Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
Standard operating procedure (SOP): This article provides a practical explanation of the standard operating procedure. This term is often abbreviated as SOP. The article contains a general definition of the SOP, an example, an explanation on how to write standard operating procedures, and practical tips to get started with the downloadable Standard Operating Procedure template. Enjoy reading!
What is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?
Definition of a Standard Operating Procedure(SOP)
A standard operating procedure, or SOP for short, is a set of step-by-step instructions for employees established by an organization as a means of performing routine work. It is a common example of a procedural document, or process documentation.
SOPs are aimed at achieving efficiency, quality and uniformity of performance. At the same time, this method prevents miscommunication and non-compliance with regulations such as safety measures. A One Point Lesson (OPL) is also an SOP.
Standard operating procedure refers to a single standard way of doing something. The term is also sometimes used to denote practices that are not constructive, but are the norm. For example, the term SOP is used jokingly to denote corrupt operations within a particular entity.
Examples of industries in which SOPs are used
SOPs are popular and for good reason. The method is used in almost every sector. Below you will find some examples.
- SOPs in production, including quality control instructions and safety protocols
- Human resources SOPs for hiring, training, and managing employees within a company
- SOPs for customer service purposes for visualizing customer processes such as handling complaints and inquiries
- SOPs in finance can outline procedures for processing payments, billing, and general transaction management
- SOPs in IT are about managing and maintaining systems and networks within a company
In this article you will find more examples of situations in which the standard operating procedure is very important.
Why is an SOP valuable?
Standards of Practice provide the efficiency and standards necessary for an organization to succeed when work must be performed consistently in the same way. Organizations that are less focused on this can also benefit from SOPs.
Well-defined SOPS can help the company make fewer mistakes, increase efficiency and profitability, create a safe working environment and establish guidelines that support employees in overcoming obstacles.
An SOP is also valuable for conducting clinical research, for example. It therefore acts as a detailed, written instruction to achieve uniformity in investigations.
SOPs can also be about everyday processes, activities and tasks. New employees in particular benefit from this. They can then use the SOP to answer their questions without supervisors.
The ISO quality standards can also be seen as an SOP. These documented standards are used to manage the quality of products.
How do I create an SOP?
Companies are free to develop their own internal SOP format. Usually, a format is chosen that works well for team members or a group of employees. Most importantly, the standard operating procedure document should contain clear directions to complete a specific task. But first you have to choose the format and below are some examples:
In some simple cases it may be sufficient to write out a short statement line by line. You then choose a step-by-step format. This format of the document is only useful if the process is straightforward and, in most cases, can be completed without errors.
This format is similar to the method above in that it also enumerates information in a step-by-step process. However, the hierarchical version provides additional details. These are included in sub-steps, such as 1b or 4a. This format is used when additional instructions are needed to perform a particular task and is usually a bit more complex. Therefore, a table of contents should be added, to give a bite-sized overview.
A flowchart can be used to represent an SOP when multiple outcomes are possible at a given point in the process. In such cases, the outcome of a step influences how the next step is approached. For example, several decisions may have to be made in the process.
A checklist, or bulleted list, is also seen as SOP. A checklist SOP is presented as a list of steps that must be completed or checked. The order is often important. It can be a useful format for tasks or processes that are highly repetitive or need to be done quickly. An example of this can be found in the aviation sector. Pilots go through multiple checklists before, during and after each flight to ensure their aircraft is operating properly.
An SOP in video format is increasingly used. It acts as a visual guide that uses video images to show exactly what needs to be done in a specific process. It can be an effective tool for training new employees because it can be demonstrated very accurately how they will perform their work in practice.
Step-by-step plan for creating a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
This article contains a Standard Operating Procedure template for a basic version of an SOP, but you will find a step-by-step plan below to create SOP documents that are completely based on your needs. An effective SOP includes clear steps to complete a task.
It also informs the user about the risks associated with the process. The manual should be short and clear, and easily accessible. Once written, the manual should be regularly analyzed and updated.
Important questions that arise in a standard operating procedure concern roles and responsibilities:
- Who plays which role?
- What does that role look like?
- What is the purpose or result of each role?
Step 1. Determine the purpose of the task and why an Standard Operating Procedure is needed
The first step in writing the SOP is to determine the purpose of the task or process and why it needs an instruction.
Step 2. Identify dependencies in a process or task
The second step is to determine dependencies in the process or task. This is important because a format is chosen based on this. Some simple processes can be written out using a simple written SOP format, others need to be visualized with flowcharts. Dependencies play the most important role in this.
Step 3. Determine the correct format
The third step involves deciding on the instruction format. Sometimes ready-made standard operating procedures templates are available in an organization, but sometimes an adapted version is required. The different types of SOPs have been discussed earlier in this article.
Step 4. Compose the Standard Operating Procedure
Combine the knowledge and instructions from the previous steps and compose the SOP. Don’t make this process too complex. The intention is that the instructions are explained as concisely as possible. Avoid unnecessary information and language that will not be understood by the people who will be using the SOP.
Standard Operating Procedure template
To write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), you can use this ready-to-use template / worksheet in a .DOC format.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Do you recognize the explanation of the standard operating procedure? Do you see a lot of SOPs around you in the workplace? Or would your working environment benefit from implementing this method? What practical examples can you come up with and share with us? Are you going to use the template? Do you have tips or comments? Or would you like to know more about a related subject? Let us know.
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Amare, G. (2012). Reviewing the values of a standard operating procedure. Ethiopian journal of health sciences, 22(3).
- Manghani, K. (2011). Quality assurance: Importance of systems and standard operating procedures. Perspectives in clinical research, 2(1), 34.
- Parker, D. A., Soomro, A., & Hayward, C. P. (2015). Responsible conduct and documentation of research: A standard operating procedure template that can be customized. McMaster University.
- Works, I. O. (2009). Standard operating procedure.
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Janse, B. (2023). Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero: https://www.toolshero.com/quality-management/standard-operating-procedure/
Original publication date: 01/11/2023 | Last update: 06/12/2023
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