A very simple formula:
Increase in size of organization = Increase in number of SOPs = Increase in Complexities = Increase in absurdity
A few years back I used to work in a MNC which had a great number of processes. Infact the organization took pride in it. Coming in from an ' Indian' company I was pretty much in awe of them!
A month or two when I was in the thick of things, I happened to be in a meeting where we had guests from other organizations. This meeting was of significant importance and this had important business ramifications for all of us.
Being the wonderful host that we were, we decided to offer our guests some hot beverages. We called the service staff and asked them to serve our guests the beverages. Pretty simple - all they needed to do was pick some tea & coffee from the nearest vending machine and serve it our guests (infact it was a part of their job). Much to our surprise and shock, the voice from the other side pointed out that 'according to the SOP you were supposed to order for tea and coffee 24 hours in advance. Since this was not done the service cannot be done'
Shocked faces, followed by peals of laughter was the result. We had to sheepishly ask our guests to walk across to the vending machine and help themselves to tea and coffee. But surprises never end - when we reached our destination, we saw the same service staff enjoying themselves to same beverages!
SOPs can be a great provider of mirth. The other day I received the millionth call from a loan provider stating that 'since I had an excellent credit record I could avail myself of a 'huge' loan'. To which I replied that I would be delighted to avail it at 0% for an indefinite period. Ooops! Not part of the script (SOP)! the reply I got was stutters , shock and finally ' how can we do that?' End of call.
There are many examples where all of us encounter such situations. And somehow this is only increasing.
I do respect SOPs and do understand the importance but there are certain limitations. They are good for things mechanical and technical. However it is not a panacea for all systemic flaws. Somehow SOPs have been used as a convenient tool of excuses, incompetence, procrastination and avoid decisions.
Organizations need to differentiate and understand the usage of SOPs. Use it where necessary and do away with it when it is not needed. Maybe that itself will call for another SOP !!!!