How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure (+SOP Template)
Organizations employ people to execute business processes, drive growth, and produce results. However, the outcomes of these processes do not entirely depend on the employee – but also on the process documentation created by leadership. To ensure that business processes run smoothly, organizations rely on standard operating procedures (SOPs).
What is an SOP?
SOPs are step-by-step instructions laid out for employees to guide them on how to complete and execute key business processes and day-to-day, routine tasks.
If you are working with SOPs for the first time, or need help with putting them in place, this article will help you in understanding, writing, and implementing SOPs for your organization.
What Are SOP Documents?
An SOP document contains step-by-step instructions as to how employees must go about completing certain tasks and processes within an organization. Think of it as a playbook that easily explains how to complete a task. The main objective of an SOP is to ensure the quality of output, improve efficiency and productivity, and reduce miscommunication and ambiguity.
Different teams create different types of SOPs depending on the task at hand. For example
The Benefits of SOPs
SOPs help eliminate disorganization from your business and improve the functioning of your day-to-day operations. Here are some of the major benefits of SOPs:
1. Save time and resources
Without specific standards and instructions for executing tasks, organizations spend excess time and resources trying something new each time. Plus, there is no guarantee that even after spending all that time learning how to complete a task that you’ll even get the execution right.
With an SOP, the “figuring out” part is out of the equation, as rules and guidelines streamline workflows and ensure employees complete a process as per a set standard. This improves employee productivity, drives team efficiency, and allows organizations to become process-orientated companies.
2. Facilitate compliance
There are regulations that guide certain businesses in various industries to protect their customers and maintain safety and sanity in the field. Having SOPs in place ensures that industry compliance standards are followed and met properly. SOPs put measures in place so that employees comply with relevant laws, policies, and regulations, as well as avoid any litigation or risk.
3. Ensure consistency
When businesses generate a high-quality product, you want to maintain that quality in the future. Creating SOPs is like providing a blueprint for the production line which maintains quality, creates consistency, protects the integrity of your product, and ensures that your product or service is created in the same way from – start to finish.
4. Hold employees accountable
Accountability at work is in your company’s and workforce’s best interest. Fostering a culture of accountability boosts employee morale and productivity, and provides your employees with a sense of ownership that they need to thrive.
Having SOPs in place empowers managers to property gauge employee performance based upon a predetermined set of guidelines provided by them, providing transparency on who is responsible if (or when) things go wrong. Without proper work standards, understanding and improving employee performance becomes much more difficult for leaders and people managers.
5. Better communication
It’s not always easy for employees to correctly interpret or understand directions given by managers on various – often complex – processes. Additionally, not all managers have the bandwidth to communicate with employees on a daily basis.
SOPs make life easier for both managers and their employees, as managers no longer need to provide detailed instructions on workflows to each employee individually. At the same time, employees no longer need to go back to their managers again and again when they have questions on any work-related processes. Employees are empowered to become self-sufficient reassess an SOP document whenever they feel the need for a refresher. This allows employees to have on-demand support in the flow of work, letting them continue with their tasks without wasting time.
6. Promotes knowledge-sharing culture
If your organization relies solely on employees remembering key details of your business processes by memory and not in a procedural manual, what happens when that employee decides to leave your organization? With a proper knowledge management (KM) strategy, turnover can be disastrous. Documenting SOPs allow you to preserve key organizational information so that it doesn’t leave the organization when employee do – empowering companies to embody a culture of knowledge sharing.
7. Better onboarding and training
Employee training programs are a significant part of an organization’s growth and success. Organizations that design an effective employee training strategy are rewarded with a well-trained, productive workforce that contributes at a high level to their company’s growth and goals.
Training-related SOPs help standardize the employee onboarding process and other training programs. It ensures that all new hires receive the same training across the same topics and responsibilities, in the same amount of time. An example of this would be an SOP for new hires that contains an employee onboarding checklist of must-complete tasks for all new team members.
These guidelines not only ensure that new employees settle in quickly, but also save time and money in the long term.
Types of SOPs
Here are a few examples of common types of SOP documents:
1. Step-by-Step Tutorials
As the name suggests, a step-by-step tutorial describes a particular procedure in relevant, easy to follow steps that empower employees to finish a specific task efficiently. These SOPs are best suited for simple tasks.
Checklists are one of the most simple methods of writing an SOP document. It can be outlined on Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or an online note-taking app such as Evernote or Notion and can be printed for employees to mark as they complete steps. To create a checklist, you create a main header for the process you are creating the checklist for and add relevant checklist items that employees need to follow in order to complete the task at hand.
3. Hierarchical Lists
If your procedures are complex and need detailed information, create hierarchical checklists to avoid explaining a simple process in a lengthy way. It is a great way to simplify all the business processes into one, centralized document.
Flowcharts represent how a process works visually. They present better context for easier workflow understanding. A flowchart also shows how one step is closely related to another, helping employees conceptualize an entire concept and have a clear understanding of an overall process.
What Is the Ideal SOP Format?
Here are some common structural elements found in standard operating procedures (SOP):
- Title Page: The title page of your SOP contains identifying information about the document, including a unique identification number, date of creation,, department/employees/team the SOP applies to, and the name and signatures of the parties involved in creating the SOP.
- Table of Contents: Acts as a guide for the reader to quickly jump to any relevant section(s). They are particularly helpful for longer process with an SOP document that is longer than a few pages.
- Purpose: Explain the goals and objectives for creating the SOP and how it will benefit the user and the organization.
- Scope: Describes the limits of the document and helps the reader understand its boundaries.
- Roles and Responsibilities: Identify key stakeholders (employees, managers) to be involved in a given process, and define their roles and responsibilities in the SOP’s creation.
- Procedures: This section describes the step-by-step explanations to be followed while completing a task and any additional information needed to complete the tasks.
- Resources and Materials: Define the tools, technology, resources, and other necessary information required for completing the procedure.
- Health and safety warnings: Describe all safety precautions for employees to take care of.
- Revision History: Add a revision history to ensure readers that the SOP is up-to-date.
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How to Write an Effective Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
Follow these seven steps and you’ll be on your way to creating helpful SOPs for your workforce.
1. Choose a format
You can choose from a variety of formats when it comes to presenting your SOP. The format will vary depending on the job roles, tasks, length, and details of your SOP. You can refer to our “types of SOPs” section above to determine which of the formats will be most effective for your team.
The best course of action here is to go with the most simple format. For instance, if there’s no need to include an additional explanation or potential contingencies, a simple checklist list may be sufficient; if each step in the process can potentially lead to multiple outcomes, a flowchart is likely necessary.
2. Identify your audience
It’s important for you to know who will actually be engaging in the procedures in order to make the SOP document as contextual and useful as possible. Simply put, your audience will guide the level of detail needed in your SOP.
To know more about your audience, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are they new employees?
- What’s the size of the audience?
- What prior knowledge do they have?
- Does an SOP already exist for them?
The more information you have on the audience, the more you’ll understand their point of view. This will help you create an SOP that is relevant to them.
3. Collaborate with employees and ask for input
It is important for you to collaborate with all personnel who will be engaging in, or impacted by, your SOP. This allows you to get an idea of best practices and ensure that you’re covering every step in the process.
Generally, your SOP development team should consist of:
- C-level executives – for developing lean operations to achieve high-level business goals
- Management leaders – for developing best practices, defining necessary use of resources, and determining a plan for implementing SOP
- Ground-level employees – for determining the validity and plausibility of the SOP in terms of logistics and resource consumption
Creator of your SOP – specializing in technical writing skills and having in-depth knowledge of your company’s processes
4. Writing the SOP draft
Once you have spoken to your employees who will be involved in creating the SOP and have chosen the best format to use, you can begin planning out the SOP document draft. Provide whatever information you feel will be helpful to the user while making sure that it is relevant to the document.
Here are a few best practices for you to keep in mind while writing your SOP:
- Include illustrations, flow charts, or images to make your document more interactive.
- Ensure that the sentences are brief, simple, and written in common terms.
- Ensure that the steps are written in simple action-oriented verbs.
- Use neatly written short sentences, bulleted items, or lists.
- Don’t make readers sift through paragraphs of text to find what they need in the SOPs.
- Use headers to break up your text.
- Link out to any additional resources or help guides that may exist in your Sharepoint, Google Drive, or internal knowledge base.
TIP: SOP software assists leaders in creating standard operating procedures by empowering them with tools to write, publish, share, and optimize process documents.
5. Review, test, and edit
Once you are done creating the document, it’s time to go through it with your stakeholders and management to gather feedback and input. Additionally, to see how the SOP works in practice, ask some of your employees (the SOP’s end-users) to test it out and identify any gaps or errors in the process. For instance – say you have a sales team of 10; identify 3 sales team members to follow and test the new procedure.
The review and controlled testing of new SOPs allow you to gather comparative data on its performance and make specific and focused amendments to your SOP before “officially” rolling it.
After you are done creating the SOPs, you’ve come to the most essential part of the process -distribution. It’s crucial to find a place to store all your standard operating procedures (SOP) and other training material for employees to easily access. In today’s workplace, the most effective way to distribute an SOP is through a mobile workplace apps that give every employee access to the document on their mobile devices. Many organizations also rely on knowledge bases and internal wikis to store help guides, training manuals, and SOPs.
7. Maintain your SOP over time
Now that the SOP is created and distributed, it’s time to set up some rules to periodically review it for relevancy and accuracy in the future. Maintenance is of utmost importance. Without a periodic review and update session, your SOPs can quickly become out-of-date which would lead to a complete waste of the time and energy invested into it. To keep this from happening, facilitate the periodic review process for your SOPs.
Standard operating procedures can do a lot of good for your business. It is an excellent communication tool that helps improve your work processes, employee learning, and policies to achieve overall quality with your deliverables. The clear-cut, comprehensive SOPs also help train new employees, enable your workforce to efficiently handle their tasks, and keep their productivity and consistency in check.
Learn how you can use Whatfix to create no-code training and support content directly in your digital applications such as interactive flows, app tours, task lists, tooltips, and more – while also embedding contextual links to your SOPs.