Think about your go-to dish from your favorite restaurant. You know, the one you order every single time because, without fail, it’s delicious every single time.
Have you ever wondered how they make it taste the same so dependably? Sure, there’s a step-by-step recipe involved, but there’s also a process that is followed to get the food from the kitchen to you. Repeatable processes are what lead to reliable results.
The same applies in the world of business. Customers depend on quality and consistency from the companies they work with. And to achieve repeatable results, processes need to be in place so that everybody knows what needs to happen next to meet those expectations.
In the world of work, these processes are called standard operating procedures or SOPs. In this guide, we’re diving into what SOPs are, why they’re important, and how to write SOPs of your own.
What does SOP stand for?
So, what is an SOP? The SOP acronym can take on a lot of different meanings, but the SOP we are talking about is the standard operating procedure. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at what SOPs are and who should use them.
What is a standard operating procedure?
A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a documented process, workflow, or set of steps created to ensure consistency of products and services. These processes include clear-cut directions and step-by-step instructions, so that team members carry out the tasks with little variation and similar (if not completely matched) quality.
From business operations to marketing to sales to legal, all departments can benefit from having SOPs in place. Think about it: No matter what team you’re on, some processes and workflows can (and probably should) be repeated the same way for consistency and safe results. The same is true for projects of all sizes. SOPs in project management are crucial for consistent delivery and quality assurance.
Not only do SOPs lead to consistent results, but they also make team members' lives easier by removing the guesswork of trying to figure out how to complete a particular process from start to finish.
And in certain instances, SOPs may be required for specific teams to meet compliance and regulatory standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are examples of regulatory agencies that may require certain processes be followed to the letter.
SOPs can be as simple or as complex as you need them to be – from a quick checklist to a detailed document.
The best way to understand an SOP is to look at some SOP examples, and we’ve pulled together a couple of samples for you here. The first is an SOP for onboarding new employees.
HR Onboarding Checklist
|New Hire Paperwork||
|Company Policy Distribution||
|New Hire Check-in||
For your organization, you could also link to relevant documents within the checklist above to make it easy to locate all of the information in one place. An onboarding checklist helps ensure that no essential items get missed and that employers receive a consistent experience when joining a company.
You can also use SOPs for completing certain deliverables. Here’s an example SOP for a marketing team publishing blogs on the company website.
Blog Post Publishing Process
With easy-to-follow instructions, anyone on your marketing team should be able to publish a blog post to the company website without much additional direction.
Understanding the importance of SOPs
An SOP is so much more than a process written down on paper. SOPs – when written and implemented correctly – provide several benefits to companies and their employees.
Here’s a quick look at why SOPs are necessary:
- Consistent quality across the board: Wouldn’t it be impressive if all employees completed the same task the same way every single time? Since humans aren’t robots though, SOPs are your next best bet. With SOPs in place, your teams can complete tasks using a uniform method to optimize performance. The benefit? Consistent quality and satisfied customers.
- More efficiency and higher productivity: There’s no use recreating the wheel. The more you can eliminate guesswork, unnecessary steps, and wasted time, the more your employees will thank you. Creating repeatable processes will yield higher productivity rates, greater efficiency, and more energy for other activities your team needs to focus on.
- Improved compliance and quality assurance: You might need SOPs for compliance reasons. But even if you don’t, by creating SOPs, you’ll have the necessary systems in place for any future audits or compliance checks. SOPs are also crucial for workplace safety, which is a must-have for any organization.
- Streamlined onboarding of new hires: Have you ever onboarded a new employee only to realize that all of the processes you’re explaining aren’t written down anywhere? We’ve all been there. With SOPs in place, it will be much easier to catch new employees up to speed.
Ready to start developing a few SOPs of your own but aren’t sure where to start? Let’s jump into our process (dare we say SOP?) for how to write SOPs of your own.
How to write a standard operating procedure
While SOPs vary across industry, organization, and team needs, the general process for development is similar. These are our best practices for creating an effective and impactful SOP.
1. Consider the end goal
The best way to create a compelling and effective SOP is to start with the end in mind. Ask yourself this simple question:
What are you trying to achieve with a standardized procedure in place?
“Create a procedure” isn’t your answer here. Get to the end result you're aiming for with that SOP. For example, are you trying to:
- Solve a problem?
- Boost efficiency?
- Reduce confusion?
- Ensure compliance?
- Avoid risks?
- Provide training?
- Increase consistency?
Focus on the big picture and understand your goals for this given SOP. You’ll fill in the rest of the details and instructions later, so don’t be afraid to keep your thoughts around the goal at a high level.
2. Understand which processes need documentation
We know what you’re thinking – too much process is burdensome, not to mention it can lack flexibility when things need to change.
There’s a fine line to balance between incorporating enough processes and having too many. That’s why it’s crucial to nail down and understand which components need documentation and the extent required to successfully communicate the steps to the audience. It won’t do you any good to implement documentation that your team members can’t get on board with.
It’s also essential to understand whether you’re documenting new processes altogether or updating SOPs that are already in place. Try to avoid wasting time recreating the wheel if there’s a level of documentation that already exists concerning your goals for your SOP.
3. Encourage participation
Here’s the good news: Just because you were tasked to draft the SOP and map out processes doesn’t mean you have to be the expert at every stage in the process and know all of the ins and outs. Unless you’re heavily involved in the process, there’s a good chance you won’t have a level of detailed knowledge to support every SOP you work on, and that’s okay.
Instead, encourage participation and consult the experts – those people who have their “boots on the ground” with that process every day. Subject matter experts (SMEs) and those who perform the work but aren’t experts yet are your best source of understanding the tasks at hand and how to achieve them. The more perspectives you can incorporate, the stronger your process will be, as it will cover many angles and ways of thinking.
4. Choose a format
When it comes to your SOP format, there are various structures to choose from to help you deliver the most effective documents possible. Your SOP format might be influenced by SOPs that already exist, regulatory compliance needs, industry standards, and the type of process you’re documenting.
Ultimately, the length and format of your SOP are up to you and should be based on your needs. Here are a few format ideas to help you get started:
- Checklists: A checklist is a great tool for simple processes that don’t require much detail to convey each step. A simple list is also an excellent option for new procedures you want to test out before mapping a process in greater detail. You can add as many or as few hierarchies within your checklist as needed.
- Steps: Similar to checklists but slightly more granular, a bulleted or numbered steps format is ideal for procedures in sequential order. As long as your tasks are simple and easy to convey in a list format, the steps format is a solid option for your SOP.
- Process Flow Chart: Flow charts tend to be best suited for processes with many steps and variable outcomes involved. You can visually see the entire process from start to finish and how functions relate to one another. Use flow charts when the results of the process aren’t always the same.
5. Remember who you're writing for
Know your audience and how to communicate with them. There’s nothing worse than spending time putting together impressive and helpful documentation, only to find that the audience doesn’t use it or understand it.
If you want to set yourself up for success and adoption of your SOP, consider the following:
- Who are you writing this SOP for?
- Does your audience have prior knowledge of this procedure?
- What type of format will resonate best with this audience?
- What level of detail is needed?
- Would images and graphics be helpful?
6. Define metrics
Developing an SOP is just the beginning of the process. What happens after your procedure is mapped out? Team members should learn and adopt the process based on your documentation. Develop metrics to measure whether your SOPs are getting the job done or not.
The easiest way to measure the success of your SOPs is to build measurements into the procedures themselves. For example, let’s say you’re writing an SOP for how to lock up the office at the end of the day. Step four is to lock the three office doors (main door, back door, and side office entrance). We could measure this step by walking to all three doors to ensure they were locked.
7. Plan for updates
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that once a process is in place, you never have to think about it again. While that might be true for some basic processes that won’t ever change, it’s crucial to establish and schedule a review process for your SOPs.
If your organization strives to meet formal standards, such as ISO 9001, the pressure to commit to an annual review and update process is even greater. But even if your company doesn’t follow any formal standards or certification programs, you likely will need to update your processes over time. Establish a cadence that works best for your teams and determine who is responsible for seeing the annual review process through.
8. Implement the SOP
Phew! Most of the hard work is behind you and it’s time to put your new SOP into action.
Before crossing the finish line, determine a system for managing and organizing your SOP documents. Labeling versions of documents with a consistent naming system and publication date can help your teams understand how to find the most current information. It might also be helpful to create a plan for storing archived SOPs for reference.
One final note: Don’t send your SOP out into the void and hope it sticks. If you’re implementing an entirely new process or making some significant changes to the previous way of doing work, consider building out additional training elements and follow-ups to ensure your SOP implementation succeeds.
Creating SOPs with Wrike
With a project management tool like Wrike, you can easily create and distribute SOPs to your team. Here are some of the features that can help you successfully create SOPs for your organization:
- Share files and tasks instantly (when you update an SOP, you can send the update out ASAP)
- Use pre-built templates for some of your pre-existing processes such as Employee Onboarding and Offboarding
- Make cross-functional collaboration and centralized communication easier for all team members
- Complete risk identification for your projects with our Business Continuity Template
Ready to boost your effectiveness and streamline your processes and procedures with SOPs? Get started with a free trial of Wrike.