How to Create an Excellent Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

A standard operating procedure (SOP) helps team members perform a task properly by explaining the what, how, when, who, and sometimes the why. Typically an SOP covers one task or responsibility that a single person will perform, but this definition varies.

This is a simple, helpful, to-the-point guide on making SOPs within your business or organisation.

Not interested in making SOPs yourself? Want to hire someone to do it? Well SOPs and team knowledge sites are our speciality at Touchdreams. Contact us to get started.

As you’ll see below, the core of an SOP is the steps that need to be done to accomplish the task, and these are typically in numbered bullet point format. Before the steps is a section for the task’s context, and after the steps is a section explaining what to do once it’s complete.

How to begin

Before starting, it might be helpful to see an example of an SOP

Purpose - Why you’re making it

An SOP will look quite different depending on its purpose. The most common reasons for creating an SOP are:

  • For training of new employees
    This will result in a detailed SOP in simple language (no jargon)
  • As a quick reference for experienced employees
    This will result in a brief SOP that contains industry language
  • For compliance (ensuring all regulations are followed)
    This will result in a detailed SOP with space for signatures at the bottom

If you need the SOP to fulfil two or more of those purposes, then you may need to make multiple versions of the SOP.

Scope - What it should cover

Your business probably needs many SOPs, covering a wide range of tasks. The ideal length of an SOP is 1 to 2 pages. If the task is too complex for that, consider splitting it into more than one SOP. Remember that an SOP can link to other documents like templates, scripts, diagrams, etc.

Interview - How to get the knowledge

If you’re not the most skilled or experienced team member who does the task, you’ll need to organise an interview with the most experienced person.

You’ll need to ask for up to an hour per SOP that you’ll need that person’s input on. That time is merely for the interview; you’ll need more time afterward to compile your notes and write the SOP to a high standard.

Not sure how to conduct the interviews?
Read our article on How to interview team members for their knowledge

Tools - Things you’ll need to use

Decide on a note-taking tool, and have it ready. It can be an app like WorkFlowy or Evernote, or it can be just pen-and paper.

If the task involves physical work (away from a computer), then if possible, get a camera for taking photos and videos of the process.

What to include

Why we do the task

Explain how doing the task helps the business or the customers. It might be useful to describe what it was like before you started to do this, and what it’s like when it doesn’t get done - or when it’s done at the wrong time or done poorly.

When the task should be started

This could be a regular day of the month (such as the first Thursday of every month), or time of the day.

Alternatively it might need to be done directly after another task, or it might need to happen based on external events, such as when a customer calls or when an accident occurs.

How long it should take to complete

If it varies, give a range of days, hours, etc. This isn’t to catch the person out if they take too long, it’s simply to give them a guideline of when they should be done.

Who this is relevant to

Describe who should be doing this task. Rather than simply writing a person’s name, it’s better to write the position / role of the person who should do it, and optionally put the current person’s name in brackets if applicable, like this: Head of Graphic Design (Alex Abrahams).

It might also be helpful to write down which individuals or teams this task is relevant to, either because they need to be part of the process, or because the outcome affects them or their work.

The steps to follow to do the task

Write down the steps needed to perform the task, from start to finish, and number each one. Wherever possible, start with a verb. Keep each step as concise as possible, but include any necessary details to do it well. Also, break each step into sub-steps when applicable. Here’s an example:

1. Print the report. First, check that the printer is turned on, has paper, and that none of the warning lights are on. If you have any issues with it, speak to IT. Then using your work computer, open the document and use Ctrl + P on your keyboard to open the print popup, and click Print. Then fetch the document and check that all all pages were printed clearly.

For physical tasks - things that aren’t done in front of a computer - the best kind of instructions are often videos. So instead of - or in addition to - writing down the steps, take a video of the entire process being done by one of your team members. Using your phone will be fine in most cases.

Diagrams of the process

For any complex task where the steps are dependent on each other, or there’s not a clear sequence from start to finish, creating a diagram of the process will be really helpful. This can be done on paper, or you can use diagramming software like Google Drawings (for simple diagrams) or LucidChart (for complex diagrams). Make sure to link to the diagram, or explain where the reader can find it.

Templates to use

Wherever possible, provide a tool to help make the process fast and foolproof. If, for example, the task is creating some kind of document, link to a template that they can just copy or print. And if you don’t have a template, make one.

Want to see an example template? Check out our SOP template

What to do with the completed work

When the reader has completed the task, they’ll need to know what to do with the work. Typically this means who to send it to, but it could involve saving the work to a particular folder, and sending a message or email notifying someone or a team to check it.

Which task follows next

When the task is completed, it’ll be time to move on to the next task, so write what that should be. If the next task doesn’t have to happen right away, say how long they can wait before starting that next task. If you’re creating an SOP for that next task, link to it, or explain where the reader can find it.

Who to speak to for any guidance

Since any task could be done badly, it’s important to mention who the reader can speak to for advice or assistance.

Examples of the task being done well

This is one of the most important things you can add to any SOP. Don’t just not just examples of the work in ideal conditions looking great; try to also provide examples of the work done in sorts of situations with different inputs and conditions.

These examples could be links to documents, or photos, or screenshots of the finished work.

Examples of the task being done poorly

It’s really helpful to also provide examples of the work done badly, so the team knows what to avoid, and the consequences of the task going wrong.

Resources and learning materials

Lastly, if it’s relevant, provide links to articles or courses for the team to learn more and improve their skills in this particular field.

What to do with it (when complete)

So that’s how to make a bulletproof SOP. In reality, very few SOPs will have every one of the sections above, but generally, the more of these you add, the better your SOP will be, and the more your team will love you for making it.

To your team

At this point, it’s usually helpful to get your team members to review the SOP, to check that nothing is left out, and that it doesn’t contain any errors. If possible, test the SOP by getting a team member to use it to do the task.

You now need to get the SOP into the “hands” of the team members who need it, when they need it. This will depend on the purpose of the SOP as explained above; if it’s for training, reference, or for compliance.

Printing it

Depending on how and where your team works, it might make sense to print the relevant SOPs for each person, bind them, and hand them to the employees.

If your employees do a lot of physical work with their hands, it might be better to print them large, as posters, and stick them up on the walls of their workstations.
In addition to printing it, it’s really helpful to have the SOP easily accessible on your team’s computers. If you have a shared drive (Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or iCloud), then save it into the most appropriate folder.

Taking it further

Lastly, if your team doesn’t have a central location to keep all team knowledge, it’s incredibly helpful to create a team knowledge site (TKS). This TKS can then link to this SOP.

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Does all of this sound like too much work for you and your team to do? No problem. SOPs and team knowledge sites are our speciality at Touchdreams. Just contact us using the form below to get started.