

When you have a point of failure, an examination of the SOP should indicate gaps or problems that can include one or more of a host of issues including materials, equipment, environment and much more. Often, a failure can point to the source of your complications by reading the SOP against practice.

A well-written procedure or best practice document will:

  1. Be written to describe the flow clearly to anyone trained on it
  2. Include every essential step without including extraneous steps or materials that can and should be accessed elsewhere
  3. Always be followed by everyone from the new hire to the veteran employee using the current SOP

Expect you will have changes to your SOPs on occasion. Expect you will need to review your documents periodically according to your SOP. And expect that when you have a clean, clear, streamlined SOP process that your errors should be few and easily identifiable.

To summarize, standard operating procedures and best practices need to follow procedures of their own so you can replicate what you do across your organization.  In other words, they need to be transparent. If they are the opposite of transparent – opaque – they are hard to follow and may result  in errors.

If you would like to talk to us about your SOP process, give us a call for a no-obligation preliminary review of your procedures.


Terry McGinn has worked in regulated industry for many years and has experience in written procedures that will help pass scrutiny of a regulatory authority inspection. To have a conversation about writing your standard operating procedures, write to us at to set up an appointment.  

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Standard Operating Procedures and Accountability: Perfect Together


By Terry McGinn and Peggy Salvatore

We’ve been getting quite a bit of interest and feedback regarding our series on standard operating procedures, so we’ll continue writing about this topic this week.

After all, inherent in the word “expert” is the idea that something is done correctly. Correct procedures and best practices need to be captured and passed on. Sometimes, though, it seems the only people who care if the SOPs are followed are the experts who wrote them.

Truth is, everyone needs to care. Accountability right down to the last man or woman is absolutely the key essential ingredient in ensuring regulatory compliance.

Train for Accountability

Employees who are tasked with executing the many small, incremental steps are responsible only for their piece of the process. Sometimes in the laser-focus on one task, people may lose sight of the bigger picture. That bigger picture – a safe product going out the door – needs to be reinforced occasionally. Training usually steps in here for both reinforcement and correction. When that fails, the regulatory authorities will notice. Companies get slapped with government warnings and fines at a higher rate than the average person may realize. But if you are in a regulated industry, you know how often you are out of compliance.

Think about dialing the failure point back to its origin. The failure point is when the SOP is not correctly written, understood and applied.

Only then does the employee fail to perform to specifications.

Only then will training have to step in for often very expensive correction.

Only that will happen when an audit reveals you are out of compliance with your SOPs, and the Corrective and Preventative Actions (CAPAs) applied at that point of failure. That doesn’t need to happen.

In a perfect world, it should look like this:

Point of Success

If your current plant is not operating flawlessly as above, identify your points of failure:

  1. How many people are asked to retrain personnel after a deviation or equipment issue?
  2. How many SOPs do you have? Are they overwhelming or conflicting?
  3. Are they easy to understand and do they follow a logical, stepwise process?
  4. After a deviation, is the SOP reviewed?
  5. Are people observing the CAPAs?

And, the big question…

Do your employees feel responsible and accountable for performing their jobs according to the SOPs in place?

Employees feel empowered when they are able to follow well-written SOPs, and when they are acknowledged for contributing to a well-run organization. Points of failure cannot be business as usual. Organizations that accept points of failure as the status quo have a company culture that unintentionally encourages non-compliance.

Maybe that is worth repeating:

Organizations that accept points of failure as the status quo have a company culture that unintentionally encourages non-compliance.

And the road to audit hell is paved with regulatory non-compliance.

The Solution

Dial back your points of process failure to the source.

Ask yourself:

  • Are my SOPs well written?
  • Do my employees feel a sense of responsibility for performing to specifications?

If your answer to either of those questions is, “No” or “I don’t know”, give us a call.

We would be happy to speak with you.

Unlike some problems in the universe, the problem of poorly-written and executed SOPs can be solved. Let’s do it.

Terry McGinn has worked in regulated industry for many years and has experience in written procedures that will help pass scrutiny of a regulatory authority inspection. To have a conversation, write to us at to set up an appointment.  

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

The Online Course Opportunity and Your Expertise

jazmin-quaynor-392995The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is typically one that is slow or completely non-existent for business. Traditionally, I use that week to do a lot of offline activities to plan for the upcoming year. This year I took two great online courses, and decided to build one of my own in 2018.

First, the plan.

The last few years, I went through Michael Hyatt’s Your Best Year Ever online course and found it very helpful in the way it structures your planning process, challenges your assumptions, pressure tests your goals and is full of logical advice. He has captured the course in a book that launches today, Tuesday January 2, and if you grab it now it comes with some bonuses available until the end of the week, Friday January 5. His bonuses are terrific  and will help you apply what you learn in the book. If you are still in your planning stage for 2018, I recommend it. Here’s a link that will get you the book and bonuses.

As part of my 2018 goals, I am going to build an online course to accompany the launch of my next book due out later this year. The book, Retaining Expert Knowledge: What to Keep in an Age of Information Overload, takes the Working with SMEs series into some new territory. Writing this book met one of my 2017 goals to write a book with a major publisher, and I am very happy about meeting that goal. (More about the upcoming book in later blog posts.) Writing a book is just the first step, however, because it is getting the book and ideas out to the public that is the most important part of the process.

As part of that effort, I am going to build an online course to help readers apply the content of Retaining Expert Knowledge to their areas of expertise and their companies. Which leads me to the second course I took last week.

Executing the Plan

Big plans are accomplished one small step at a time. As Michael Hyatt says in his course (paraphrased), you only need to take the next small step to attain big goals. If your goal is big, hairy and audacious enough, you won’t know exactly how to get there. Hyatt advises that you set goals outside your comfort zone and take the very next small step that you can see, and it will usually appear in the form of resources or some kind of help that you need. That is exactly what happened. I had signed up with an elearning hosting platform, and they offered a course to make the most of your investment.

For three days, I delved into how to use this particular online platform and now I am very excited about building and presenting an online course for Retaining Expert Knowledge.

The course reminded us:

  1. Online learning is mainstream.
  2. Education is now lifelong.
  3. People want bite-sized information.
  4. Information wants to be free.
  5. The size of the online opportunity is about to explode.

Learning from Experts

For those experts who read this blog and the trainers who work with them, that list tells us that we’ve only just begun. As knowledge and information explodes, we have so much to share and people have less time to absorb it. It is a great time to share what you know and do it in a way that you can reach a lot of people.

Massive amounts of information are free or very inexpensive. Because information is free, you have to earn the space you take up in someone’s brain. Keep it short. Keep it relevant. And provide value. Blogs are one of the new “free information” sources, as well as endless streams of webinars, podcasts and more.

That is why when building a course for sale, experts need to build premium courses.  Your Expertise 101 is free, and Your Expertise 301 premium course has some price attached to it as well as support that helps your learners apply the information.

Today is the first workday of 2018. It is exciting to do what we love. And it is equally exciting to share what we love. If you are an expert in some area and have something to share or teach, think about the fact that adult learning is all-the-time, online, bite-sized and much of it is free.

You don’t have to wait to be asked. Get out there and share what you’ve got. People want to know. You can be part of the knowledge explosion.


Can Experts Teach? Well, Sometimes…

aaron-ang-61849   Yesterday I met for coffee with an expert in operational efficiency. He runs workshops, and he observed that the experts he has met have trouble teaching what they know. He said the best teachers are people who are middling performers – people he described as performing at 60 to 80 percent of someone who is excellent.

Because middling performers have had to work so hard to be good enough, they understand how to acquire their craft, skill or knowledge. They know the steps so well because they figured them out so they could attempt to replicate greatness.

Greatness, on the other hand, just is. And people who are great, just are. They can’t tell you how they do what they do because it is instinctual and innate. Therefore, my coffee companion concluded, it is pretty hard to get a great person to teach a class or teach anyone anything effectively.

This observation is the basis for the Working with SMEs book in which I describe the innately great person as an unconscious competent, they don’t even know what they know, so they have trouble telling others. The book explains why the conscious competent –  the person who knows what they know and how they learned it – is the best teacher of a craft, skill or knowledge. In their struggles, the conscious competent has put the building blocks in place to acquire something valuable.

We can probably all think of exceptions to this situation, but for the most part, he was correct.

Mel Torme – arguably one of the greatest jazz singers of all time – recorded a master class for PBS in the early 1960s where he described some of his technique. On the other hand, when you observe his face and mouth, and listen to his tone, you know how much of what he did was purely instinctive and based somewhere in his soul.

Imagine Picasso teaching someone how to paint. Then look at Guernica and imagine the mind that conceived those images. That greatness came deep from within his soul, and went far beyond paint, brush and canvas to the very meaning of existence.

For a genius in the world of science, read Ray Kurzweil who imagined artificial intelligence and leads humanity to the next level of possibility through technology.

Hard to teach that kind of inspiration.

To find a teacher, look for someone who has broken down the components of a piece of greatness into replicable chunks.

To find your own greatness, look deep inside yourself and find your truth. Everyone is a great something, and your soul knows what that is.

Photo by Aaron Ang on Unsplash






Vantage Point of the Expert Takes You Out of the Instructional Design Box

ben-white-197668  Twice this week, experts around me reminded me about the unique way they see the world and how it impacts the way their knowledge gets passed on.

In fact, twice this week I faced experts with important lifetimes of knowledge within them who had thought deeply about how best to package and move that information beyond them to others who can benefit from it. In both cases, their solutions are unique and complex but necessary to the tasks they have set forth.


One communications expert is searching for ways to teach his very unique skill set to the several generations behind him. Like any skill, acquiring and mastering it takes physical practice. The value of his method has been proven over decades and he is recognized for his system by world-class organizations. But beyond the one-on-one practice sessions where he teaches his system, the long view requires setting up a practice pattern among participants until the habit is engrained in the students and the system is part of a culture.

In a world where we communicate mostly via smartphones and computers, it is increasingly difficult to engage people for extended periods of time in face-to-face human interaction. Yet in a time of increased human-to-device interface, the human interaction required for interpersonal skill practice has never been more important.

The basic skill set requires two humans –  not a human and a computer-based role play or a human and a disembodied AI voice. While those two options were my first thoughts, this expert makes it clear that the lessons to be taught and the skills to be learned require human beings involved in the process over time.

This expert’s dilemma highlights that learning technologies won’t fit all needs, and we are faced with the limitations of moving this type of skill to an online platform.  Only the expert understands his system well enough to transfer it, and he has come to realize that he will need something akin to 12 disciples who can carry the practice forward by geometrically dispersing the interpersonal skill practice required.

By the Book

The second expert is a process genius. Quite simply, he sees patterns in numbers and relationships where others only see isolated data. He has a lifetime of imposing order on what others perceive to be random information, and doing it in a way that saved and makes corporations many times over his value as a consultant.

Today, as he considers retirement, he is assembling his lifetime of knowledge into a searchable database of information. Each individual business insight is broken down into steps. The project will involve 100 or more related experts before it is through.

This challenge is more about organization than content, as the actual content is straightforward. However, each bit of information relates to the whole in several ways which creates an interwoven matrix of content that must be easily cross-referenced.

The Expert Knows Best

Two experts. Two radically different areas of expertise. And two completely different approaches to capturing, storing and transferring knowledge.

Proving once again, working with experts is as individual as their knowledge, their backgrounds, and the unique characteristics of what they have to offer. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions when you are working with true experts with a lifetime of knowledge, skills and attitudes that led to great success. They have put a lot of thought into developing their areas of expertise, many hours teaching others, they know what works, and it pays to follow their instincts when you are capturing it for posterity.

Sometimes your expert is the best source for how to transfer what they know. Best not to try to squeeze them into an instructional design box because their expertise just won’t fit.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Your Experts and Your IT Department – Data Integrity Best Practice

ilya-pavlov-87438  Somewhere in your organization whether it’s on a mainframe, in the cloud, resident on someone’s PC or in a paper file somewhere, just about every piece of data lives, breathes and is waiting to be put to good use.

Even in the best circumstances, often your data inputs are not easily accessible or completely accurate.

As organizations begin to understand the importance of data integrity in an age where data is your company’s gold mine, it is a good time to engage your experts across the organization to verify and bolster your current information assets.

Your data adventure has a few distinct phases:

  1. Locating all relevant data for all parts of the organization
  2. Organizing and archiving it for easy access
  3. Updating as necessary
  4. Migrating everything to your most recent platform – new forms, new enterprise software
  5. Ensuring that your data migration involves people at every stage who can ensure the integrity of your data and the integrity of the way it is handled – from subject matter experts to IT professionals and archivists
  6. Analyzing information collection and storage methods so the way it is collected is consistent and can be retrieved in a logical way – this includes making sure your data fields are named clearly, your forms are clear and your files are logical
  7. Giving IT the responsibility for locking down sensitive data and making it tamper-resistant, including establishing audit trails
  8. Engaging legal to make sure you are handling data correctly in the case of any information that is subject to laws, rules and regulations – this can save you millions or even billions of dollars in fines, lawsuits and such

Your information is your organization’s most important asset. Your data tells you what you are doing right, where your problems lie, what your customers think and how your employees are performing – just to name a few items. If you have a problem or question, you already have the answers. The key to thriving is to make sure you can find what you need, when you need it, in a form that is usable.

No time is too soon to start to review your information collection, storage and retrieval practices, and establish some guidelines to make increase the value of your most important asset.

Are you engaging your experts to make sure your information is accurate?

Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash


Researchers: For Your Eyes Only


Experts do research. Experts generate research papers. Those papers are referenced by other researchers. And so on. Sometimes you can get lost in the thick and sticky wickets of peer-reviewed journals searching for an arcane piece of information.

For those who live in the world of research and journal articles, you put forth painstaking and time-consuming care in finding the right papers with the latest and most relevant material to support your case. Paul Allen, the lesser-known Microsoft founder, recently put some of his considerable resources toward helping researchers enjoy a better AI-enhanced search engine. Launched in 2015, Semantic  Scholar was originally populated with 3 million computer science papers. Today, it boasts more than 40 million papers, many in the biomedical and environmental fields as well.

While Semantic Scholar has been available for two years, it caught my attention when I was doing some research for a biopharmaceutical company a few weeks ago. The Economist October 19, 2017 edition included a story that mentioned an updated version had just been launched that added 26 million biomedical research papers to its existing 12 million. I jumped on the site to test it out. What makes Semantic Scholar special, and different from other search engines like Google Scholar, is that it uses AI to search and categorize articles relevant to your specific needs rather than relying simply on rankings or citations in other papers based on your search terms.

I was looking for papers that combined two topics not commonly addressed in the same article – on the business and the medicine of a particular disease. The search netted me some good hits that met those unique criteria and sent me to the same reliable publication sources I would normally search. Overall, I had a good experience and recommend it.

From The Economist description:

Like most AI systems, the new Semantic Scholar relies on a neural network – a computer architecture inspired by the way real neurons connect to each other. Neural networks are able to learn tasks by trial-and-error. Miss [Marie] Hagman’s team [the project’s leader] wished to bend their network to the task of recognising [sic] scientific phrases and their contexts…”

To do this Ms Hagman asked four medical researchers to annotate ten entire research papers and 67 isolated abstracts, which were to serve as fodder for the training process. The annotators read the papers and abstracts, and highlighted within them a total of about 7,000 medical ‘topics’ (particular diseases, particular genes, particular proteins and so on). Between these topics they identified some 2,000 pairwise relationships, such as a particular gene encoding a particular protein, or being associated with a particular disease.

That done, they fed the results into the neural network, which, based on the context of a topic (ie, the words surrounding it in the various places it appears) and the pairwise relationships identified by the researchers, was able to find new topics and relationships to add to the hoard. The team then improved the network’s performance by presenting it with previously unseen papers to annotate, and correcting its suggestions until it was able, without help, to annotate such papers correctly. It can now identify 368,071 topics (mentioned a total of 236,979,862 times) and 6,756,863 relationships in the 38m papers available to it.

The upshot is that both scholars and laymen can pull out clutches of papers on particular topics from the database, with a reasonable presumption that those papers are the ones most pertinent to their needs.”

In my experience, that claim is true. For those whose job includes research, this tool is well worth investigating.

Have you had experience with Semantic Scholar or other search engines? We’d like to hear about it in the comment section below.

Photo by Olu Eletu on Unsplash


As Human Interface Rides into the Sunset, the Industrial Internet of Things Comes to Town


The Industrial Internet of Things or IIoT is emerging as a business imperative. The IIoT is the interconnectivity of all parts of your process with a central brain that monitors business health from whether a machine is running properly to tracking shipments in transit in real time. You name it, and it can be connected, monitored, measured, adjusted, scrapped or recalibrated. All without human intervention.

Just the data derived from this information is priceless, which is why companies are jumping on board to integrate smart systems throughout their organizations.

What does this mean for Jack who ran that machine for 35 years and knew by the sound and smell whether it needed repair? Yes, it means you don’t need Jack anymore. Sensors can do that now, and probably better than Jack, because they can be calibrated to read things like vibrations and other leading indicators of trouble on that machine. But that doesn’t put Jack out of a job. Jack just needs to consider a new career in IT.

A friend who works for a pharmaceutical company has developed a sensing device to help customers monitor inventory. When he presented the concept to investors, they were excited not just about the tech behind the device but more excited about the value of the data that could be collected across the supply chain. When sensors are providing accurate feedback on a regular basis- no matter where they are installed – that information has the potential to be priceless.

In an article in IT Business Edge last week, author Carl Weinschenk discussed the results of interviews with several company exeuctives and found there is a lot of excitement about the business potential of the IIoT to eliminate waste, serve customers, increase efficiency and productivity and reduce downtime to name a few benefits. The hurdles remain, and chief among them is to find people who can operate the IIoT…it,s very clear that the great difficult we’re seeing is finding people with the right expertise…In some parts of the technology stack, it’s not too difficult (especially connectivity), but in others it’s still quite difficult, wrote one respondent.

A lot of currently embedded technology is not connectivity-friendly and most companies will require a complete integrated upgrade to take full advantage of the potential. Vendors, suppliers, and other related systems must be considered. And then, of course, there is the need to secure of all that valuable information generated by an IIoT implementation.

Just like other leaps in technology and progress throughout history, this one will take a lot of experts with different skills sets than the experts you have today. Competition will be fierce when all your competitors can make split second decisions based on real time data.

It’s time to groom the next generation of experts who will have skill sets relevant to the IIoT much the way industrial engineers of the World War II generation introduced all new management techniques and organizational structures to support the evolving workplace of the mid-20th Century.

For more information, go to the Industrial Internet Consortium.

Photo by Greta Scholderle Moller on Unsplash

From the Twitterverse: The Importance of Critical Thinking Skills

Capture Okay. I admit it. I love Twitter. I often find out what is happening in the world by following news and information threads.  See #RedSox, for example. But not this week.

The Twitterverse is teaming with inspirational quotes, opportunities to peer quickly into the minds of others (for good or ill!) and creates a place for community and conversation.

The other day I caught this quote from Einstein posted by a Boston University professor:

Told of Edison’s view that a knowledge of facts was vitally important, Einstein disagreed. “A person doesn’t need to go to college to learn facts. He can get them from books. The value of a liberal arts college education is that it trains the mind to think. And that’s something you can’t learn from textbooks.”

Einstein’s quote was never more true in this age of burgeoning information. Replace the word “books” with “the internet”, then replace the word “textbooks” with “a search engine”, and it is obvious that this sentiment is truer today than when it was spoken nearly 100 years ago.

This dramatic uptick in information is evident in the way companies choose  which information to store and transfer, and affects the types of skills and training that the modern corporation must encourage to grow and prosper. Today, a company’s money is well spent on teaching discernment about the relative merit of almost limitless information and on educating employees about the application of the relevant to the task at hand.

Translation for your corporate knowledge management plan:

1. Discern what information is critical and particular to your organization

2. Spend your finite resources to preserve and transfer that information to your employees

3. Spend the rest of your training dollars teaching people how to think, discern, and apply what they know to your challenges

Take it from Einstein.

[Thanks to Boston University Professor of International Studies Vesko Garcevic for the Tweet. Follow @VeskoGarcevic ]


Until Robots Make Humans Obsolete, What’s Your Plan?


According to futurist Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, he estimated back in 2001 that knowledge will double every 12 months in this century. With such rapid proliferation of knowledge, it begs the question how long experts remain so and what bits of information are important, essential, need to be captured and carried on – or really have any value at all – in light of the rapid progress in robots and artificial intelligence.

For those of us who follow developments in the training world, you know that we are learning how to train robots.  Research is making the leap so that robots can now acquire learning that builds on prior knowledge – you know, the same way we silly old humans learn.

If you believe the future is here, you are right. However, if you believe you still have to operate in the present, you are also right.

For those of us still living in the pre-AI world, we need to continue to contend with the issues of human knowledge capture, retention and transfer between generations of workers for the ongoing success of your enterprise. What and how you capture, preserve and transfer information will change over time, which is a different discussion. For now, consider that you have knowledge under your roof that is the lifeblood of your organization today and preserving it against an imminent loss of expertise remains crucial.

Making a Plan to Retain Human Knowledge Until the Robots Take Over

If your experts flee to retirement or leave your organization for any other reason, you are still vulnerable to losing their valuable knowledge, skills and attitudes to fulfill your mission effectively, efficiently and in a cost-responsible way today.

What are you doing right now to make sure you keep your expertise under your roof even if your experts leave?

Here’s what you can do about these issues in your organization today:

  • Raise awareness. Speak to your organization’s decision makers to help them analyze their risk of losing valuable expertise
  • Get a plan. Explore methods to help you dissect your organization for areas where you are vulnerable to losing your critical experts
  • Work your plan. Identify and capture intelligence from individual experts in your organization

Think about it. Until the robots take over, you still need to rely on the humans that got you where you are.

In my book Finding Your SMEs: Capturing Knowledge From Retiring Subject Matter Experts in Your Organization Before They Leave, I lay out a pathway to dissect your organization, find your experts, decide where to spend your finite resources to preserve knowledge and explore options for preserving and transferring knowledge in an age of rapid change in technology and the way we learn.

Contact us at to schedule a call to discuss capturing expertise as part of your knowledge management plan.

Photo courtesy of Davide Ragusa on Unsplash.