A Quick Guide to Writing Practical Standard Operating Procedures

how to write a standard operating procedure

Business operations are rarely one-size-fits-all. With distinct processes, systems, and people interacting across the organization, we need to understand how different parts of their business work together to be successful. That’s when standard operating procedures (SOP) come to the rescue. 

A good standard operating procedure document is one that covers the main practices of an organization. It is a set of instructions that lays out the step-by-step approach to performing a specific process. SOPs are important because they maintain operational efficiency in an organization by ensuring uniformity among operations, fostering collaboration between employees, and facilitating compliance with legislation.

This article provides insights on how to create, implement, and monitor compliance to standard operating procedures.


What is an SOP?

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is an official, business-specific document with step-by-step instructions that describe how to perform routine tasks consistently and efficiently. They can be used in basically any industry, from outlining processes for help desk workers to standardizing routine maintenance management activities.

Although SOPs vary from business to business, their benefits are similar across different industries. Organizations can use them to improve the consistency of repetitive tasks, enforce quality standards, establish robust safety levels, increase efficiency, and enhance compliance with statutory regulations.

The common types of SOPs that organizations can adopt are:

  • Step-by-step SOP contains stepwise instructions that appear in the form of a checklist. Completing one task allows the employee to proceed to the subsequent activity.
  • Flowchart SOP is crucial for complex processes that yield more than one outcome during a particular activity.
  • Hierarchical SOP is similar to a step-by-step SOP but with additional instructions to reduce the ambiguity of information.

Basic standard operating procedure guidelines

Before drafting a standard operating procedure, it is important to specify its objectives. Its implementation should minimize existing inefficiencies without impeding routine operations. When creating SOPs, keep the following factors in mind:

  • The target audience. Who will be using these procedures? Who will periodically audit compliance?
  • The goals that the SOP has to accomplish.
  • The scope, purpose and general requirements for using the SOP.
  • Clarity of procedures (procedures must be understandable and easy to follow).
  • Definition of complex terms or jargon that is specific to the SOP.


The basic structure of SOP

With variations in organizational structures and operational standards across businesses, SOPs will likely appear in different formats and designs. However, the basic outline of standard operating procedures will contain the following components:

SOP structure

The above-listed components can be organized differently depending on the preferences of an organization.


How to write a standard operating procedure

Writing an effective standard operating procedure requires sufficient planning and access to relevant operational information. Below are the steps to follow before, during, and after writing SOPs.

1. Define the scope of SOP and gather relevant information

The scope will describe the processes or employees who will be affected by the new procedures. It outlines if the SOP is an update to an existing document or its dependence on SOPs, which are already in operation. The scope defines the minimum implementation requirements, the size, and the skill levels of the target audience.

In the early stages, the company engages employees and managers to identify operational bottlenecks and suggestions for improving them. It is the individuals who run daily business operations who understand processes and their challenges. Reviewing previous SOP documents, equipment manuals, workflows, and organizational charts provide the company with sufficient insights on the shortcomings of routine operations. Access to all this information expedites the decision-making process and simplifies the formulation of objectives.

2. Constitute the review committee

An organization has to constitute a team of experts from different departments to plan and draft standard operating procedures. They ensure that processes do not clash and verify the consistency of new work procedures with company policies and work structures. The company will define the roles of each committee member and appoint leaders to steer the entire process.

3. Choose the SOP type and write a draft

After collecting all the preliminary information and appointing the development committee, it is time to begin writing the standard operating procedures. The team will evaluate organizational needs, complexity, and criticality of processes. After that, they identify the correct type of SOP (step-by-step, hierarchical, or flowchart) that resonates with their operations.

The team then proceeds to design a draft document, usually using computer software for editing documents or dedicated SOP software. The draft will contain detailed procedures, roles and responsibilities of individuals and groups and any special instructions. A draft SOP document will incorporate flowcharts or illustrative diagrams to improve the comprehension of procedures.

4. Implement SOPs and train staff

After completing the draft document, the committee will enact minor changes and light editing on the draft SOP document and allow selected employees to review and forward their feedback. Based on employee reviews, the committee makes adjustments and publishes the final document. The organization then shares the SOP document with all departments for implementation. The implementation phase may extend beyond the intended period since the company must monitor operational efficiency.

During the implementation phase, the company trains all the staff members on the procedures and monitors the correct usage of any new tools that the SOP introduces. The management continuously collects feedback from employees and utilizes it for fine-tuning procedures.

5. Continuously review and update procedures 

Business operations will transform from time to time. The transformation can result from advances in technology, increased assets, or scaled-up production. During such instances, the existing SOPs become insufficient. The management has to be on the lookout to identify arising challenges in time, review, and update their SOPs accordingly.

Increasing the success rate of your SOPs

To evaluate the success of a standard operating procedure, the company monitors:

  • Effectiveness of processes. Do employees execute the correct procedures at the right time? How do specific work procedures affect workflow?
  • The efficiency of processes. Is every procedure completed correctly? How easily can the employee follow the procedures without distraction?
  • Elimination of unnecessary work. Does the procedure eliminate non-productive tasks? Does it permit the consolidation of similar jobs?
  • Elimination of rework. Does the SOP guarantee quality results at the first trial?

Comprehensible standard operating procedures are easy to follow through and implement. Companies have to engage their employees during the formulation phase and perform sufficient training. Process procedures should be accessible to all employees. Every organization should regularly update their SOPs to reflect operational or production changes.


Final thoughts

Standard operating procedures are essential communication tools that streamline business operations and contribute to employee job satisfaction. Disregarding the input of employees or constituting an inexperienced committee could turn the SOP development into a tedious process.

Companies can speed up the entire process by leveraging technology solutions for creating, distributing, and managing their standard operating procedures.

Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.

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