What Is Standard Operating Procedure – SOP?

a technician studying working data

Everything you do as a business can be divided into different processes unique to you and your industry. Despite that, there are three things all companies should strive for in their processes – efficiency, quality, and employee safety.

But how can you achieve that?

The answer to that question is three simple letters – SOP.

This article will discuss why you should care about SOPs, what they look like, how to start writing an SOP, and anything else you may need to take your business to the next level.

What does SOP stand for?

SOP is an abbreviation for “Standard Operating Procedure”. It is an internal document detailing the correct way of carrying out processes as well as all other relevant information (ex., necessary equipment, health and safety hazards, etc.).

How important is it for a company to have an SOP?

Before we get into the details of writing SOPs, it’s worth exploring what they can bring to your business. The list of possible advantages is long and different companies value different things.

To give you a better idea of what to expect, here are a few examples of what SOPs can do for your company:

  • ensure that compliance standards are met
  • train new employees more efficiently
  • prevent manufacturing failures
  • meet production requirements
  • guarantee employee safety
  • enforce best practices
  • adhere to a schedule

However, not all companies benefit from having standardized operating procedures. Smaller organizations with simple processes don’t necessarily need to create these technical documents for their activities.

the definition of standard operating procedures - sop

Meanwhile, SOPs are critical for larger companies with more complex and sophisticated operations (ex., manufacturing, energy, property maintenance, etc.)

What does an SOP look like?

Standard operating procedures come in various forms. They can differ in use case, scope, format, and type. We’ll address each of these individually, but first, let’s look at the kinds of SOPs you may come across and want to create.

Types of SOPs:

a) Technical SOP – the most common type of SOP, used by ordinary employees to navigate standard work-related processes

b) Management SOP – a specialized type of SOP, used by managers to navigate creation, distribution, and oversight of technical SOPs

Regardless of type, standard operating procedures generally include the same information. In the next section, we will focus on how to write SOP examples.

An SOP must include:

1. Title page – typically consists of the title, procedure number, relevant department, publication date, and signatures.

2. Table of Contents – should give the reader the names of all the document’s sections, sub-sections, and associated page numbers.

3. Procedure(s) – consists of multiple sub-sections, which in total, should give all the necessary information about the described procedure(s)

1. Scope – defines who the procedure is for (ex., department, team), its purpose, limits, inputs/outputs, etc.

2. Terminology – explains language, including acronyms and phrases the reader may not know

3. Procedure Description – describes the procedure and each of its steps in detail and order from start to finish

4. Supplementary Information – gives additional details needed to complete each step (necessary decisions, possible obstacles, “what if” scenarios, troubleshooting tips, etc.)

5. Health & Safety Warnings – warns employees about potential hazards, should be attached to individual steps, as well as compiled in a separate sub-section

6. Needed Equipment & Supplies – lists everything the reader will need to successfully complete the procedure

4. Metrics – defines metrics to track with this procedure to monitor and evaluate process efficiency over time (production volume, machinery downtime, etc.)

Most of the sections described above don’t need further explanation. We trust you to know what a table of content looks like after all. However, we have a lot more to say about writing procedures.

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How to write a Standard Operating Procedure

Documenting and explaining procedures can be very hard, especially if you’ve never done it before. Therefore, this handy step-by-step guide on how to start writing an SOP may help.

Step 1) Understand Your Objective

Before you start writing, it’s crucial you know what you want to achieve with your SOP. First, consider whether the process even needs a standard operating procedure.

If you decide it does, check if one doesn’t exist already — someone may have had the same idea before you.

After making sure that the process needs an SOP and doesn’t have one already, define its objective. Then you can get to writing.

Step 2) Gather the Know-how

Even though you may be familiar with the process, you’re very likely not the one to carry it out. SOP manufacturing aims to give all the information and insight necessary for anyone to complete the process — new employee or not.

To create a truly helpful SOP, you’ll need all the hands-on experience you can get. So, gather all the knowledgeable individuals who do the work on a daily basis and put them in a room or call.

Many process nuances are tribal knowledge — information that is only spread by word of mouth and isn’t written down anywhere. Because of that, employees sometimes share incorrect information or take their insights with them when their leave.

You can stop this from happening by writing down, testing, and finally incorporating the tribal knowledge you learn into your SOP.

Step 3) Define the Scope

Before drafting your SOP, you should also define its scope. Some processes can be quite complex, involving multiple departments, teams, etc. But in reality, they may just be several processes connected into one.

If that’s the case with the process you’re writing your SOP for, you should consider breaking it into smaller, isolated processes involving only one department or team. Even if it means creating separate SOPs for each of its parts. Remember that standard operating procedures should be understandable first and foremost.

Step 4) Get to Know Your Audience

To make your SOP as understandable as possible, write with your audience in mind.

Consider who’ll read your document — their background, language skills, technical capabilities, company seniority, etc. Let this information influence words and phrases you use and how many detailed explanations you give.

Step 5) Choose a Format

When writing an SOP, it’s best to use a format your coworkers are already familiar with. But if your company doesn’t have any pre-existing SOPs, you can choose a layout that fits best yourself.

The 3 formats often used for standard operating procedures are:

1. Simple step – the most common standard operating procedure template ideal for simple processes, it can be a bulleted or numbered list with short and clear sentences.

2. Hierarchical step – works best for more complex processes, consists of a bulleted or numbered list with “substeps” for needed decisions and variation.

3. Flowchart – used for the most complex processes with many possible outcomes, needed decisions, variations, etc.

Step 6) Document the Procedure

After doing all that preparation, you can finally start writing. By this point, this shouldn’t cause you any trouble. Remember your objective and scope, and make sure to use all the helpful information your coworkers have given you.

Go back to our section on what an SOP must include and compare it to your document to ensure you’ve remembered to include all the necessary sections.

Step 7) Test, Review, Implement, and Improve

After completing your SOP, there’s still some work left to do. First, test the document’s effectiveness by going over the process yourself. Then, share and review it with your coworkers. Use your findings and their feedback to fix mistakes or make any other necessary changes.

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When you’re satisfied, it’s time to release and implement your standard operating procedure into your company’s processes. This used to be done with print-outs, but nowadays, it’s better to do it online, so employees can access and use the SOPs whenever they need.

And then, you wait. Track your associated metrics, and after a while (ideally 6 – 12 months), come back to your SOP and review it. You might find some inefficiencies, mistakes, etc. Use these findings to make changes and improve your document to keep helping your employees for a long time to come.

A better way to create SOPs

And that’s everything you need to know to create a standard operating procedure. Or it would be if there wasn’t a better way. You can make your life a little easier, and instead of doing everything by yourself, use resco.Houston.

Resco.Houston is a digital solution for all your workforce knowledge needs. It combines a sophisticated knowledge library, SOP software, AR remote call capabilities into a single app to help you achieve process efficiency, quality, and employee safety as quickly and easily as possible.

So, don’t make things hard on yourself. Book a demo and see what resco.Houston can do for you and your company today!

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