A standard operating procedure or SOP details the steps or instructions needed to be performed to carry out a process, as well as the scope and who performs the specified task. Your SOP document, therefore, needs to be well written: simple, clearly worded and labeled and easy to read. 

Elements of a SOP

A SOP template may vary depending on specific business needs. However, an SOP document will generally include the following elements:

  • The Policy – the standard that the procedure must meet
  • Purpose –  defines the rationale of the procedure
  • Scope – defines the areas covered by the procedure
  • Responsibilities – identifies who is responsible and what is required to be performed
  • Definition – states the exact meaning of complicated terms, abbreviations, acronyms, or words used in the procedure
  • Procedure – the step-by-step instructions needed to be performed
  • References – identifies the sources that support the procedure
  • Revisions – states the changes the have occurred since its publication 

Writing your SOP

  • Discuss with the team – Before you can start writing your procedure, you need to gather and consult with the employees responsible for performing the process on a regular basis. From them, you can get all the pertinent information you need to create accurate and comprehensive documentation. 
  • Define the scope of your procedure – Usually, business processes are interconnected and may cross various departments and teams. Your standard operating procedure, however, should only cover what is needed by its intended user. So, limiting the scope of your procedure is important to avoid it being too long or complicated.
  • Choose the format:
    • Checklist – A simple checklist is an outline of the different tasks involved in the procedure, think about a To-Do-List. This is ideal for small teams that require just simple and less detailed instructions.
    • Hierarchical – For long procedures — more than ten steps — that involves few decision making and terminologies, it’s best to use a hierarchical format where you can further breakdown your procedure into substeps.
    • Workflow diagram (also known as a flow diagram, workflow or swimlane diagram) – It is a visual document of your SOP and works best if your procedure is more complex and has multiple possible outcomes or decision points.
  • Include any necessary information needed to complete the process such as a methodology, tools needed, system access and risk assessment.
  • Define the metrics to measure and assess your standard operating procedure. Ideally, you should review your SOP every 6-12 months to ensure it is up to date.
  • Review, test, revise and repeat – Before finalising and having your SOP approved by all stakeholders, you need to first have the team members review the draft for technical and grammatical errors and test the procedure for accuracy and clarity. Then, make necessary edits and repeat the process.

Finally, write the SOP with a goal and specific reader in mind, write in the active voice keep sentences concise and use simple terms. With a well written standard operating procedure in place, you support business continuity and protect the organisation from knowledge loss; assure consistency and quality of output, reduce processing errors; and facilitate the training of new-hires.