A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a set of instructions allowing employees to perform a series of tasks of a given process. This ensures that the given process goes as planned and that everyone is doing it consistently. SOPs may be needed to ensure that the company’s compliance or quality standards are met, that operational requirements are followed, or they may also be used for training purposes following a system implementation for example.
Writing a good SOP requires following a few essential steps:
1. Determine the Objectives and the Audience
You must keep in mind the end result of your SOP and the output. For example, it could be to ship a sales order having generated the appropriate shipping paperwork. In such a case, your audience will target the shipper(s) in the warehouse.
2. Create a Checklist of Steps That Need to Be Performed
You then need to work out the steps of the process and create a checklist which outlines the different tasks of the process. For this, you can conduct interviews with different stakeholders involved in the process, review existing internal documentation, and then map out the process to create a flowchart.
3. Define the Structure and the Format of the SOP
With all the steps in mind, develop the plan of your SOP and divide the process into sections for better understanding. Depending on the company, your SOP may take a more formal form, such as a formal report – but there are not one-size fits-all formats; a power-point format can also be considered. If your company already has procedural documents written, you could also use them as templates or references for your document formatting.
4. Write Your SOP
When writing your SOP, make sure to use a consistent style. As much as possible, be clear, concise, and use verbs at the beginning of your instructions. If you are implementing a new system, you can also include print screens to accompany your instructions.
5. Review it and try it
Since an SOP provides an “on-the-ground” explanation of what needs to happen, you need to verify on the spot whether your SOP fits with the reality of the company and the employees. Take this time to test your SOP, see if there may be any potential issues, and adjust your SOP accordingly if necessary. Finally, an external and complementary point of view from external resources (consultants specialized in your industry for example), following a methodical and detailed approach, can be highly valuable in the realization of your SOP.