Standard Operating Procedures: This is the way we’ve always done it.

By LTC Randy James, Aviation Division, Directorate of Assessments and Prevention, U.S. Army Combat Readiness CenterSeptember 2, 2020

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As we near the end of the 4th Quarter of Fiscal Year 2020, the year has been fraught with numerous challenges requiring individual units, Army aviation, and the Army as a whole to review how it operates. Whether this is due to changes in the unit mission, in airframes, progress in future vertical lift, or the results of COVID, everyone must review how to execute training and operations within the new environment. Additionally, over the past 6 months, FlightFax focused primarily on the 4th Quarter Spike looking at how we assess, train, and transition our units deliberately. To be most effective, we must ensure that we codify these changes and best practices in standard operating procedures (SOP) to maintain standardization and continuity across our organizations as well as reduce overall workload.

What is the purpose of an SOP?

According to Joint Publication (JP) 3-31, Joint Land Operations, “a standard operating procedure is a set of instructions applicable to those features of operations that lend themselves to a definite or standardized procedure without the loss of effectiveness.” Therefore, the purpose of an SOP is to standardize how a unit operates through the use of organizational best practices to preserve the efficacy of the organization. Through the use of an SOP, each individual Soldier has a ready reference to understand how a unit operates and how specific tasks are to be accomplished at a specific unit. The SOP itself clarifies the nuances of operating within the limitations and challenges specific to each individual unit’s circumstances to preserve and often improve efficacy.

How does the SOP reduce workload and improve safety?

Standard operating procedures can vastly reduce workload by garnering efficiency in operations. When developing an SOP, standardization provides common, tested procedures for executing specific tasks whether maintenance, administrative, operational or many others in accordance with the best practices of the specific unit and mission. Additionally, since the procedure is established in writing and derived from appropriate regulations, it provides a single point of reference for all Soldiers conducting the task. This process eliminates wasted effort from each Soldier trying to determine his/her own version of the best way to execute a task. Furthermore, as part of the assessment process, SOPs address associated safety challenges to prevent accidental loss, preserve Army assets, and maintain unit effectiveness. Finally, it eliminates the loss of best practices due to Soldier turnover in the unit. The standardized procedure is codified for continuity, safety, and efficiency in the SOP.

Is this really how we do it?

When someone asks the question of “Why are you doing it this way?” during a task, many hear the response of, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” However, this statement alone doesn’t give a sufficient answer as unit operational environments change. If an action is in fact the way it has always been done and is the best way to preserve effectiveness, then, it should be reflected in the unit SOP for standardization across the organization. If the action is not the most effective or codified in an SOP, then, the organization must conduct a reevaluation of the task to determine the best way to execute and then standardize the process. Following this evaluation, the determined best practice should then be incorporated into the unit SOP. The answer should never be “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” The answer should be “Because it’s in accordance with our SOP.”

Over time, the environment of the organization will continue to evolve with some changes more drastic than others. At a minimum, all SOPs should be reviewed and verified with the change of every program manager, coordinator, and/or commander to ensure the SOP remains valid. Essentially, whenever the signature block of the SOP changes, the SOP must be updated. In order to do this, the reviewer and signer must assess how the unit operates given the most current situation or forecasted unit environment and update the SOP. This ensures that the unit remains effective and efficient.

How has this changed recently?

Over the past 6 months, the operational environment has changed drastically due to the introduction of COVID-19 as part of our everyday lives. It has impacted daily routines, training, and operations due to social distancing requirements, changing schedules at work, additional personal protective equipment (PPE), changes in a permanent change of station (PCS)/deployment timelines, and other aspects peculiar to each unit. Over time, units continue to develop new ways to mitigate these challenges and change operations for safety, effectiveness and efficiency. These hard lessons learned have provided numerous modified and standardized procedures that should be codified in an SOP for all members of the unit to understand. As the environment and COVID-19 restrictions change, new challenges will arise necessitating a review of the SOPs to adapt to the next environment.


When was the last time your unit reviewed its SOPs? SOPs are there to support unit effectiveness, reduce workload, and improve safety through standardization of processes. SOPs must be validated often and updated as the environment, personnel, and standards evolve over time. They are designed to alleviate the need to tell each individual Soldier how to do a particular task instead of having them know, understand, and internalize a proven, standardized process. Standard operating procedures are there to improve overall unit performance.