What Is a Standard Operating Procedure?
A standard operating procedure is a written document that contains a set of instructions for a given task.
This document makes the procedure clear for everyone responsible for the task and ensures that the company respects the industry norms and regulations.
A standard operating procedure document can be a great help to employees and guide them through the steps they need to take to complete a job. Moreover, since the SOP contains everything they need to know, from their roles and responsibilities to the procedures and the equipment needed, team members won’t waste time with countless questions about the task at hand.
The Importance of Creating a Standard Operating Procedure
As mentioned already, standard operating procedures can help you streamline your day-to-day operations and enable employees to improve their performance and productivity. This document shows employees what their roles are, how to do their jobs properly, and what best practices they can employ to achieve the best results.
Instead of constantly referring to their managers with follow-up questions or making things up as they go along, team members can refer to the standard operating procedure to ensure they are doing the correct thing. This reduces potential errors and downtime and improves processes significantly.
Here’s an example: imagine that a company created an SOP about the proper steps for creating and filing reports. This document includes all the information that the responsible team member must include in the report, who signs it, and so on. With a standard operating procedure in place, your employees are more likely to create comprehensive reports that don’t miss any relevant information and aren’t sent back because they are incomplete.
Writing standard operating procedures requires more than just defining a set of instructions for your employees to follow. For an SOP to be effective, you need to consider the scope of the document, the target audience, the tasks and situations you are going to cover and the format and writing style.
Moreover, you need to understand that you can’t create an SOP and then forget about it for the rest of your company’s life. Business evolves, and as it does, new operations evolve and new steps are needed. You must update your standard operating procedure constantly to ensure it keeps pace with all the important changes in your company.
Best Practices to Create Effective Standard Operating Procedures
Establish the Scope and Purpose of the SOP
First things first: understand why you are creating a standard operating procedure and how this document can help your company. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Why do I need to create a standard operating procedure?
Maybe you want to help your employees do their jobs better than they are right now or reduce their reliance on the department managers.
- What problem(s) will the SOP solve?
Depending on the issue you are trying to address, an SOP could help improve performance or prevent incidents and so on.
- Which areas will benefit from the SOP?
Mention everything, from the department, area, process, and so on. If you think it would benefit the company, then you should state which areas the SOP doesn’t apply to.
- Who is the target audience of the SOP?
Mention every job role that may benefit from these instructions.
- Are there any limitations or exceptions you need to address?
If the answer is yes, then you should mention them in the SOP and give appropriate instructions for each situation.
Understand Who Your Audience Is
A standard operating procedure that your employees can’t follow or understand won’t do your company any good. Unfortunately, most managers don’t consider their audience when creating SOPs and often end up with useless documents that just waste everybody’s time.
To avoid such situations, ask yourself the following questions:
What Do Your Team Members Need from the SOP?
Try to understand that the team members of a department may have different needs and expectations from the standard operating procedure. The team’s leader, for example, may be interested in how to delegate tasks effectively while the employees might want to learn what steps they should take in case of an incident.
Do They Have the Same Skills?
If you are a modern organization, then you probably have employees with different cultural and professional backgrounds. Take this fact into account when creating a SOP and make sure to include images and easy-to-understand instructions.
Do They Have Different Knowledge Levels?
It’s very likely that your employees don’t have the same knowledge level. Some of them may have more information, some may have more experience than others. Regardless, you need to ensure that your SOP targets every possible need. Just because something seems obvious to you doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s obvious to your team members as well. Try to think of all the possible questions and problems that may arise and include them in the document.
Collect the Information You Need for Creating the SOP
One of the most important things is that the person that identified the need for a standard operating procedure doesn’t necessarily have the right skills to create it. As such, one of the first things you need to do before creating an SOP is to find a subject matter expert that can collect the information needed, format it, and create documentation that your employees can understand and follow.
Make sure that the person responsible for this task also talks with the team members and asks them about the most common issues they encounter in their day-to-day operations or any unique situations that have posed challenges in the past.
Write the Documentation
Make sure that the instructions are simple and clear and that you use consistent language throughout the entire document. If people have a difficult time following the SOP, then they might stop using it altogether.
Another important aspect to consider is the format of the SOP. Ensure that the document follows the same format and that users can easily scan through the text to reach the information that interests them. Break up large paragraphs, use bullet points and subheadings, and include diagrams, flowcharts and pictures to make it easier for your employees to digest the information.
The free collaborative checklist tool Fluxes allows you to create repeatable SOP checklists which can be copied an unlimited number of times. SOP checklists on Fluxes can even be assigned to employees with due dates. When a task from a checklist is completed, the team member marks it as complete ensuring no steps are skipped.
Fluxes.com is free with free unlimited users and unlimited checklists.
Make It Easy for Users to Find the Information They Need
If your employees must flip (or scroll) through tens of pages of documentation to find the information they need, then they may abandon the task altogether. This can lead to errors, downtime, and wasted resources.
Review and Update Your SOP Constantly
As mentioned already, SOPs can quickly become obsolete if a company doesn’t review and update them regularly. This is especially true if your company engages in a variety of processes and updates its operations constantly. Best practice is to review SOPs yearly (or at least every two years.)
Standard operating procedures are valuable components of a company’s success. They are the basis on which you can streamline company operations and scale business.