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How to Write an SOP: A Step‑by‑Step Guide

Learn how to write an SOP with our step‑by‑step guide. From defining objectives to creating a template, you can streamline your processes with SOPs.

If you want to improve productivity across your business and streamline your operations, you may want to consider using SOPs. An SOP, or Standard Operating Procedure, is a detailed process breakdown of particular business tasks or activities.

Companies of all sizes can benefit from using SOPs to improve their existing processes. Smaller companies will find that effective SOPs can help simplify tasks, while larger businesses will appreciate being able to provide their personnel with detailed instructions for projects.

But how do you write an effective SOP for your business?

This guide will cover the different types of SOPs, when you need an SOP, and how to write an SOP that works for your business. Whether you want to ensure a task is performed correctly or train new employees, SOPs serve various purposes in the workplace. Continue reading to learn how you can use SOPs to streamline your workflow.

What is a standard operating procedure (SOP)?

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a list of step-by-step instructions that describe how to perform a particular task or activity. An SOP can be used to ensure the appropriate steps are taken at the correct time.

SOPs usually include information like the purpose of the task or process, the materials and equipment needed, the steps to be followed, and any safety precautions or quality checks that need to be performed.

An SOP can help businesses ensure tasks are executed correctly every time they're performed. This document is integral to every business and should be revised and updated as needed to ensure continued applicability and success.

When do you need an SOP?

An SOP can be used whenever an organization wants to have step-by-step instructions explicitly written to ensure things are done correctly.

However, businesses can use SOPs in various other situations, such as:

  • To go over health and safety warnings
  • To ensure compliance with laws/regulations
  • To train new employees
  • To reduce mistakes
  • To improve communication

Types of SOP formats

Depending on your business needs, one SOP format may be more appropriate for a particular task than another. However, there are four types of SOP formats that most businesses use: simple format, hierarchical steps format, process flow chart format, and checklist format.

While there are several SOP templates available online, understanding exactly which format will be most effective can help you choose the correct template for your task or activity.

Simple format

For straightforward procedures or those with a smaller scope, a simple format SOP is ideal. The simple format lists the key steps in a way that is easy to read and follow.

Ideally, this format will have only a few sections explaining the purpose of the task, a summary, the specific steps, and the party responsible for the task. You can also use this format to go over safety guidelines to ensure they are followed by all employees in the workplace.

Hierarchical steps format

Most businesses have activities that involve complex procedures or processes that span multiple organizations and may include detailed technical procedures. In these situations, a good SOP format would be the hierarchical format.

This format involves a detailed hierarchical checklist and should include multiple sections that break the processes into smaller tasks. The document structure should include a table of contents and provide insight into how tasks are broken down to form subtasks.

Process flow chart format

Sometimes, an organization will have processes or procedures that have some flexibility. In this case, a process flow or chart-style SOP would be appropriate. This type of SOP can be used for simple or complex processes and will show the steps that need to be completed in a graphical flowchart format.

A good example of when a process flow diagram is ideal is customer service policies, where different scenarios are possible, but the ultimate goal of maintaining customer relationships remains the same.

Checklist format

A checklist format will provide a specific list of individual steps in the order they need to be completed, and as each step is completed, it is checked off.

A checklist is typically organized in a bulleted or numbered list and doesn't involve full sentences. It's brief, to the point, and clearly states what needs to be done in a process. A good example of a checklist format would be a to-do list.

How to write an SOP

If your organization wants to write a standard operating procedure, regardless of the task to be covered, there are several steps that must be followed. You can also look at SOP examples online to help write detailed SOPs for nearly any business process.

These are the steps that should be followed when writing SOPs:

Define the purpose

The first thing to do is to figure out what the purpose of the SOP will be. This will include determining the specific process or task that will be covered.

Every business will have its own processes unique to the company, but common processes that span nearly every organization include accounting principles and customer sales policies.

Identify your audience

Once the task has been identified, you then need to figure out who will be following the SOP. Identifying the target audience will help you write the SOP in a way that your audience can understand.

For example, writing an SOP for a sales team in a style that is appropriate for a software development team will likely lead to the sales team not understanding the SOP. It is important to engage employees during this process and get their input in a way that makes it easy for them to follow any SOP they are expected to utilize.

Gather information

With the task and target audience identified, it is time to gather any existing information related to the individual steps to be covered in the SOP.

For existing tasks common to your organization, you may want to speak to other individuals on your team who have prior knowledge about the process. For new processes, you'll want to work together with your team members to ensure you cover all the necessary tasks involved in the process.

If there are other SOPs that need to be referenced, information about how they fit into the new SOP will be needed.

Choose a format

Next, you will need to choose an appropriate format for the SOP, depending on how complex or detailed the SOP needs to be.

Again, for more straightforward tasks, a simple or checklist format will be appropriate. A hierarchical format is best for more complex tasks or those involving detailed steps. If there are multiple options that need to be explored as the SOP is carried out, a flow format will be best, regardless of the process complexity.

Write the SOP

Once you've defined the purpose of the SOP, gathered all relevant information, and chosen an SOP format, it is time to write standard operating procedures. Using all of the SOP documentation information gathered, the team responsible will get together and craft the SOP.

Review and revise the SOP

After the SOP document has been developed, it will need to be evaluated by stakeholders, such as those using the product resulting from the SOP. These parties should look at the SOP and make any recommendations for revisions.

Additionally, a trial run of the SOP can be carried out to ensure the steps can be followed and that the actual outcome matches what was anticipated.

Implement the SOP

Once the SOP has been revised, it is time to go ahead and put it into practice. As a company works to create SOPs, they should be compiled into documentation that is easily accessible to anyone who may need to follow them.

An identification number can be assigned to enable easy cross-referencing from other SOPs. If, after implementation, challenges or problems arise, the SOP should be reevaluated and revised as needed.

Improve your business processes with an effective SOP

SOP documents can be used for everything from outlining tasks in your communication strategy to reviewing safety warnings for a new project. SOPs are necessary for every business to ensure that all team members are on the same page regarding various tasks and responsibilities.

Now that you know what SOPs are and how they can be utilized across your business to improve employee engagement and customer service, it is time to start crafting your own SOP documents.

Using the information in this article as a starting point, you can begin to improve your business processes and achieve consistency throughout your operations. If you are interested in developing SOPs that meet the needs of your business, Mailchimp has the resources and tools to help. Try Mailchimp today and accomplish your business goals in no time.

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