How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure (+SOP Template)
In the bustling heart of business operations, employees stand as the engine – their energy fuels tasks, propels growth, and generates results. As these crucial components and workflows dictate their roles, their effectiveness is not solely attributed to individual skill or dedication. In fact, a large portion of their success hinges on the clarity of process documentation and step-by-step instructions provided by management. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why businesses turn to a fundamental tool to guide their workflow operations— standard operating procedures, known as SOPs.
But SOPs aren’t only operational roadmaps; they’re much more akin to a sophisticated GPS system of a high-performance vehicle. These strategic blueprints navigate the multifaceted terrain of today’s business environment, ensuring that your organizational vehicle always remains on track and on schedule.
An SOP’s influence is significant in directing the daily duties of your workforce, but their role becomes even more pivotal when it comes to knowledge management and digital adoption.
As we continue to ride the rising wave of digital transformation, SOPs have emerged as unsung heroes of business operations. They facilitate effective knowledge management, ensuring that crucial know-how is captured, updated, and accessible. They ease the transition towards digital adoption, providing consistent guidelines as businesses implement new technologies. These strategic powerhouses can indeed become the drivers steering your business toward unprecedented productivity, unrivaled efficiency, and industry-leading success.
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 is an SOP?
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are detailed guidelines that provide employees with step-by-step instructions on how to carry out important business processes and routine tasks.
What Are SOP Documents?
SOP documents serve as a playbook that outlines step-by-step instructions for completing a task with the goal of ensuring high-quality output, enhancing efficiency and productivity, and minimizing miscommunication and ambiguity.
Different teams create different types of SOPs depending on the task at hand. For example:
- HR teams may create an SOP for their employee onboarding process
- Sales teams may create a sales onboarding SOP
- Manufacturers may create an SOP for team members to manage machine maintenance
7 Benefits of Using 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 and 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. Creating handover documentation and 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.
8 Types of SOPs
SOPs can be categorized into several types, depending on the nature and scope of the tasks they aim to standardize. Here are the main types of SOPs:
1. Procedure SOPs
These are the most common type of SOP, focusing on a specific operation or procedure within an organization. They detail the step-by-step instructions needed to complete a task.
2. Process SOPs
These SOPs are used to guide the execution of a process, often within manufacturing or laboratory environments. They cover a sequence of operations or events progressively leading to an end result.
3. Technical/Equipment SOPs
These SOPs provide instructions on how to operate a piece of equipment or machinery. They can include guidelines for routine maintenance, troubleshooting, and safety precautions.
4. Administrative SOPs
These SOPs cover administrative procedures within an organization. They might deal with topics like financial operations, human resources processes, data handling, or compliance with regulations.
5. Safety SOPs
These SOPs are developed to ensure workplace safety, particularly in industries like construction, chemicals, and healthcare. They provide guidelines for handling hazardous materials, operating machinery safely, and responding to emergencies.
6. Quality assurance SOPs
These SOPs detail the steps needed to maintain quality control within an organization, ensuring that products or services consistently meet certain standards.
7. Emergency SOPs
These SOPs provide guidance for responding to emergency situations. They’re used to ensure a coordinated, timely, and effective response during emergencies, such as fire, medical emergencies, or natural disasters.
8. Training SOPs
These SOPs are designed to guide training processes, ensuring that employees receive consistent and comprehensive instruction in their roles and responsibilities.
Key Elements of an SOP
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 processes 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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4 Common SOP Formats
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.
How to Write an Effective 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. Write the initial 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.
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.
6. Distribute the SOP
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 the 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.
The importance of SOPs cannot be overstated. As businesses navigate the complex and ever-evolving digital landscape, SOPs have shown themselves to be an invaluable compass, guiding teams toward standardized, effective, and efficient operations.
But creating, implementing, and managing SOPs is no small feat. It requires a solution that can simplify the process, one that is flexible, intuitive, and robust. That’s where Whatfix comes in. As a leading digital adoption platform (DAP), Whatfix streamlines the creation and implementation of SOPs, making them easily accessible and understandable for all employees. The platform supports the crucial task of managing SOPs throughout their lifecycle – from creation to revision and eventually, retirement.
By leveraging the power of Whatfix, businesses can ensure that their SOPs are more than just documents—they become living, evolving guides that foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. In doing so, businesses not only increase their operational efficiency, but also drive effective knowledge management.
Explore how Whatfix can redefine your SOP experience and drive your business toward a future of unprecedented success today.
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