What Are Standardized Operating Procedures? (With Tips)
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Organizations typically work to deliver high-quality products or services to meet customers' needs and ensure their satisfaction. Effective leaders maintain consistent product quality by documenting procedures using clearly defined steps that are easy to follow. Learning how to document procedures helps ensure employees follow the same rules and operate in a coordinated way to increase productivity. In this article, we define standardized operating procedures (SOP), outline steps on how to write this document, and discuss benefits and tips on effectively crafting an SOP.
What are standardized operating procedures?
Standardized operating procedures (SOP) are instructions an organization compiles in a document to provide directions on the actions necessary to perform specific operations. Organizations use this document to guarantee their routine activities remain consistent and comply with industry regulations and standards. With SOPs, businesses can communicate changes in their business operations to employees. It provides details on different processes, standards, and policies relevant to a business's success. SOPs are applicable in manufacturing, property management, warehouses, government institutions, fleet management, and hospitality.
How to write an SOP
Here are steps to create an SOP:
1. Decide on the goal
Before drafting an SOP, deciding on its goal and purpose can help you define the necessary details for inclusion. For example, if you want to write a maintenance SOP for an industrial machine, the aim is to guarantee the machine's performance. This document doesn't include other details like the production process or onboarding of new engineers. It simply focuses on identifying the procedures for performing the maintenance.
2. Choose a suitable format
You can research different SOP formats to decide on a suitable one. A company may have existing SOP documents for past procedures, and you can use these documents as templates. Standard formats you can use to prepare your document are:
Simple steps format: This format is helpful for short routine procedures that are easy to follow. It's usually a bulleted or numbered list with simple sentences.
Hierarchical steps: You can use this format to document procedures that have several steps involving decisions. You can use a numbered or bulleted list for the main steps and add subsets.
Flowchart format: A flowchart format is helpful for procedures with unpredictable results. You can use this format to plan operations that may have several possible outcomes.
3. Ask for employees' input
Inviting team members to contribute their ideas when drafting an SOP can increase efficiency. An SOP is typically a practical document that employees can easily understand. Its preparation may involve several reviews and drafts, and you can invite employees to these review sessions so they can suggest additional ideas, if necessary.
4. Decide the dependencies
Identifying task dependencies in your SOP is crucial as the task you're working on may rely on the input of other activities within a department or organization. For example, a company that produces bottled water typically performs backwashing and water treatment procedures before operating the filling and capping machine. An SOP detailing the process for filling and capping bottled water may include details on the water treatment procedures. You may decide to add references for those other procedures or prepare a flowchart that clearly describes dependencies and the relevant parties involved.
5. Identify your audience
Gathering information on your audience can help you determine suitable ways to write an SOP document. You may consider the following factors about your audience to help you:
Prior knowledge: Consider if the audience is familiar with the procedures or organization to determine how to draft the SOP. Ensure they clearly understand the terminologies in the document.
Language skills: Confirm your audience's native language and prepare the document in this language. If this is not possible, you can consider using more explanatory pictures and diagrams than words.
Audience size: If you're aiming your SOP at people across different organizations and roles, consider clearly defining who performs each assignment. This is to ensure the audience understands where they fit in and the importance of their roles.
Employment level: If an SOP aims to train new employees, ensure you make it detailed and training-oriented. This is to provide consistent outcomes regardless of who performs a task.
6. Draft the SOP
After gathering all relevant information, you can write your SOP. The following are elements to include:
Title page: This page usually contains the procedure title, SOP identification number, revision date, or publication date. The title page also has the signatures and names of those who approved and prepared the procedures in the SOP.
Table of contents: This element is necessary for documents with several pages. It provides direction to specific parts of the document.
The procedure: This constitutes most of the document and details the steps of the processes. It also describes the purpose and scope of the SOP, its limits, regulatory requirements, outputs and inputs, responsibilities, and clarifications of terminology.
Benefits of using an SOP
The benefits of using SOPs in business include the following:
Organizations ensure consistency and quality in their processes. Using an SOP can facilitate this consistency by outlining detailed information on how employees perform tasks. It ensures uniform results regardless of who is operating a process, as it specifies the steps to take in the manufacturing of standardized products.
Aids communication and reduces errors
There's a greater chance of reducing errors in an organization or procedure when team members use a detailed SOP. As this document provides well-written instructions for performing a task, employees can follow the steps to ensure they get error-free results. Communication within an organization can also be better with a detailed SOP. Employers can easily update an SOP to communicate changes in a process and ensure that employees are aware of these changes.
SOPs ensure employees follow safety procedures and comply with regulations and standards. This document enables employers to place value on safety by training employees in all aspects of performing a task. This can help prevent accidents, fines, and litigation. SOPs provide employees with all environmental, health, safety, and operational information essential for completing a task. An SOP may also detail procedures to handle mishaps, such as spills and emissions.
Facilitates training of employees
Organizations can use this document to train new employees. They can hold seminars to explain the steps necessary for completing different tasks and use the SOP as a reference. It's also helpful in re-training established employees. Additionally, employees can use SOPs as checklists while they're working.
Tips for creating and using an SOP document
Here are best practices to ensure the effective use of an SOP:
Establish standard format and style. Using the same fonts, layout, spacing, and graphics design format for an SOP within an organization can help employees develop a sense of familiarity with it and make it easier to understand.
Store in the same space. It's advisable to save an organization's SOPs in digital format, which can be easily updated and accessed by employees.
Create a plan for recurring maintenance. You can ensure an SOP remains relevant by reviewing it periodically. This ensures that you record changes made to an SOP and that the document is current.
Develop a plan for training employees with relevant SOPs. In addition to the initial orientation training, organizations can create a schedule on SOPs for regular training. This can ensure that employees understand any updates and changes to operations.
Use an SOP template. This is beneficial for large organizations with many SOPs. Using a template can help you organize, layout, and describe specific tasks while saving time and energy.
Plan to reduce waste. When creating your SOP, you can identify non-value elements, such as waiting time, motion waste, inventory excess, and transportation waste. Devising ways to eliminate waste helps improve productivity, as it ensures every step of the procedure offers maximum value.
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