We often hear the acronym SOP and usually associate it with procedures that people should follow to execute a routine operation. Without an SOP, this can create confusion as to what steps people should take to accomplish a certain task. Creating an SOP template can be time- and effort-consuming, but it is important.
Standard Operating Procedure Templates
What is an SOP?
When do you need an SOP template? For instance, you work at a grocery store in the customer service department. One day, a customer comes in and for some reason, wants to return some canned goods. Most groceries usually have in place written rules on how to deal with such a situation.
You can find this set of guidelines and rules in a standard operating procedure template. Basically, SOPs are step-by-step written instructions which describe how a certain routine activity should get executed. Employees must follow these instructions on the SOP example exactly the same way each time. This is important so the company always maintains consistency.
Each department has its own standing operating procedures format to follow. Before learning how to write an SOP, you should know why you need it. The most important reason for having this is to maintain efficiency and safety in the company in terms of:
- Production or operations
- Customer service and Sales
- Employee training
When creating an SOP example, make sure the contents are easily understood, not a challenge to read, nor should they be vaguely worded. Aside from these, it must be concise, the action steps to follow must be very clear, and it should also inform employees about safety concerns.
The importance of an SOP template
Despite the advantages of a standard operating procedure template, many business owners are still reluctant in adopting such procedures. The rationale behind this is that, why should they require a written document when the employees have already received training on company procedures?
This is just like saying why should doctors need a written set of procedures before a surgical operation? Why the Food and Drug Administration should have a written set of procedures on how restaurants should handle their food? Wouldn’t we feel safer with such written procedures?
Here are some reasons why you should learn how to write an SOP for your company:
- To save money and time
As mentioned earlier, without an SOP, one task might get accomplished in different ways and often, with varying results. An SOP template streamlines the whole process so that employees can do more tasks while saving time.
- To provide consistency
An SOP ensures that the business processes will get completed the proper way no matter who’s assigned to work on the job.
- To improve communication
With SOPs, there will be no guesswork when working on a certain task. Employees will follow a set of rules and this can make their job easier and more efficient. They don’t have to strain their faculties trying to recall what they should do when faced with certain situations.
- To help employees learn accountability
It would be very difficult to evaluate the performance of your employees when there are no written standards to base on. Without a standing operating procedures format, evaluation can become just a matter of opinion which, of course, isn’t fair to employees at all.
- To create a safe working environment
Without SOPs, it’s inevitable that employees would do the same task in different ways. This makes the system inefficient and can even become a liability to the company. SOPs ensure that the employees would do their jobs in a consistent and safe manner.
Many businesses are still reluctant about using their own SOP example because they believe it will cause their business to become inflexible and rigid. This, of course, is far from the truth. Having a standard operating procedure template for the employees to follow can actually make businesses even more flexible.
Tips for creating your SOP template
When creating your SOP, you can either choose to make one from scratch or you may want to download an SOP template to maximize your creation process. Either way, here are some steps to help optimize the process:
- Choose your standing operating procedures format
You first need to make the decision on how to present your SOP according to the process you plan to describe. You may have to include snapshots if you will work on a step-by-step manual or guide. This makes the SOP easy to understand so employees can implement it.
- Form a team to help you make the SOP template
It’s possible that you may not be the only person in charge of doing the procedures you will describe in your SOP. Therefore, it’s recommended to ask all those responsible to assist you in delineating the process. You may even feel surprised that such people will not only be more than willing to help but can contribute great ideas too.
This results in an SOP that optimizes the procedures, especially when your co-workers will reveal ineffective practices. Engage everyone by asking them difficult questions to help you create a useful and effective SOP template.
- Define your audience
You should have a specific audience in mind when trying to come up with your SOP. Who’s the target audience and what are their roles in your work? Do they have any responsibilities? Are they already aware of any procedures like the one you are about to write? It’s logical to make adjustments to the SOP template to accommodate the needs of those involved.
- Establish the scope
After gathering all the required data for your template, you can now establish the scope. In simpler words, you start mapping the procedures from the beginning to its end. Make sure that you cover all of the important procedures while at the same time, aligning your SOP to existing ones.
- Specify all of the essential elements
This is an essential step because it’s where you basically will create a detailed document. Depending on what industry your company is in, your organization, audience, and the purpose of your SOP, you might want to consider including these elements:
Table of Contents
Terminology and Definitions
Procedures and Methodology
- Review the SOP
Perform a review of everything you have written so far. Go through the entire procedure and make sure you have recorded all the important steps.
- Use a format and style that’s easy-to-read and consistent
When you start describing each of the steps in your SOP, it’s important to conform to a consistent format and style that should be similar to the other SOPs in your company and to related documentation. Doing so makes the SOP easier to read, comprehend, and implement.
- Include notation for control documents
Every page of your SOP should have a control document notation which indicates a code that employees can use to reference your reference system database.
- Consider potential opportunities and issues
Using your newly-made SOP, it could be quite a challenge to predict what might happen, when it might happen, and how to handle it. You should discuss this step with all of the people you worked with in making your SOP.
From them, you can learn how to actually carry out the procedure. They can also suggest some solutions to any potential issues. In some instances, there might not even be any issues but rather, opportunities for improved performance.
- Test the SOP then review the document once again
Before applying the SOP to a real work scenario, it’s recommended to first ask employees to implement the SOP. This action will be a test on whether your audience can understand then follow correctly all your SOP guidelines.
SOPs are well-written, detailed instructions that tell the reader how to correctly perform a certain business activity. SOPs should be easy to read, easy to understand, and should explain the details of the processes to perform. An SOP deals less on what employees need to do and more with how they should perform certain tasks. This is an effective tool all businesses should have.
There are some things an SOP can do for a business establishment including:
- To give employees a better understanding of how processes work inside their company. This benefit can help them decide on how to make future plans
- To provide assurances that the employees will perform business procedures the proper way
- To give the company the choice to scale its business faster for the simple reason that SOPs can make it much easier for the company to replicate such processes across the entire organization.
With many businesses, it has become common practice to implement SOPs by displaying these written documents in the areas where they are clearly in view of all of the employees. At present, however, businesses can use other tools for this purpose.
There are some apps which offer an excellent way to come up with an interactive information database instead of an old-fashioned document. You can further your knowledge on these new business apps by going online and learning how many companies have successfully, used such apps for their businesses.