June 30, 2022STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES
How to Customize SOP Templates (Free for Download)
This post discusses how to customize SOP templates within seconds. Psst: digital templates beat Microsoft Word, Excel, and Google Docs in terms of convenience and time saved—every time! We’ll also reveal our best practices for writing SOPs.
Do your team members accomplish routine tasks the same way—every time?
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) ensure workers know how to complete work assignments according to company standards. Whether onboarding new employees or reassigning old ones, accessible checklists reduce the likelihood of mistakes.
The best SOPs break complex policies and procedures into step-by-step instructions. O&M leaders who overlook the importance of documenting business processes may end up repeating themselves over and over again.
In contrast, forward-thinking managers leave repetition to the world’s parrots. Instead of hoping employees remember numerous details, these managers distill their workflows into user-friendly checklists. The easiest way to streamline process management? Use mobile work order software!
How to Customize a Standard Operating Procedure Template
Before we begin, we invite you to check out MaintainX’s Global Procedure Library (GPL).
Our open-source database houses thousands of free SOP templates available for public use. From the main page, you can search for templates by industry, type, and keyword.
Industry Templates Available
- Property Management
- Fleet Management
- Food & Beverage
Types of Procedures Available
- Instruction Manuals
Commonly used procedures across industries are available for both PDF and digital download. However, for the remainder of this article, we’ll focus primarily on how to customize digital SOP templates.
That means you’ll need to install MaintainX on your desktop or mobile device. But don’t worry—it’s completely free to download (no credit card required).
Once you’ve created an account, you’ll receive a courtesy Premium Plan subscription, which includes unlimited SOP template usage for 30 days.
After this period, your account will automatically switch to our Basic Plan, which includes two free SOP templates per month. Though this article focuses on digital SOP customization, we’ll also provide an overview of traditional documentation elements where appropriate. Now, let’s dive into how to customize your SOP template!
1. Name Your SOP Template
Fill out the Procedure Name field at the top of your digital template. Here’s an example of an SOP for a Fire Extinguisher Inspection:
Traditionally, operational managers sometimes create separate title pages as a starting point for complex procedures.
Common SOP title page elements:
- Name of the organization or department using the SOP
- Title of the procedure
- Date of creation or revision
- SOP identification number
Of course, drafting a title page becomes unnecessary when using SOP software. MaintainX attaches all procedural forms to digital work orders that include the contextual details necessary to complete work assignments. It also includes a title field entry at the top of each template. Why have two separate digital documents?
The visibly linked items allow managers to maintain greater flexibility over workflows. Additionally, separate forms allow users to assign a saved the same procedure to more than one work order.
2. Develop a Labeling System
Managing large amounts of documentation without categories can cause essential pieces of information to fall through the cracks. Therefore, depending on the complexity of your organization, you may want to establish an SOP labeling system.
Your labeling system can act as a central point of reference for older employees seeking procedural information and newer employees onboarding. It also will make it easier for management to retrieve historical documentation for auditing purposes.
Labeling System Tips
- Use Simple Language: Avoid giving your SOPs fancy names or using abbreviations—you’re likely to forget them. Instead, name SOPs after the tasks they represent. For instance, Breakroom Cleaning and Disinfecting SOP or Store 102 Fryer Inspection.
- Label by Versions: If you plan to regularly revise your SOPs, you may want to enact a versioning system to avoid confusion. For example, Facility Cleaning and Disinfecting Standard Operating Procedures v 2.0.
This organizational method will allow you to quickly locate your saved templates within your personalized digital template library in the future.
Whether you eventually have one or 1,000 saved procedures, you will find them all in your MaintainX personalized Procedure Library.
3. Strategize an SOP Format
The best SOPs have clear, step-by-step formats. Aim to present the information in a straightforward manner that’s not overly complicated.
Most organizations use one of three SOP formats when organizing their steps: simple steps, hierarchical steps, or flowcharts.
Simple Steps Format
This formatting method uses bulleted lists best suited for shorter procedures. Organizations frequently use this SOP format for safety guidelines and mandatory documentation. Below is an example of a simple-steps, oil-change procedure:
Hierarchical Steps Format
If your new SOP involves complex decision-making or several related substeps, you’ll want to use the hierarchical step format. The layout is nearly identical to the simple-steps format, except it includes grouped substeps. MaintainX uses Field Names to break steps into overarching categories, as shown below:
Process Flowchart Format
Flowcharts are visual representations of work steps. They help workers make decisions based on varying situations they may encounter on the job.
Here’s an example of a process flowchart:
4. Write Step-by-Step Instructions
Once you know how you will structure the steps, it’s time to write your work instructions. Here are a few tips to help you write better standard operating procedures:
- Use brief, simple sentences.
- Avoid unfamiliar acronyms.
- Use headers to organize sections.
- Write instructions in active (rather than passive) voice.
- Attach a table of contents if the checklist is exceptionally long.
- Avoid ambiguous words, such as general, typical, and periodic.
Above all, write your SOP from the end user’s perspective! Consider the questions that may arise for them while moving from point A to point B.
5. Attach Visual References
While you don’t have to attach photos or infographics to your SOP, visuals often improve employee comprehension. For this reason, MaintainX has photo-sharing functionalities that allow users to upload pictures into digital SOPs instantly.
Here’s what that looks like:
Our photo upload feature is more economical than purchasing film for polaroid cameras. It’s also more reliable than manually attaching photos to clipboards that can easily get lost.
6. Insert a Sign-Off
SOPs should conclude with some type of employee sign-off. Analog SOP documents typically include empty signature lines. However, SOP software includes built-in time stamps that record when employees mark assignments as open, in-progress, or done.
With MaintainX, you get the best of both worlds. App users have the option to include an e-signature field at the bottom of their checklists, as shown below:
The MaintanX database holds digital records indefinitely.
7. Save the Procedure
Finally, save your SOP template when you’re finished. Click the blue button labeled “Done” in the bottom-right corner of the screen.
8. Create a Work Order
Once you’ve saved your template, create an accompanying work order to a) attach the SOP to the work order, b) provide supplemental information, and c) assign the SOP to a team or team member.
Work orders summarize who is responsible for completing an SOP, which tools are needed, and when they should complete the task at hand. Work orders can either be recurring or one-time assignments.
Note: each SOP template should include the name of its author and the date of creation. MaintainX automatically saves this information when you create a new work order. Now that you understand how to customize SOP templates using work order software, let’s discuss additional ways to customize SOP templates.
Elements of Good SOP Templates
Common traits of excellent SOPs include:
- Infographics: As reported by the 2015 Content Preferences Survey, 91 percent of respondents prefer visual content over written content. Several studies reveal that people follow instructions better when accompanied by infographics. Attaching infographic files to complex SOPs will help employees better grasp the tasks at hand.
- Format: Though functionality is most important, aesthetics do influence employee adoption and implementation. Format your SOP template to be as visually pleasing as possible. Think simple designs, bright colors, and legible fonts.
- References: The best SOPs link to other relevant documents for reference. This enables you to provide a complete set of instructions without placing everything into one overwhelmingly long document. Of course, you can also link one SOP to another one.
- Trackability: Primary causes of workplace accidents are incompetence and negligence. Employees sometimes skim through SOPs instead of reading them. This is why you should develop digital SOPs to easily track their adoption and use.
- Mobile Compatibility: The best SOP software is designed for native mobile usage. This feature encourages employees to fully engage with necessary documentation from the comfort of their smartphones—both online and offline.
These are only some of the key features that a well-developed SOP should include. As demonstrated in this article, traditional SOP templates simply don’t compare to their digital counterparts’ convenience, accessibility, and versatility.
Still not sure?
More Reasons to Use Digital SOP Templates
As mentioned above, some organizations use Microsoft or Google programs to develop their standard operating procedure documents. Unfortunately, while the method may be more manageable than writing by hand, it isn’t without shortcomings.
Below are four reasons to use work order software-generated SOPs instead of traditionally generated ones:
1. Create Digital Audit Trails
Easily retrieve completed SOP checklists from your CMMS database to prove compliance with regulatory requirements.
The software records task completion and provides footprints of every action taken. The digital trail also helps evaluate production issues and determine corrective actions to improve SOP execution.
2. Enjoy Faster Editing
Managers who rely on traditional SOP methods sometimes delay reviewing and updating their SOPs. Why? Because it’s time-consuming to edit, print, and redistribute clunky documents.
CMMS allows managers to customize SOP templates with just a few swipes on their smartphones or a few clicks on their desktop computers. You can even retrieve particular sections or processes and update them without interfering with the rest of the document.
3. Streamline Team Communication
Communication breakdowns result in delayed production, costly errors, and even workplace accidents. Such mistakes are inevitable when employees simultaneously rely on multiple platforms to ask questions about specific tasks.
CMMS platforms like MaintainX provide a centralized communication channel for streamlined team communication. App users never miss a beat thanks to work order commenting, team messaging, and private messaging features.
4. Engage Real-Time Monitoring
It’s essential to check the status of assigned SOPs in real-time. This way, you can ensure employees are performing tasks properly, consistently, and without problems.
CMMS dashboards allow managers to maintain a bird’s eye view of open assignments within seconds before zeroing in on potential issues. In addition, work order software makes it easier for human resources to gather task fulfillment data for performance reviews.
Customize SOP Templates with MaintainX (for FREE)
We hope you have found this article useful. If you’re ready to achieve greater process standardization, enhance quality management systems, improve regulatory compliance, and enjoy real-time updates on task completion, we invite you to try MaintainX.
Our mobile-friendly work order software streamlines SOP creation, maintenance management, and stakeholder communication in one place. Managers also can use MaintainX to track time and cost metrics for improved O&M budgeting.
Download your free standard operating procedures templates here.