How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

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A Standard Operating Procedure or SOP serves as the primary document that guides both employers and employees in the workplace. The lack of an SOP will result in a disorderly organization in terms of processes or tasks. Lucky for you, this article serves as your ultimate guide on how to write a standard operating procedure. 

Browse through each section to know everything about writing an effective SOP:

  • What is a Standard Operating Procedure?
  • What Standard Operating Procedure Documents Aren’t
  • How Often Should You Review an SOP
  • Why Do You Need a Standard Operating Procedure
  • Types of Standard Operating Procedures
  • What to Include in a Standard Operating Procedure 
  • Example of a Procedure
  • How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure: A Step-by-Step Guide
  • Tips in Writing an Effective SOP
  • Challenges in Writing a Standard Operating Procedure
  • Standard Operating Procedure Online Tools and Apps
  • Standard Operating Procedure Templates
  • Conclusion

What is a Standard Operating Procedure?

standard operating procedure

A standard operating procedure is an essential document in every company that tells everyone what actions to take under particular circumstances. It’s also a step-by-step guide that informs everyone in the organization how to do a task based on acceptable processes and methods. 

An SOP acts as a guide to ensure that all steps and processes in the company are regulated. This means everyone must perform a particular task the same way. Instead of appointing one person to narrate the necessary steps to execute a task, people can refer to the standard operating procedure document or file for the steps. 

In addition, a standard operating procedure helps employees understand complex instructions or steps. However, SOPs must be regularly updated and modified according to the roles and business journey. 

An SOP is also essential to conform to the business’s standard policies. For instance, it includes what particular roles are needed to carry out a task. Also, it must consist of the business’s standard policies as well internal and external standards. 

A standard operating procedure document must also contain the goals from the entire company or each department. The steps are then included on how to achieve each goal. Finally, standard operating procedures must contain the analysis and systems of the metrics for the regular performance evaluation. 

What Standard Operating Procedure Documents Aren't

standard operating procedure

Some people might interchange standard operating procedures and standard work instructions. However, both have nuances. Standard operating procedures are not work instruction manuals. The difference between standard operating procedures vs. standard work instructions lies in the details.

Standard operating procedures are considered top-level documents, whereas standard work instructions belong in the lowest tier. The former also contains all the needed actions people have to take in a given situation. But, on the other hand, the former lists down all the necessary steps to perform a job responsibility, with minimal details.

How Often Should You Review an SOP

standard operating procedure

SOPs are helpful in every organization and prevent errors in executing repetitive activities. This is so everyone is on the same page and will be held accountable for whatever mistakes they make, provided that they have familiarized the company SOP. 

However, your standard operating procedure document or file must also be updated once procedures and processes change. The respective people in charge of updating SOPs must have them re-approved by higher-ups. SOPs must be current, so it remains useful to the people in the organization. 

That said, reviewing standard operating procedures every one to two years is recommended. If you’re only modifying a section of the SOP, ensure that you indicate the revision date and number in the Table of Contents. 

If a process or procedure is no longer followed, then it’s paramount to eliminate that section in the SOP. Otherwise, it will only cause confusion and disorder in your organization. 

Why Do You Need a Standard Operating Procedure

standard operating procedure

The importance of standard operating procedures should be prioritized when establishing a new organization. When created and used correctly, SOPs encourage excellent communication and consistent results. 

When coupled with progressive training, SOPs are probably the only “handbook” you need in your organization. Aside from seamless communication, here are the benefits of standard operating procedures:

  • Ensures that the entire organization and its people meet compliance standards
  • Boosts efficiency and maximizes output
  • Conforms to regular processes and procedures
  • Ensures consistency in every action, task, process, etc.
  • Enforces the best practices in the organization
  • Holds employees accountable in particular situations
  • Improves communication and ensures everyone is on the same page
  • Creates a better onboarding system for new hires
  • Prevents or lessens errors and failures on task executions
  • Unifies a company’s goals and vision
  • Builds a system where employee health and safety is prioritized
  • Adheres to general and specific schedules
  • Creates a uniform system for performance reviews
  • Maintains organizational contributions and knowledge from employees who leave
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