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How to Create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

How to Create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

If you’re tired of feeling as though things are slipping through the cracks, mistakes are being made, and employees are unsure of what they’re doing, then, it’s likely you’ll need something to help you get things running properly. That’s where a standard operating procedure comes in. 

We’re going to walk you through what a standard operating procedure is, why they’re important, what to consider when creating one, and our top tips for writing airtight documents that your employees will be able to adhere to for years to come.

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What is a Standard Operating Procedure?

A ‘Standard Operating Procedure’ (SOP) is a set of step-by-step instructions used to describe a set way of performing a specific task or process. A basic standard operating procedure will describe what needs to be done, and how to do it. So, you can make sure everything in your business is done the correct way, every time. It’s much more than a simple procedural document. It’s not just a guide on what to do, but rather the exact steps you would need to take to do it.

These are often in conjunction with industry regulations, basic laws, and how a business owner would like their operation to be run. 

If you operate a retail business, you may want to create standard operating procedures for:

  • Inventory management
  • Payment processing
  • Customer service
  • Product return procedures
  • Customer complaint management

Standard Operating Procedure Template

We’ll skip to the good bit. Here you can find a standard operating procedure template on Notion. Don’t leave just yet though. We’re going to walk you through why they are important, who to consider when creating your SOP, everything you need to include, how to write it, and even some examples.

Why Are Standard Operating Procedures Important?

Consistency is key. Making sure that you have a written playbook of how everything is supposed to be done gives greater clarification on set procedures, improves operational efficiency, and reduces the risk of mistakes. 

If you ignore the importance of process standardisation in your workplace, you’re dramatically increasing the risk that tasks will not be performed consistently. Some of the most common reasons to create standard operating procedures include:

  • Improved quality: SOPs can help to reduce errors and ensure that tasks are performed consistently and correctly.
  • Regulatory compliance: SOPs reduce the risk of your employees being non-compliant with industry regulations.
  • Improved training: Your new staff members will find it easier to learn how things are done if you have instructions on everything you’ll need them to do, or be aware of. Plus, it will help to prepare them to manage any potential issues in the future.
  • Improved communication: SOPs can help to improve communication and coordination between different departments.

What Steps to Take When Creating a Standard Operating Procedure

You can’t just start writing a standard operating procedure. There are a few things you need to take into consideration, or prepare, before you get started. And, things you need to be aware of once you’ve created the SOP. Here are our recommendations:

Make sure you know what you’re trying to accomplish: Simply put, if you’re not sure what the objective of your SOP is, it’s going to be near impossible to create one. Work out what you want to accomplish, which processes need to be put in place, what steps you need to take to get there, and who will manage or enforce the SOP. 

For example, do you want to create an SOP around customer service? Understand what your purpose is with this goal, how should your staff act with your customers, what should they do in certain situations and scenarios, who is responsible for dealing with customer complaints, what should you do if someone wishes to speak to your manager, who will address people delivering poor customer service, and so on. 

Ask yourself why you’re creating the SOP in the first place. And, once you do that, ask yourself whether the SOP covers all of the issues you previously had before creating it.

Gather all necessary information: Familiarise yourself with the topic. Can you find any industry guidelines, restrictions, or laws that require you to have certain standards in your workplace? Consult industry experts, or similar SOPs that you can find from other companies, and make sure you’re covering everything that the SOP will need to.

Understand who you’re writing it for: If your team is going to be enforcing, implementing, or following an SOP, you need to make sure that you’re writing it with them in mind. You should be focused on the actual duties and responsibilities of those following the SOP, using language they will understand, and being as concise and efficient as possible. 

They will also need to be consulted at some stages for their input on the SOP’s creation. Your employees will be able to tell you whether the SOP is fair, and achievable, as well as provide insight into how they think it could affect the team. Ask them for their input when creating the document, and their feedback once it has been finished. 

Write a draft of your SOP: This one is fairly self-explanatory. Once you have a goal in mind, all necessary information, and know who will be helping you create the SOP, you can start writing. 

Your first draft won’t be perfect. And, will require a lot of tidying, fact-checking, back and forth with different stakeholders, and so on. So, just get a first draft down as soon as possible. At least then you have something to work from. Make sure you follow the format of the template we’ve provided for you. And, that’s really all there is to it!

Here’s a small note, but an important one: stay flexible. Your SOP isn’t carved into stone. It can be changed, and most importantly, it should be changed if it isn’t feasible to keep it the way it is. Listen to your employees. Always. They’ll tell you if something’s no longer working and keep you on the straight and narrow.

How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure

Here comes the fun part: writing your own standard operating procedure. It may seem a bit daunting, especially if you’ve never written one before, but as long as you’ve followed the previous steps, and the layout we’ll show you here, you’ll have everything you need to write as many as you need.

This is the layout we’d recommend you follow:

  • Title: The area of the business that the SOP is covering (i.e., Customer Service, Contacting IT, Fire Alarms, etc).
  • Date: The date that the SOP is being created. It should also be documented whenever a new version, or edit, of the SOP has been made.
  • Purpose: Summarise why you’re creating the SOP. What is the point in creating it? What will it hope to achieve?
  • Context: Any other supplementary information that will provide basic context or background information as to why the SOP has been created and what it hopes to achieve.
  • Terminologies/Glossary: Explanation of key terms used throughout the document.
  • Roles and responsibilities: Who will be responsible? And what will they be responsible for?
  • Instructions: Provide step-by-step instructions as to how processes should be followed. You may have to create sub-steps (i.e., Step. 1 (i), Step. 1 (ii), etc.), or decision trees, etc.
  • Health and safety: List which health and safety procedures need to be followed.
  • Rules and regulations: List which rules and regulations need to be followed.

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