Whatever your business does, you’d benefit from using standard operating procedures, or SOPs for short.
SOPs are used to document the exact steps your employees need to take in order to complete any given process.
This, as you can guess, can be super useful – you can onboarding new employees faster AND they have fewer chances of making mistakes.
But how do you make an SOP?
Well, in this guide, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know, including:
- What’s a standard operating procedure?
- How to write an SOP (step-by-step)?
- How to use Blissfully to automate your processes
So, let’s get started!
A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a detailed step-by-step set of instructions that describe how to complete a process from start to finish.
Creating SOPs for all your processes will take some time.
So, why bother doing it anyway?
Well, SOPs come with a ton of benefits, including:
- Better efficiency and reduced costs. When there’s no defined way of completing a certain procedure, your employees are all over the place. Each of them has a specific way of doing things. Meaning, each time the process is completed, you’re likely to see different results. And in most cases, this costs you time and money. Using SOPs helps you prevent this, as all your employees know what’s the best way to get things done.
- Consistent results. Once you have the standard operating procedure document, even a novice can follow the steps and achieve the same consistent results as more experienced employees. After all, employees come and go, but you have to keep delivering the same high-quality product/service.
- Safe working environment. SOPs are very useful when it comes to being compliant with safety standards. When you have a certain way of doing things, you minimize the risk of hazards. This way, your employees are safe, and your company reduces the risk of possible liabilities.
So, what does the typical SOP include?
It usually has the following information…
- A title page
- Title of the procedure
- SOP identification number
- Publication or revision date
- Names of the organization and division that will use the SOP
- Names of the people who created and approved the document
- Table of contents. Include a ToC only if the SOP document is too long. This way, you allow for easier navigation through the different sections of the document.
- Preparatory information.
- The purpose and scope of the SOP
- The roles and responsibilities of the people who will be completing the process.
- Any additional resources and materials that will be needed to complete the process.
- Safety measures that have to be complied with when working with certain materials or procedures involved in the process
- Procedures section. That’s the core of the document. Here are all the step-by-step instructions that will help your employees complete the process in the right way.
If there are more complex procedures involved, you can break down the steps into sub-steps to ensure that nothing goes wrong.
And you can also use different visuals like graphs and diagrams to get your point across better. Sometimes too much text can be more confusing than helpful.
- Quality control and assurance. This section helps your employees to measure their performance against:
- The best practices related to the specific process.
- Samples of previous results
- Additional guidelines on measuring performance
- References and glossary. Here you can include additional readings and further explanations on definitions you mentioned in the previous sections. This way, if an employee has knowledge gaps, he/she can refer to this section to get all the information they need.
…And that’s pretty much how an SOP document looks like!
But how, exactly, do you make one?
Here’s all you need to know…
You will choose the format of your SOPs depending on the size of your company and the complexity of your operations.
The most practical SOP formats are:
If your processes are straightforward without too much complexity, you can use something as simple as a checklist.
All you need to do is outline the exact steps needed to be taken for the process to be completed, and you’re good to go!
If your processes are a bit more complex, though, you’ll need a more detailed format…
The hierarchical checklist helps you break down more complicated steps into sub-steps. This way, you get more detailed instructions that will leave no room for ambiguity and reduce the risk of getting something wrong.
This checklist is also a great option if you’re looking to analyze already existing processes and see where they need improvement.
Create the SOP in collaboration with the people who are already involved in the process at hand. They know the process inside out and might have some useful suggestions on how to construct it.
You should also decide on who is going to prepare the standard operating procedure document. Your best choice would be an in-house expert who knows your company, the industry, and the process you’re creating the SOP for. But if you don’t have such an option, you can hire outside consultants. Just make sure they’re up-to-date with your organization and its internal operations.
What do you want to achieve with your SOPs?
Before you start working on it, you should identify your end goal.
Usually, the end goal is to either create a standardized process for your employees, or to document an existing process, and analyze it for potential improvements.
If your company is small, or if you’re a startup, you can keep things more informal. Just make sure that whatever structure you choose will work for the whole team. Once you start expanding, however, you might have to decide on a more formal structure so the SOP is more defined & clear, leaving less room for ambiguity.
If you are in a medium or large company, SOP documents usually have a very specific structure that needs official approval by the upper management or a special quality assurance department.
Some processes span over a few departments and it might be hard to decide to what degree you should include their roles in the SOP.
Should you just mention them as reference points, or include them as active participants?
You don’t want to start your SOP and then lose focus and deter from your goal. When you think of the targeted process ask yourself:
- What action triggers the process?
- What action ends it?
- What’s the purpose?
These questions should get you back on track and help you define your scope clearly.
The SOP is a document that provides guiding instructions to your employees on how to get their job done. This means you have to keep a consistent and clear style that will help them navigate through the instructions with ease.
To do that, consider the following:
- Use action verbs. Start each instruction with an action verb. This way, you emphasize on the task the employee has to complete.
- Keep a concise style. SOP is not the place to add empty filler words. Your employees need the SOP when they’re in the middle of a task and they need a quick glance to see if they’re doing things right.
- Write easy-to-follow instructions for each step. After the action verb, you might have to provide some additional explanations. Keep your instructions short and clear to make it easier for your employees to follow them.
This applies mostly to corporate organizations. If your company is big, you are probably using some sort of notation to communicate your processes across the company.
However, think about using a more universal notation like BPMN or UML.
This way, if you need to share the SOP with someone outside the company, there’s a higher chance they will know how to navigate through it.
To list all the steps in their correct order, you can just observe how your employees are performing the process, or ask someone who is doing it on a daily basis.
Once you have this first draft, double-check if the document makes sense to the employees, or if it’s missing an important detail. Sometimes you have to add an extra step or two for more clarity.
To understand whether the SOP is achieving the desired results, you should identify the right metrics.
Basically which KPIs will tell you whether you’re getting closer to your goals.
If you’re constructing a product manufacturing SOP, for example, these might be:
- Produced units per month
- Defect rate of produced units for the month
- The time needed for the production of one unit
And you can come up with many others depending on the process in mind and the end goal.
Now, as you have the first SOP draft, you can test it out on a smaller scale to see how it functions. You can ask an employee who works with the process to follow the SOP guidelines and let you know if anything is unclear.
Their feedback can be insightful and give you ideas where things can be improved.
You can also give the SOP to both a senior employee and a novice, so you can see how each one performs. This way, you will understand whether the instructions are detailed enough for the less experienced people.
And finally, read the entire SOP carefully to make sure there are no grammar, formatting, or style mistakes.
In a bigger company, after the SOP draft is completed, it has to be reviewed by the senior level management.
Make sure you give supporting documents and the SOP test results along with the document itself. If approved, then the document is moved forward to the quality and assurance department for final approval.
You’re finally ready to implement the SOP!
If you followed all the previous steps, your standard operating procedure is good to go!
At this stage, you’ll need to decide on how to distribute your SOP:
- Is it going to be a physical document?
- A file uploaded on a cloud-based platform?
- Or a Word file sent to everyone in your organization?
How you do this is up to you, but we recommend you to have a folder on the company cloud storage that’s easily accessible for the relevant employees.
Once your SOPs are up and running, you might be tempted to forget about them and move on with your day.
Unfortunately, things aren’t all that simple – now, you need to keep track of your KPIs and ensure that the process is as efficient as possible.
For example, let’s take the manufacturing example from before. Let’s say that the SOP managed to increase product output by 15% through standardization. You’ll need to also make sure that this didn’t have any unintended consequences.
For example, this could’ve led to an increase in defect rate, alongside the output.
So, if something like this happens, you’d have to go through your SOP again and see if you can identify the issue and fix it.
Your business operates in a constantly changing environment. This means that your SOPs should change along the way too.
The SOP manual is a living and breathing document. Your employees use it all the time and refer to it when they need help. So, making sure that your SOP is up-to-date is important.
You should revise all your SOPs every 6 or 12 months to make sure that they provide relevant information and helpful instructions on a daily basis.
Distributing your SOPs in an efficient way is as important as the SOP itself.
If you distribute all your SOPs as a physical copy and then you give out updated versions every 6-12 months, your employees might lose track of all these documents.
So, it won’t matter if you created the best SOP ever, if your employees can’t find it, or worse, use the wrong one.
That’s why it’s much better to create, store, and distribute all your SOPs with the help of a workflow management software like Blissfully.
Such software makes sure that the right people have access to the right SOP at any time from any place.
AND on top of that, the software automates the menial tasks and parts of your processes, allowing you to complete your SOPs even faster.
And that’s all you need to know about SOPs – what they’re relevant, what’s the typical structure, and how to write one.
Having SOPs for all your processes will significantly improve the efficiency of your business and the performance of your employees.