Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) – Guide & Examples

No matter what business you’re in, you probably have a specific way of getting things done.

But things are constantly changing, employees come and go, and your business has to keep delivering high-quality products/services regardless of the obstacles.

So how can you maintain steady consistency of your end results?

That’s where standard operating procedures (SOPs) come in! SOPs help you break down even the most complex process so even a novice can complete it from start to finish.

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about SOPs including:

  • What’s a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?
  • How to Write an SOP
  • How to use Process.st for your SOPs

Let’s dive in!

What’s a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?

A standard operating procedure, or SOP, is a set of detailed step-by-step instructions that describe how to carry out any given process.

Most companies that are serious about process management use SOPs to manage their day-to-day activities.

Why?

Well, Standard Operating Procedures allow you to:

  • Achieve consistent results. With standard operating procedures, you complete your processes in the same way and achieve the right results every time.
  • Reduce costs and increase productivity. When everyone does the same task in different ways, eventually your organization will run into inefficiencies that cost you time and money. With SOPs you can streamline the process and increase productivity.
  • Create a safe working environment. SOPs are very useful when it comes to safety. You provide a standardized way of getting things done with minimized risk of safety hazards. In this way your workers are safe and your company reduces the risk of liability.

Standard Operating Procedure Structure

The typical SOP covers the following information…

  • A title page
    • Title
    • SOP ID number
    • Names of the people who created the document
    • The dates when the document was created and edited
    • The department or division that will use the SOP
    • The signatures of the people who approved the SOP
  • Table of Contents. You can include a table of contents if your document is very long. This way, your employees will easily find the section they need in no time.
  • Preparatory information.
    • The purpose and scope of the SOP
    • The roles and responsibilities of the people who are directly involved in the process
    • Resources and materials that the employees will need to complete the procedures
    • Cautions and warnings related to the procedures or materials used in the process
  • Procedures section. This is the essence of your SOP. Here you describe what needs to be done, the order of the tasks, and methodology your employees need to follow. You can list the different steps and if the process is more complex, include sub-steps to describe all activities in detail.Also, include supplementary diagrams, images, or illustrations when appropriate. Imagery can sometimes be a more effective way of explaining how to get things done.
  • Quality control and assurance. Your employees can keep track of their performance on a case-by-case basis or over time by consulting with this section which includes:
    • Best practices related to a specific procedure
    • Guidelines on how to measure their performance
    • Samples of previous results
  • References and glossary. Here you can include all the terms, resources, and documents you might bring up in the procedure section. This is especially helpful if you’re onboarding a new hire, and they’re not familiar with a lot of the concepts.

So far so good, right?

But now you’re probably wondering how exactly do you write a standard operating procedure from scratch?

Read on to find out the exact steps you need to take in order to create an SOP.

How to Write and implement an SOP

Step #1. Determine the SOP format

Depending on the size of your company and your needs you can choose from different SOP structures.

The 2 most common SOP formats are:

Simple checklist

simple process checklist

This approach lets you quickly outline the steps you perform in a certain process. It’s more suitable for startups and small teams that are just starting to build their processes.

However, this type of standard operating procedure is NOT a good idea if you want a more detailed manual or if your goal is to perform analysis in order to improve a business process.

Detailed hierarchical checklist

detailed hierarchical checklist

This type of checklist also contains all process steps but it also includes more detailed sub-steps that explain how to perform the process precisely.

Essentially you’re breaking down the steps in such a way that anyone could understand and perform the process.

This SOP format is great if your goal is to analyze your processes and see where they underperform.

Step #2. Gather all relevant stakeholders

When you assemble a team responsible for constructing the SOP you should include employees who work directly with the process. After all, they’re the people who know the process best.

Additionally, you need to decide who is going to write the standard operating procedure.

It’s always better to assign the task to someone from the company who has a lot of experience with the process.

You can also hire outside consultants, but you should make sure that they have substantial knowledge of the industry, your company, and your internal operations.

Step #3. Identify the goals of creating an SOP

Determining your end goals will help you build a better SOP and understand whether you are achieving the desired results with your standard operating procedures.

Some of the most common goals include:

  • Achieving better product quality
  • Improving the underperforming steps
  • Increasing the efficiency of the process
  • Improving your bottom line
  • Speeding up a process that is too slow

Sometimes all it takes to fix a broken process is to describe all the steps in a detailed easy-to-follow way. However, you need to have a clear purpose behind it.

Step #4. Define the SOP structure

If you’re part of a big corporate company, your SOPs will have a more formal and strict structure that will require official approval from a quality and assurance department or another authoritative figure.

But if you’re running a startup or a small organization you can keep a more informal format as long as this works for your team.

Once you start growing, however, you might want to start following a more formal structure for better results.

Step #5. Determine the scope of the SOP

Depending on the process you’re targeting, your standard operating procedure can involve multiple departments or teams.

However, it is important to understand whether your SOP should only use them as a reference or actually include them in the current document.

Sometimes it’s hard to determine to what degree you should involve multiple departments.

But keep in mind that you should have a clearly defined scope and not stretch out the standard operating procedure document to other processes and lose focus from your goals.

Step #6. Be consistent in your style

To make it easier for the end-user, e.g. the person who’s going to be using the standard operating procedure, you have to keep a clear consistent style throughout the whole document.

Here are some tips on how to maintain a consistent style:

  • Emphasize on the tasks that the end-user has to carry out. To do that you can use more action verbs and place them at the beginning of the instruction sentences.
  • Don’t write fluff. The shorter, the better. After all your employees are just searching for guidelines on how to perform a given task.
  • Create an easy-to-read explanation for each step. After you state the action that your employees need to take, you might have to provide additional explanation. Keep them short and easy to scan.

Step #7. Choose the right notation (if you’re using one)

When working in a corporation, you are most likely sticking to some sort of notation which is sometimes specific to the company.

However, it’s much better if the notation you’re using is universal, like BPMN or UML.

This allows you to share your SOPs with business consultants and other professionals outside of your company without having to explain everything from scratch.

Step #8. Include all steps of the process

Here, you record all steps that your employees take to complete a certain process.

You can observe the process itself or collaborate with the people directly involved in it to make sure you recorded all steps in the right order.

This rough first draft allows you to see whether you need to go in more detail with some of the steps.

Step #9. Choose the right metrics for measuring the success of the SOP

To understand whether your SOP is achieving good results, you need to track the right KPIs.

If we’re following the previous example, the KPIs would be:

  • How many products are we producing per month?
  • How many of these are faulty?
  • What is the production time per product?

Step #10. Test the SOP

To make sure that your SOP is good to go or to make any final edits and tweaks you can test it on a smaller scale.

Ask some of the employees who work with the targeted process to use the SOP and ask for their feedback.

You can involve both more experienced employees and new hires to see if the standard operating procedure guidelines are clear enough.

You might have to make some changes to the grammar, language, and style to ensure that the SOP is easy to follow and can be successfully completed.

Step #11. Ask superiors to review your SOP

In a bigger corporation, the SOP will have to go through the senior staff for review and if approved, it goes to the quality and assurance department for the final approval.

However, if you’re a small business or a startup and have no superiors, you can skip this step for now!

This will give you another perspective and will open your eyes to things you might have missed while assembling your SOP.

Step #12. Assess all risks related to the process

When you have reviewed and tested SOP, it’s time to consider the possible risks that the process might trigger along the way.

Give attention to the procedures that might be hazardous.

Working with hazardous materials can be dangerous for your employees while a defective product can put your customers at risk and your company under a lawsuit.

You have to predict such possibilities and try to minimize them.

You can never guarantee 100% safety but you can at least have standard procedures for minimizing the risk and be prepared when things don’t go as planned.

Step #13. Implement the SOP

Once you’re all set on all the previous steps you’re ready to implement your standard operating procedure.

And always keep in mind that these procedures are dynamic and will change with time in order to stay up to date with the current trends.

Also, you should think about how you’re going to distribute the SOP document so it’s easily accessible to your employees.

Step #14. Identify all potential problems in your SOP

Now, as you have an outline of your standard operating procedure you can see where potential problems might emerge and where your process needs some fixing.

For example, a manufacturing company might have high production levels but in turn, this results in a higher defect rate.

Therefore, this is a problem that needs to be eliminated from the official SOP because otherwise, your employees will follow instructions that lead to worse results.

Step #15. Plan for regular revisions and updates of the SOP

Since your environment, business and processes are changing all the time, your standard operating procedures should too!

An SOP is definitely not a document to be made and forgotten about, it is a manual that people in the company use on a day-to-day basis. So, it has to be a reliable one.

Revising your SOPs every 6 or 12 months is a must if you want to stay on top of all the changes and keep on delivering the best possible results.

Use Process.st for Managing Your SOPs

The distribution of your standard operating procedure can happen through either a traditional paper copy that you give out to your employees or using a digital version of the SOP.

With the paper document you should keep in mind that every time you make a change to the SOP, you will have to give out another set of documents to your employees.

And having multiple updated versions of several SOPs throughout your company will get messy.

In this case, using workflow management software is a much better idea. The software will make sure that the right people have access to the SOP from any location at any time. But that’s not all.

Our favorite software for this job is Process.st.

creating standard operating procedures with process.st

The platform is very easy to use and navigate. And it gives you SOP templates depending on your industry and the process you want to target.

Meaning, you don’t even have to make SOPs from scratch – just pick a template, tailor it to your business, and you’re good to go.

You can create your SOP documents in the form of simple or more detailed checklists (depending on your need). Plus, you can edit and customize them additionally so they fit your purpose.

sop in the form of a detailed checklist

The software is drag and drop, so it’s extremely easy to get started with it – zero coding skills required.

Process.st also:

  • Creates interactive process checklists with if/then logic.
  • Streamlines and automates all sorts of approval forms.
  • Integrates with 1000+ other apps.
  • Lets you collaborate with your team when completing a certain procedure.
  • Notifies you on workers’ progress and when someone completes a task.

And on top of all that, the software also lets you keep track of your SOPs in real time. You’ll know EXACTLY when a process is underperforming, or at risk of missing a deadline.

Conclusion

Now you know everything about standard operating procedures, including how to build one and the best ways to distribute your SOPs among your employees.

Creating functional standard operating procedures for your business will help you eliminate the confusion around the processes that are performed on a daily basis which will allow your employees to be more productive and minimize the mistakes made along the way!

We hope this article was useful for you and if you’re looking for more advice on business process management, check out our blog!

 

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