Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are a series of step-by-step instructions that inform the user how to complete specific tasks or operations. The idea behind a SOP is to introduce consistency and standardise the work being completed.
Why is SOP essential?
If you have to comply with any kind of regulations, then SOPs are essential to your workflow. They may concern onboarding new employees, releasing a product update, or resolving a customer support ticket.
According to IBM, a Standard Operating Procedure is:
Your Standard Operating Procedures can be stored in an internal or external-facing knowledge base, depending on your audience. You can choose who has access to your documentation and who is able to edit your content.
Why do we need Standard Operating Procedures?
Standard Operating Procedures include procedures, workflows, and instructions, encourage good communication between employees. All members of a team can come together to build processes and document those processes. SOPs combine with regular training and feedback to lead teams to success.
They facilitate consistency in processes and output, enabling team members to work towards common goals. For example, if you have a SOP for handling support tickets, your customer support team will perform in exactly the same way to offer a coherent support experience for your customers.
SOPs reinforce working best practices and ensure quality of output. Processes have been standardised to ensure the optimised method is followed to get work done. They encourage knowledge-sharing as users have access to all the resources they need to complete tasks from start to finish.
SOPs can also be used as training materials to quickly get new employees onboarded.
Standard Operating Procedure in 3 parts
Your SOP can be broken down into a 3-part structure. These parts are as follows:
- The first part describes what is contained in the SOP
- The second part is the “body” of the SOP including the instructions
- The third part contains all the reference material that might be useful to the SOP user
Now let’s go on to how you actually write your Standard Operating Procedures.
Writing the first part of your Standard Operating ProcedureThe first part of a Standard Operating Procedure contains its title page and all relevant details. You need to follow these steps in order to correctly write this section.
Write a simple heading for your Standard Operating ProcedureYou decide how much information you need to include in your heading. Most will contain:
- A clear title of the SOP
- The job titles of the owner and the review
- The target audience of your SOP (who you’re writing it for)
There should also be information regarding:
- When the SOP is meant to be used
- The access level or tools needed to complete the SOP
- Any warnings or cautions that users need to know before proceeding
Some businesses also include a revision history in their heading, but this can just as easily be placed in the last section.
Write your purpose for your Standard Operating Procedure
When writing your purpose you need to tell the user what the Standard Operating Procedure is about.
For example, the purpose of a Standard Operating Procedure for a bank to verify the identity of a walk in customer would be:
The procedure details the steps required to verify the customer’s identity.
Write your scope for your Standard Operating Procedure
Your scope defines where your SOP starts and ends.
For example, the scope of a Standard Operating Procedure for a bank verify the identity of a walk in customer would be:
This procedure applies to all walk-in customers of all branches of ACME bank.
A process may have dozens of different SOPs to cover all possible tasks. So a SOP should be clear where its scope ends and the scope of another SOP begins.
Include the roles who need to follow – or are involved with – the Standard Operating Procedure
List all the roles that are responsible for following and maintaining the SOP.
In our example for the walk-in customers being verified at ACME bank, these roles could be all branch employees who have cashier duties are responsible for verifying customers.
Collect all the quick reference material that supports your Standard Operating Procedure
List any abbreviations, definitions or acronyms that you use in your SOP.
Write the “body” of your Standard Operating Procedure
In this second part, you will be writing out your instructions that help the user complete the intended procedure.
It’s important to get the person who actually performs the task to write this part of the Standard Operating Procedure. For example, for our verifying walk-in customers at ACME bank, we would get a branch employee to write it. They are completing the task several times a day, so they are in the best position to write good instructions.
Here’s an example:
“Each cashier must verify each customer’s identity before performing cash withdrawals or making transfers between accounts. The cashier must request a photo ID from the customer and verify that the name on the ID matches the name on the account, and that the customer is, in fact, the person pictured on the photo ID.”
Writing SOPs requires technical writing skills so you may need to enlist the help of a technical writer to finalise your procedures.
As well as steps needed to complete the task, you should also include what happens in an exceptional circumstance.
Write the final part of your Standard Operating Procedure
This section is for including any reference material in your SOP documentation. It’s information that the personal handling the SOP can use for additional help, or simply for executing the procedure.They could be links to other internal knowledge base articles, checklists, forms, or contact information.
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Steps to take when writing your Standard Operating Procedure
When writing your SOPs, you need to follow a process in order to be successful. Follow these steps:
- Make a list of processes that need documentation. If you’re coming at it from the role of a manager, you might discuss with your employees what processes need documenting and compare your list with other managers.
- Choose a SOP format and template. We’ve provided you with one format here but there are many other formats to choose from. You might require a formal package with metadata, such as approval signatures and references. You might need a workflow diagram to provide an accessible overview of detailed processes.
- Consider why you need a SOP. Think about whether you’re documenting a new process or updating and improving an existing SOP. There might be processes that people in your company have always completed without ever consulting a SOP.
- Assemble a team to participate in creating your SOPs. Even though you have the responsibility for writing the SOPs, you’re unlikely to have detailed knowledge and experience of every process. Consult the Subject Matter Experts who perform the tasks every day to help with writing your SOPs.
- Think about how you will publish and share your SOPs. Documenting your processes is only worth the effort it takes if people are actually using the SOPs. Decide how you will store your documentation where it can be easily accessed by the people who are using it every day. Consider knowledge base software like Document360 for hosting your SOPs.
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- Define the scope of your SOPs. Decide who you are creating documentation for, whether that’s departments, teams, or roles. Take care to determine the limits of the processes you will document.
- Define your audience and characteristics. Think about the background of your SOP users and how much information they will need to be successful in the task. A short procedure might work for employees who know the process well, while others may need much more detailed work instructions.
- Test your SOPs against the processes. Ask for feedback from employees who perform the tasks on a daily basis, and include those who have different levels of knowledge. Ask people with no knowledge of the procedure to perform the task while following your SOP.
There you have it. Everything you need to know in order to write Standard Operating Procedures for your business.
It’s important to define the procedures you want to document ahead of time. When you write your SOPs, enlist the help of knowledgeable employees so you’re not doing it all on your own. Once you’ve written your SOPs, test them in real-life situations to check they’re written in a way that anyone can understand.
When it comes to publishing and sharing your SOPs, you need the right technology. Document360 is knowledge base software that allows you to publish your SOPs so they are accessible to your employees.