Imagine you are starting a new job at a car dealership and a customer walks in asking for your latest hatchback. How would you cater to the customer? Most likely, your manager must have given you proper training along with a set of documents to study the basics of how to deal with customers. These sets of documents and training guides are often known as standard operating procedures or SOPs.
A standard operating procedure (SOP) document guides new as well as current employees on how to carry out routine tasks and maintain consistency and quality throughout business operations. Since SOPs are crucial documents, we decided to uncover everything there’s to know about standard operating procedures and provide you a tool to create SOPs with ease. Read on…
What are Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)? (Definition)
A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a step-by-step instructions guide to help an employee in performing specific operations smoothly. The main objective of SOP is to ensure uniform and quality output, while simultaneously reducing miscommunication and ambiguity.
SOPs are detail-oriented documents and provide step-by-step instructions as to how employees within an organization must go about completing certain tasks and processes.
Types of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)
While you can write your standard operating procedures according to your organizational needs, a conventional SOP follows one of the following methods:
A checklist or the to-do list is one of the simplest methods of writing a standard operating procedures (SOP) document. A checklist can be created on an online note-taking app like Bit or can be printed out and handed over to employees. Checklists are the easiest to create as you can simply create a header (the process you are creating guidelines for) and add relevant checklist items that employees need to follow in order to complete the task.
2. Step-by-Step List
Similar to checklists, a step-by-step bullet list works in the same way where you describe a procedure in relevant, easy to follow steps.
If the task you are creating SOP for is pretty straightforward, these lists can be more than enough to get the job done efficiently.
3. Hierarchical Lists
If your procedures are more complex and need additional info, you can create hierarchical checklists or bullet lists. If you are unable to explain a task in a single step and at the same time, don’t want to make the SOP lengthy, adding hierarchical steps can be beneficial.
For example, if your SOP’s Step 1 tells an employee to create a new account, then Step 1(a) can say “enter your username”, while Step 1(b) can ask them to input their password.
4. Process Flowchart
Flowcharts are a wonderful way to represent how a process works visually and help give better context around the workflow. A flowchart also shows how one step is related to another, helping employees conceptualize the whole concept and have a better understanding of the work they are doing.
Why do you Need Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)?
Some of you may be wondering- If we are already training our employees to do the tasks they are hired to do, why take on this extra work of documenting operating procedures? We understand your dilemma, which is why we are going to look at some of the reasons why every business should create standard operating procedures (SOP) no matter what…
Even though creating SOPs can be time-consuming, they end up saving you a ton of time in the long run.
If all employees perform the same task in different ways, some are going to do it faster while others might take a long time. Having rules and guidelines in place streamlines the workflow, ensuring employees do the task in a set amount of time.
2. Ensure the safety of employees
Standard operating procedures (SOP) make sure that employees perform all tasks and activities in a consistent yet safe manner.
If everyone is doing a task in their own way, it’s not only inefficient but can also result in adversities. This puts the business in a tough situation and opens it up for lawsuits and liabilities.
3. Ensures compliance standards are met
Having standard operating procedures in place ensures that industry compliance standards are followed and met properly. SOPs put measures in place so that employees comply with relevant laws, policies, and regulations, and avoid any sort of litigation or risk.
4. Improved communication
Communication is key in business. Still, a whopping 57% of employees report not being given clear directions and 69% of managers report they are not comfortable communicating with the employees in general!
Standard operating procedures make your manager’s job easier as they don’t have to communicate the policies and procedures to each and every employee individually. Employees too, don’t have to go back to their managers or coworkers and ask for guidelines in case they forget as they can quickly go-through the SOP document and get to work.
5. Enhanced accountability
Having standard operating procedures (SOP) in place helps managers gouge employee performance based on the guidelines provided by them.
Without proper work standards, understanding employee performance becomes a matter of personal opinion, which is far from being the right way to judge your employee’s hard work.
6. Provides consistency
SOPs provide consistency of operations and ensures a smooth workflow. All employees have the same document which they can go through and know exactly what needs to be done and how. This leads to consistent performance with fewer resources wasted.
7. Maintains Organizational Knowledge
Even if your team can perform all necessary tasks with ease, consistently, and without any external aid or documentation, you still need to create an SOP document.
This is because your current employees are bound to move on to other companies, retire, get promoted, or go on a vacation, taking their knowledge, skill, and expertise with them. Documenting standard operating procedures (SOP) allows you to preserve key organizational knowledge so that knowledge doesn’t leave the organization if an employee does.
8. Provides a guiding hand
Standard operating procedures act as a true north for the employees, guiding them in their journey to do amazing work. It acts as a map that employees- new or old- can follow and expect a positive outcome, every single time.
9. Onboarding and training
A study conducted by “The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD)“ found that companies that offer comprehensive training have a 218% higher income per employee than those with less comprehensive training. If you have clearly defined standard operating procedure documents in place, it becomes way easier to onboard and train new employees and saves a ton of time and effort.
Steps for Writing a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
Now you know what a standard operating procedure is and why your organization needs to create one, it’s time to actually get down to business and create one. Standard operating procedures require a ton of effort and planning before you can even begin to document your procedures.
Here are the key steps you need to follow to create a robust standard operating procedure document:
Step1: Generate a list of your business processes
The first thing you need to do in order to create an SOP is to find out which tasks, processes, or workflows, you need an SOP for. Conduct a survey or ask your employees to fill out a form defining what tasks they do on a regular basis. This will form the basis of your list for the standard operating procedure (SOP) document. Once you have gathered a list, you can review it with other managers and look for any repetitions.
Step 2: Start with why
Once you have your list ready, its time to note down your objectives. Having a clear answer to why you are creating the SOP document should be your number one priority. Asking yourself questions like “how will this document help the employees?” or “how will the SOP impact our bottom line?” are great starting points.
For a more granular approach, identify the pain points or challenges your employees face in their day to day and create your SOP around it. This gives you a solid “why” to go through all that hard work of creating an SOP and also improves employee’s buy-in in the whole process.
Step 3: Choose a format
Chances are that your organization already has some SOP documents written for past procedures. You can refer to those documents as templates and guide your current SOP. If not, then refer to our “types of SOP documents” section above and decide whether you want to write a list of steps, create a checklist, create workflow diagrams, or a mixture of everything!
Step 4: Identify your audience
Knowing your audience is key in creating an awesome SOP document. Ask yourself the following questions in order to get an idea about your audience:
- Are they new employees?
- What’s the size of the audience?
- What prior knowledge do they have?
- Does an SOP already exist?
The more information you have on your audience, the better you can understand their points of view and create an SOP that will be relevant to them.
Step 5: Collaborate with employees
Standard operating procedures (SOP) are written with the end-user, i.e, the employees in mind. Having employees collaborate with you in this process is a no-brainer. You cannot really understand their pain points and challenges unless you talk to your employees and ask for their honest feedback and suggestions. We recommend using a collaboration software like Bit to bring your entire team inside a common document and collaborate effectively.
Step 6: Get down to writing
Once you have spoken to your employees and have enough data points to start, immediately move to your document editor and start adding your notes. Once done creating the document, you can go through the document with your employees and management and ask for their feedback and input.
This is also a great time to specify who would be responsible for updating and maintaining the standard operating procedures and when will you be conducting a periodic review to gauge engagement.
Step 7: Make it interactive
While SOP documents are text-heavy and boring, they don’t have to be. Add screenshots, screen recordings, images, flow charts, videos- anything that’s relevant to the step being talked about.
Media like these can help make your SOP’s pop while providing a visual aid to otherwise bland steps. Making your standard operating procedures interactive will boost your engagement levels as employees are surely going to find them more useful and even entertaining!
Step 8: Distribution
After you are done creating the SOPs, you’ve come to the most essential part of the process: distributing them to your employees. It’s crucial to find a place to store all your standard operating procedures (SOP) and other training material in one place for employees to access as and when they like.
This is why we recommend using Bit to store all company documents in one place and store company assets like videos, images, PDFs, and more in Bit’s content library. You can quickly create a workspace in Bit, invite your employees, and share SOPs and more in a robust and safe environment.
Step 9: Make them “living documents“
While many organizations view creating SOPs as a one-time process, that’s hardly the case. As processes and workflows are often changing and ever-evolving in the hopes of making them more efficient, standard operating procedures quickly become outdated. This is why SOPs should be converted to living documents that get reviewed periodically (ideally after every six months) so that they don’t get out of sync with the process or workflow they are describing.
What an Ideal SOP Document Includes:
The following structural elements are commonly found in most standard operating procedures (SOP) out there:
- Title Page: Kickoff your SOP with the title of the procedure, the unique SOP identification number, date of creation or revision, the department/employees/team the SOP applies to, and finally the name and signatures of the parties involved in creating the SOP document.
- Table of Contents: Next up is a table of contents. A table of contents helps summarize the document structure and acts as a guide for the reader to quickly jump to sections relevant to him/her. They are particularly helpful if the document is large in size.
- Purpose: Describe the goals and objectives of creating the document and how it will benefit the user and the organization.
- Scope: Project scope describes the limits of the document and helps the reader understand the boundaries of the SOP. It clearly states what the document is about and what it accomplishes.
- Glossary: It’s helpful to include words, abbreviations, or acronyms you may have used in the document that may not be familiar to your audience.
- Roles and Responsibilities: Identify key stakeholders (employees, managers) who have to follow this SOP and what responsibilities they would have. This helps avoid confusion and keeps everyone accountable for their actions.
- Procedures: This will form the bulk of your SOP document as this section will describe the step-by-step explanations of how to perform tasks and any additional information needed to complete the tasks.
- Related Documents: Include a list of related training materials or reference guides to your SOP.
- Health and safety warnings: Your SOP should have a separate section describing the things your employees need to avoid and perform the operations in a safe environment. This not only protects your employees from potential dangers but also keeps your company away from liabilities.
- Revision History: Add a revision history to ensure your readers that the SOP they are reading is the latest one.
- Approval Signatures: If your company requires an authorizing officer to sign off on SOPs, don’t forget to get it approved by them before sharing it with your audience.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOP): Best Practices
Here are some tips to keep in mind while writing your SOP document:
- Be clear and concise: Since standard operating procedures are text-heavy, it helps if they are written in simple language for your audience to go through it quickly. Avoid technical jargon, wordiness, and ambiguity, and remember to keep it simple.
- Make it scannable: Make your SOP’s scannable so that employees can quickly go through them and find what they are looking for. Don’t go on and on in a paragraph and make sure the length of every paragraph doesn’t exceed 3 lines.
Take input: Take input from your employees and understand their pain points before you begin writing your SOP. What are the areas they need help with? What processes are complex and require a lot of time? Focus on challenges and write an SOP that helps them overcome those challenges.
- Choose your tool wisely: While there are many editors on the market, using a collaboration platform like Bit makes sure you have a single place to write, store, share, and track all your SOPs and workplace documents easily.
Over to you!
Standard operating procedures (SOP) help your employees understand how to do a task efficiently and smoothly. Even though these documents are time-consuming to create, they offer too much of an upside to pass on. So, what are you waiting for? Rally your team and start creating your standard operating procedures today! If you need any additional tips or want to learn more about how Bit can help your business, feel free to reach out to us @bit_docs. Good luck!
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