November 3, 2022


The Beginner’s Guide to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) (Templates Included)

The Beginner’s Guide to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) (Templates Included)

Standard operating procedures are sometimes referred to as standing instructions, SOPs, modus operandi (MOs), set forms, and standing orders (in the military). The term, standard operating procedure, was first recorded in the mid-20th century. 

In this post, you will learn how to organize routine tasks into step-by-step processes that are easy to follow. Here, you will also learn about different SOP formats, how to write SOPs, and how to enhance compliance with digitization.

Overall, the consistent use of SOPs creates a streamlined, cost-effective way to grow a business and its human capital, and lays a foundation for a rock-solid virtual culture for a distributed workforce.


Of course, the larger an organization grows, the more challenging it becomes to maintain consistency. Businesses from every industry and of every size can benefit from implementing SOPs to ensure consistent quality control, worker safety, and operational efficiency. 

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What Is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?

Let’s begin by defining the subject of this post.

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are the documented processes that a company has in place to ensure services and/or products are delivered consistently every time while meeting minimum quality standards. In practical terms, most SOPs are written as a step-by-step series of operating instructions that can show employees what they need to do to accomplish a given task. SOPs are designed to ensure an efficient, quality output on a consistent basis, regardless of who follows them. 


Put simply, SOPs are step-by-step documentation of work-related tasks. Well-done standard operating procedures remove the guesswork necessary to complete assignments.

With SOPs in hand, employees no longer waste valuable time thinking about what they should do, how they should do it, and which tools they need. Furthermore, SOPs ensure specific tasks are completed in the same manner each time, thus delivering the same output every time. 

digital SOP example
Sample MaintainX Digital SOP

Industries That Use Standard Operating Procedures

Most industries use standard operating procedures (SOPs). The following industries frequently implement SOPs: 

ManufacturingFleet Management Facilities ManagementHospitality 
HealthcareFood ServiceEducationGovernment and Public Works
Oil & GasUtility CompaniesProperty ManagementWarehouses

The contents of standard operating procedures vary substantially across industries. However, the process of organizing SOPs is similar and, even though many organizations still use paper checklists, a growing number of companies are streamlining operations with digitized SOPs.

Considering that nearly every worker has a smartphone in his or her pocket, switching to digital templates is practical. Here’s an example of what that looks like:

Standard Operating Procedure
MaintainX Mobile CMMS

Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) mobile apps allow operational managers to digitally assign recurring work orders with attached SOPs. Employees can complete checklists, take photographs of unexpected occurrences, and text managers from the convenience of their mobile devices. 

The result is increased organizational transparency, compliance, and efficiency.

standard operating procedures

Benefits of SOPs

Small business owners may believe that standard operating procedures only benefit large corporations. However, standardized quality control is vital to companies of all sizes. Small business owners can set themselves up for success by developing clear SOPs from day one. 

In fact, SOPs can help streamline business processes, improve employee safety, maximize efficiencies, and minimize waste. Without appropriate procedures in place, companies risk employees performing tasks their own way, potentially compromising safety. Also, they are vital to avoiding unplanned shutdowns caused by inexperienced employees.  In addition, successfully completed SOPS:

  • Prove compliance with organizational and regulatory requirements.
  • Reduce miscommunication between employees.
  • Detail vital safety instructions and standards.
  • Provide checklists for auditing the effectiveness of maintenance plans. 
  • Streamline workflows and improve efficiencies by minimizing errors.
  • Eliminate unproductive steps that slow production.
  • Serve as a reference to reconstruct operational systems in new settings.
  • Improve quality, credibility, and legal defensibility of outputs.
  • Track and measure organizational proficiency.
  • Streamline onboarding and training of new employees.
  • Boost accountability across organizational lines.

5 Elements of SOPs

SOPs should contain some form of the following five elements:

  • Purpose: The SOP should define the purpose of the work and clearly outline its objectives. Describe the problems the SOP will solve, who the SOP is for, and where and how it will be used.
  • Procedures: Not only does an SOP defines tasks, but also provides guidelines for how to complete tasks. Procedures include all of the necessary steps an employee must take in an easily understood format. 
  • Scope: The scope defines the use and applicability of the SOP.
  • Responsibilities: The SOP should outline who performs the tasks and who to contact if problems arise. Also, It should outline the person responsible for its implementation, review, and updates.
  • Accountability Measures: SOPs are intended to improve accountability. Outlining the responsibilities of each person within an organization ensures accountability for assigned projects. 

What Is SOP Format? 

To be clear, written SOPs vary from single documents to multiple forms that include a combination of explanatory tools. They may consist of a title page, table of contents, checklists, procedures, steps, flowcharts, and/or videos. 

Regardless of the format, SOPs should include the previously mentioned five elements: purpose, procedures, scope, responsibilities, and accountability measures. Operational managers should choose formats that clearly explain the process at hand. Below are common SOP formats: 

1. Checklists

SOP format checklist

SOP checklists are a simple method of writing standard operating procedures. You can use a word-processing program to create a header, insert checklist items, print documents, and distribute them to employees. You can find SOP templates online. However, the best ones often require payment to download. 

Alternatively, managers can use a CMMS, like MaintainX, to create, assign, and monitor digital checklists that employees can fill out via mobile devices. Furthermore, the advantages of using digital checklists include increased accountability, enhanced organization, and digital audit trails. 

FYI: We have thousands of reusable SOP templates in our Global Procedure Library. 

2. Step-by-Step Checklists

SOP step-by-step checklist

Step-by-step SOPs include numbered or bulleted lists that outline the steps necessary to complete processes. They are checklists without the built-in accountability of a checkbox. 

Interestingly, this SOP format is best suited for straightforward tasks that require little to no explanation. Examples include setup and cleanup instructions, digital login sequences, and instructions for proper equipment use. 

3. Hierarchical Steps

SOP hierarchal checklist format

Hierarchical-steps SOPs are suitable for procedures with multiple steps, often involving complex decision-making. While a step-by-step SOP will bullet point steps 1, 2, and 3, a hierarchical SOP will include steps 1a, 1b, and so on.  

For example, say Step 1 instructs an employee to log in to their account. Step 1a may direct them to input their username, and step 1b may tell them to input their password. As such, hierarchical SOPs also can be formatted as checklists. 

4. Flowchart Format

SOP flowchart

Flowchart SOPs are best suited for unpredictable results. If a process includes several possible outcomes, use a flowchart format to map and plan your procedures. As illustrated below, the outcome of each step impacts the direction employees should take next. 

Again, the key to running operations “like a machine” is consistency. In fact, the right SOP format ensures team members—both new and old— always know the right path to take to achieve consistent outcomes. 

Sample Standard Operating Procedure

Below is an example of a digital SOP created by a MaintainX user. This particular procedure outlines necessary preventive maintenance steps for a factory floor piece of equipment:

Facility Standard Operating Procedure

Next, the procedure then gets attached to an automated work order assignment like this:

SOP Work Order
MaintainX Work Order

How Businesses Use SOPs to Improve Efficiency 

  • Quality Assurance: For example, an industry standard for clean water changes. The new inspection must be performed every other day instead of weekly to maintain high-quality water. The SOP needs to account for this temporal change, as well as any changes in the standard of clean water. 
  • Task Handovers: For instance, an employee is out sick. SOP outlines the specific steps for someone else to take over the employee’s scheduled work orders. 
  • Quality Management Systems: A good example is when a manager leaves. The company consults the previous manager’s written SOPs to streamline the onboarding process. The new hire quickly assumes the new responsibilities with minimal disruptions to organizational productivity. 
  • Standardization of Manufacturing Processes: For example, a new piece of equipment replaces old equipment, and the preventive maintenance work order is entirely different. A new SOP will clearly outline the new manufacturing process
  • Troubleshooting Systems: For instance, a hotel guest notifies the front desk that his room’s air conditioning unit is broken. The hospitality worker consults the establishment’s SOP to quickly resolve the issue satisfactorily. 
Writing SOPs

How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure

Managers must carefully think through each step included within an SOP—no matter how seemingly small. Work Instructions should convey clearly what actions must be taken to avoid mistakes, inefficiencies, and downtime. 

Step 1: Collect Data

The organization should first collect information on the procedure, process, and activity. An expert on the procedure or an employee responsible for performing the task should provide an exact definition of the procedure they’re looking to standardize.

At this stage, the SOP’s goal also should be outlined. For example, an organization can develop a cleaning SOP to ensure that its premises are always spotlessly clean.

Step 2: Choose a Format

Organizations that have developed SOPs in the past can rely on previous templates rather than create new ones. Those developing entirely new SOPs or new business processes can choose any of the formats discussed above. This depends on their business needs and processes.

standard operating procedure example

Step 3: Involve Employees 

The employees perform the tasks. And, don’t forget to factor in their input when developing SOPs. This ensures that they’re on board and makes it easy to implement the SOPs. According to Balance, employee involvement is the key to change management. It’s also a way to make sure that all the necessary tasks are included.

Step 4: Define Scope

The use and applicability of the SOP should be clearly defined. Outline the business processes that will use the SOP.

Step 5: Identify Target Users

At this stage, the organization should identify the SOP audience. Write the SOP specifically for this target audience. In addition, factors to consider include:

  • Familiarity with the organization, procedures to be standardized, terminologies, and knowledge level
  • Language and comprehension skills
  • Level of experience in performing outlined tasks 
  • Roles and responsibilities if target users are spread across different teams and roles

Identifying target users also helps to assign appropriate tasks and responsibilities in the SOP document.

Step 6: Develop Your SOP

Now, write your SOP to include the elements identified above. Refer to The Five Elements of SOPs section of this guide to draft your SOP. With that said, you may still have questions about the most effective way to write SOPs.

Check out 8 Tips for Developing Standard Operating Procedures (That Get Used).

restaurant standard operating procedures

Step 7: Review, Test, and Edit

After drafting the SOP, send it to the team members for review. Members should test out the SOP to see if it achieves the desired outcome and to certify language clarity and ease of execution. Incorporate relevant suggestions and edits to improve the final draft.

To be sure, the document should only proceed to the final step after being accepted and approved by all stakeholders.

Step 8: Implement the SOP

Once the SOP document has been approved, it should be accessible to relevant employees for implementation.

Employees should be adequately trained and equipped to implement the SOPs. Management should monitor compliance, enforce accountability, and measure the results. Reviews can be performed periodically or when necessary to capture changes to current procedures or make improvements to them.

Understanding Technical vs. Management SOPs

One way to think about developing standard operating procedures is to think of them as either technical SOPs or management SOPs

On the one hand. technical SOPs detail how to perform and complete a task. They are often in the form of a repeating work order, a preventative maintenance work order, or an inspection. 

On the other, management SOPs outline the processes to define, document, and implement standard operating procedures. It may sound silly, but companies often need management SOPs to manage their large number of technical SOPs! The documents are always useful for anyone performing a task more than once.

SOP Management Cycle

Management SOPs include information about:

  • How to write SOPs
  • Who reviews and approves the SOP
  • When the SOP is revised and how often
  • Who implements and manages the SOP
  • Who reviews and revises SOPs as needed

Put simply, SOPs will fail if management doesn’t create the process for them to succeed. Whenever procedures, employees, assets, or functions change, update and re-approve SOPs.

Even when procedures don’t change, review SOPs regularly. In fact, quality SOP reviews ensure policies and procedures are current, cost-effective, and compliant with changing regulatory standards. 

How to Assign SOPs

Without a doubt, creating and overseeing multiple SOPs for various departments can be challenging. The management process becomes even more difficult as organizations grow. For this reason, we recommend using CMMS software

The desktop and mobile platforms allow managers to automate SOP creation, assignment, and monitoring. Managers can track quality assurance plans, regulatory compliance, and preventive and reactive maintenance from the app. 

Additionally, CMMS mobile apps allow employees to quickly complete digital checklists via smartphones, update performance from remote locations, and troubleshoot unanticipated issues via instant messaging. Similarly, guidelines, work orders, and checklists go wherever you go—no more SOP notebooks collecting dust on the shelf! 

Benefits of Digitally Assigning SOPs

  • Streamlines Audits/Inspections: Cloud-based checklists provide digital audit trails and are available for inspectors. 
  • Enhances O&M Decision-Making: Digital dashboards provide information about job performance, time-on-task, and other insightful metrics. 
  • Increases Efficiency: Processes are uninterrupted and completed on schedule because everyone always has their smartphone in their pockets. 
  • Improves Quality Control: Operations are performed correctly, consistently, and quickly because questions get answered on the spot. 
  • Improves Employee Skills: Workers are more easily kept up-to-date and trained on new procedures.
  • Saves Time: Managers don’t need to reinvent the wheel when SOPs need to be modified. They can simply make a quick edit from their desktops or phones. 

Additionally, tracking information, internal controls, and business processes are easier when SOPs are digitized using standard operating procedure software—especially when, for example, suppliers and new outsourcing are involved.

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Templates

Unquestionably. what to include in a standard operating procedure depends on your business, strategy, scope, and several other variables. Some SOPs are lengthy documents with detailed guidelines for a variety of complex scenarios while others are straightforward checklists.

Regardless, standard operating procedure templates provide a useful starting point to draft SOPs from scratch. Below are links for our most popular MaintainX downloadable SOP templates. Customize the template of your choice to meet your needs.

1. Manufacturing SOP Template

Download our Manufacturing Standard Operating Procedure template.

2. Sanitation SOP Template

Download our Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure template here.

3. Warehouse SOP Template

Download our Warehouse Standard Operating Procedure template here.

4. Restaurant SOP Template

restaurant sop template

Download our Restaurant Standard Operating Procedure template here.

Streamline SOP Management with MaintainX

Everyone in a company is responsible for the quality of its products and services. Most organizations have routine practices in place to ensure the consistent execution of day-to-day operations and business processes.

However, the most effective leadership teams go a step further. They take the time to document preferred processes, procedures, and standards so there is never any confusion about what to do or how to do it. These standard operating procedures (SOPs) increase performance and improve efficiency. 

The best way to manage SOPs is with a digital platform like MaintainX. The program offers a streamlined solution to manage workflows, communication, and accountability. With MaintainX, workers and team members can communicate on SOP progress in real-time via mobile devices. Translation: no more paperwork being filed away and forgotten.

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Caroline Eisner
Caroline Eisner
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