What is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) [Includes Template]

August 17, 2019 in Standard Operating Procedures



What is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) [Includes Template]

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are mandatory for companies that want to build a predictable and profitable engine. If your organization relies on more than a handful of trusted colleagues, then it’s imperative to standardize operations as much as possible. Imagine if every McDonald’s location served their iconic Big Mac differently, sales would plummet. The Big Mac is successful because customers know exactly what they will receive no matter where in the world they order one.

Some businesses need to maintain a standard experience as the day shift transitions to the night shift. Others need to maintain consistent quality across multiple facilities or locations. The secret to scaling and improving processes across a business lies within creating standard operating procedures.

Standard operating procedures are often considered a luxury in small businesses and inefficiently implemented by larger organizations. Every successful company builds standard operating procedures into their organization’s workflows and iterates on them over time.

SOPs are just as critical in the early days of your business as they are to an organization that employs thousands of people. Creating SOPs right from day one will ensure your workforce knows what it has to do. They also enable you to measure areas to improve as your organization grows.

Randcom created 157 SOPs for a leading food manufacturer for its new packaging facility. These SOPs helped the manufacturer start four packaging lines at the same time. In the absence of SOPs, starting a single packaging line would be a nightmare for the food manufacturing company as soon as the shift changes.

Intelligently designed SOPs create repeatable procedures that help grow and improve your business.

This article covers everything on SOPs, from SOP benefits and purposes. We also share some standard operating procedures examples, instructions on how to write standard operating procedures, and an SOP template that will make you look like a seasoned pro.

Onwards!

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Definition

Business
Dictionary
defines SOP as:

“Written procedure prescribed for repetitive use as a practice, in accordance with agreed upon specifications aimed at obtaining a desired outcome.”

SOPs, therefore, are written instructions that define how your business should perform repetitive tasks to achieve the desired outcome. The US Environmental Protection Agency defines an SOP in a similar but more straightforward way:

“A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a set of written instructions that document a routine or repetitive activity followed by an organization.”

Britannica defines an SOP in more detail as:

“Standard operating procedure (SOP) is a set of written guidelines or instructions for the completion of a routine task, designed to increase performance, improve efficiency, and ensure quality through systemic homogenization.”

Again, the focus is on performing routine tasks to increase performance and to improve efficiency. Instead of letting your employees waste time thinking about what they should do, the optimal path is to provide them with foolproof guidelines to follow.

The following definition by Isin
Akyar
is more standardized as it uses terms such as operator and operation without any explicit mention of routine tasks:

“Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) is a process document that describes in detail the way that an operator should perform a given operation.”

If this is your first time learning about standard operating procedures, it’s fair to believe they only cover routine tasks. However, non-routine tasks also benefit from being approached with a standardized approach.

For example, imagine if each customer service agent approached each complaint without any framework or consistency.

Each agent would report the issues in a different format, with uncomparable inputs based on whatever they felt like asking.
Iteration and improvement are impossible without a consistent approach.

Consistent processes help produce consistent outputs. It is much easier to detect irregularities that may signal a problem when positive results look similar.

That said, unique situations occur in business all the time. However, a consistent approach to handling those unique issues can allow your employees to operate within a structure that helps them focus on the problem, instead of the process.

For example, some companies empower managers to purchase anything under a specific price without waiting for approval. Instead of wasting time going through an approval process, the manager can fix a smaller problem.

A non-routine task may require decision-making, data collection, and more time to solve. The time spent on non-routine tasks can make up for the time saved by standardizing routine tasks.

SOPs are more critical than ever in today’s turbulent business environment. When your company depends on your team completing many non-routine tasks every single day, efficiency and measurability become important levers to change at scale.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) Examples

What you can include in the SOP depends on your business, strategy, scope, and several other variables. Some SOPs can be lengthy documents with detailed guidelines for a variety of complex scenarios while others can be straightforward ordered checklists.

Here is an example of a lengthy table of contents for a joint air compliance overview inspection SOP.

It covers everything ranging from the SOP purpose, method, definitions, procedural steps and more.

Here is another standard operating procedure example for the use of ladders at Liberty University.

Ultimately, your standard operating procedures should be comprehensive enough to cover everything that needs to happen for your desired business outcome. The goal is to streamline your procedure to optimize your workforce without compromising on the potential for error.

Essential Elements of Standard Operating Procedures

An SOP has multiple essential elements that
make it meaningful and clear. The components of an SOP include:

  1. Purpose
  2. Scope
  3. Responsibility
  4. Accountability
  5. Procedure

Purpose

The first and most important part of a standard operating procedure is to define the purpose with clearly defined objectives. The purpose should answer specific questions such as who the is SOP for, how/where to use it, and what problem it will solve.

Scope

The scope defines the applicability and use of the SOP. Who is it for and what business use case it covers.

Responsibility

Who is to perform the task? If there is an issue with the task, to whom should the issue be escalated? Lastly, who is overseeing this SOP and responsible for ensuring it is kept up to date and improving it?

Accountability

The beauty of standard operating procedures is that they hold staff accountable. They should address who will ensure implementation of the procedures in the SOP and who will be held responsible if a procedure isn’t followed.

Procedure

This is the meat of the standard operating procedure that defines which tasks need to be performed and how they will be performed. The procedure includes all the necessary steps that need to be followed by the staff. This is often the only component that most of your staff need to see and manage.

Standard Operating Procedure Alternative Terms

Standard operating procedures are occasionally referred to as:

  1. Standing operating procedure (common in the military)
  2. Standing instructions
  3. Standard operational procedures

The Benefits of Standard Operating Procedures

Writing and finalizing SOPs can require a significant upfront investment of resources. You need time, labor, data collection, research, and other resources to come up with a robust SOP. Even once your procedures have been written and put into practice, it is important to review your processes and their results frequently to make changes that can improve efficiencies further.

Here are some of the leading benefits of
Standard Operating Procedures that your business will enjoy at the end of the
day.

Efficiency

The number one reason why you should develop SOPs for your company is to boost efficiency. SOPs make your workforce efficient, predictable and measurable. When your employees don’t have to spend the mental energy to think about how to do something, they can focus all of the energies into performing the task.

As your team completes the same procedures repeatedly, you can start to improve the processes. Perhaps a few steps are redundant and don’t present any additional value. Conversely, you may discover a frequent error or mistake that can be prevented by adding a step to account for the issues.

There will be less time wasted, unplanned shutdowns, and other equipment failures when you have SOPs defined for every task, process, equipment, and machinery.

Standardization

Standard operating procedures are all about standardization and consistency. By defining procedures to perform a specific routine task, you’re standardizing it. The task should be always performed the same way throughout your company across all departments.

It doesn’t just save your team from creating their own procedures over and over again for similar tasks across your organization, but it will make processes streamlined, improve consistency, and will allow your management to make informed business decisions.

Accountability

Research shows that as many as 30-50% employees avoid responsibility on average and this lack of accountability costs businesses a lot of money. SOPs help solve the issue of responsibility and accountability.

If processes are clearly defined in SOPs, along with who is to perform to them, there is less room for error. If a task isn’t completed accurately, and the SOPs weren’t followed, management can take appropriate action to prevent it from reoccurring.

SOPs boost responsibility and improves accountability across the organization.

Safety

According to the International Labour Organization, it is estimated that 2.3 workers all over the world are involved in work-related safety and health issues resulting in as many as 6K+ deaths per day. Sadly, most of these injuries can be prevented by incorporating safety procedures into workflows.

Employee safety and health at the workplace is a serious concern which you can handle with SOPs. Whether you need to outline the safest way to shut down hazardous equipment or remind employees to wear protective gear, these extra reminders can help prevent accidents in your workplace.

This indirectly saves your company from
penalties, fines, and lawsuits. When you have listed all safety concerns, your
workforce is trained, and you’re following all government laws, things will
move smoothly.

How to Write Standard Operating Procedures

Writing SOP requires in-depth knowledge and should be carried out by subject matter experts. Writing the initial SOP isn’t the most challenging task – measuring the results and improving them are the most frequently neglected steps at most companies.

So where to begin?

Follow these steps to write your own Standard
Operating Procedures (SOP).

Step #1: Data Collection

The first step is getting information on
the actual procedure, activity, and process. You need to define the exact
procedure which can be done by someone who has performed the task or knows the
task inside out.

Subject matter experts, managers, or senior
staff members are your best resource to collect all the information on the
procedure that is to be standardized.

Step #2: Write-Up

After you have all the internal and external information, the next step is to begin writing the SOP. This should be done by internal experts if they know the terminologies, jargons, and other relevant information that is necessary for task completion.

When writing an SOP, you need to follow the five C’s rule which means the SOP has to be:

  1. Clear
  2. Complete
  3. Concise
  4. Correct
  5. Courteous

There isn’t any right or wrong way to write an SOP. However, it does help to create a Standard Operating Procedures format and use it for all the SOPs across your organization.

The standard operating procedure format is quite flexible and you can add as many details as you like. That said, these are a few common elements:

  1. Title
  2. Department, task, project, and
    management details
  3. SOP purpose
  4. Scope
  5. Definitions
  6. Procedure
  7. Responsibility and
    accountability details

Step #3 Implementation

Implementing standard operating procedures is one of the most crucial steps in the process. Implementation is a multi-step process.

  1. It begins by reviewing the written SOP by a group of experts.
  2. Employees need to be trained. You need to provide them the necessary instructions and details related to SOP so they can start implementing it practically. This is especially important and challenging when you are implementing a new SOP over an existing process.
  3. Enforce accountability. Hold employees and teams responsible for SOP implementation by using a system to monitor compliance of the SOPs and measure the results.

Standard Operating Procedures Template

Writing your own SOP becomes easier if you have a Standard Operating Procedure template to get started. You can tweak and customize the SOP template and start with the write-up process immediately.

Here is a basic Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) template by Sanjay Jain to help you get started. And here is a detailed Standard Operating Procedures template example that’s fully customizable with MaintainX.

It is developed for a custodial cleaning procedure but you can personalize it as you see fit. It even has a photo upload field at the end that will help you implement accountability with ease.

Automate Your SOPs

Creating and managing multiple standard operating procedures for all your organization’s departments is challenging as your company grows. You can automate and globally update SOPs easily with MaintainX. The platform offers a complete solution to managing workflows, communication, and accountability.

MaintainX will make SOP implementation fairly simple. Your managers can track SOP progress in real-time and see how their teams are performing and if they’re following SOPs. The best part is that your team can complete procedures and update their team from any mobile device with ease – no more paperwork that needs to be typed into an outdated system or worse – filed away and forgotten.

You can easily improve accountability and communication at all levels with a platform designed to take your SOPs to the next level. Two business growth levers you can’t put a price on. If you’re ready to take create processes that scale your business, get started on your SOPs today!

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