A Guide on writing effective Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Running a business or operating a key function or handling a department is not an easy job. You have to understand what things are being done, who is doing what, how are they doing it, and what is the approach to do it in the best way possible. These are the common questions faced by businesses in their initial years, or when a new project starts or a new method is being defined. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are the fitting answer to all these questions.
SOPs are the step-by-step instructions set by the organization for carrying out routine or repetitive processes and operations. Organizations may call SOPs by different names, such as worksheets, instructions, or protocols. Whatever the name be, SOPs form an integral part of an organization to guide the employees to perform the activities properly, consistently, and in line with the requirements to generate high-quality output.
To achieve consistency in your business processes, you need to create SOP documents in an easy to understand, clear, uniform, and comprehensive manner for the understanding of the people relevant to the process. In this article, we give you some basic guidelines for writing an SOP manual:
Identify the business processes, which require SOP document
Not all processes need SOP. An SOP cannot define the processes that are non-standard and non-repetitive. Therefore, business leaders must identify the relevant repetitive processes that require SOP documentation. Based on the value generated by each of these processes, you can set a priority list.
Understand why you want to create SOPs
It is essential to understand the ‘why’ of creating SOP documents. In the case of updating the existing SOP manuals, you just have to identify the gaps, fill them with the relevant step, and present them in a new, clear, and formalized format for better understanding. In the case of creating new SOPs, you must ascertain if the creation of SOPs will make the work of employees easier and efficient to better able to serve the clients, thereby benefitting the company.
Find a format for representation of company SOPs
Decide the format for writing your standard operating procedures. There are multiple options available such as international standards, a formal package with metadata, or just a simple worksheet. There are different types of templates available online or you can create one of yours by using workflow diagrams or SmartArt or other features of computer applications. Just ensure that the template for writing SOPs is simple, easy to understand and edit, and collaborative.
Determine the relevant stakeholders for collaboration in SOP documentation
A business leader or the function head must not be the only person responsible for creating SOP documents. All the relevant stakeholders who will be conducting those activities and affected by those activities mentioned in the SOPs must contribute to developing the SOP manual. Specifically,
Functional managers must be involved as they are responsible for the planning of the function, are accountable for usage of resources, and are responsible for the success and failure of the functional activities
Team members must be involved, as they work on each of those steps day-in and day-out and they are better aware of the best practices and challenges
C-level executives must be involved since they are more concerned about developing lean operations to improve the productivity of business operations
Define the scope of SOPs
There are several processes and activities in the business, which are dependent on each other and can be completed only after the completion of a step in another function. For such SOPs, you must be sure of where to draw the line in terms of the inclusion of steps in your current SOP. You must be certain of the scope of the current process and define the limits of including the other process description, as it may lead to complexities.
Understand your audience’s needs
You must be aware of the people who will be reading and following your SOPs. Some people with good knowledge about the entire process just need a short description while some require detailed instructions around each activity. Some prefer graphics and images while some like it in words.
Structure the SOPs in a specific structure and style
Now, you are ready to write the SOPs; it is better to structure them properly. You must have in your SOP document, the title page, table of contents, purpose, roles and responsibilities, resources and materials, safety precautions, methodology and procedures, quality control and assurance, and references.
Identify performance measures for your SOPs
For better management of your company SOPs, it is important to define metrics to gauge their performance. With performance measures, you will be able to measure, and based on the poor or good performance, you can optimize it.
Evaluate, test, revise, and repeat
Once the SOPs are ready, send them to the relevant team for review and edits. The next step is to test the SOP whether it helps to achieve the desired outcome or not. You must also ask other team members to test the SOP to see if everyone understands the language used and the manner of presentation and if it leads to a successful completion of the process. Based on the suggestions received, edit the document, and finalize it until all the stakeholders agree to it and approve it.
Implement the SOPs
Now, the SOP is ready for use. You must provide it to the relevant team. You must revisit the SOPs once or twice a year to check for relevancy as per the process requirements and make changes accordingly.
These are the basic guidelines that you must follow in the SOP writing process. You can also hire professional teams like Technovisors to create or review your SOPs. We have the knowledge and extensive experience of creating SOPs and working in various processes in several industries that can be used for your benefit.