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SOP template: Build a standard operating procedure in 11 simple steps

SOP template: Build a standard operating procedure in 11 simple steps

10
min read

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) serve as the unsung heroes of organizational efficiency, providing a clear roadmap of processes for new and seasoned employees alike and guaranteeing seamless operations with minimal mistakes.

However, crafting a thorough, yet straightforward set of step-by-step instructions isn't an easy task. Also, having to do so while dealing with a hundred other managerial to-dos on your plate can make it even more of a hassle.

To save you some time, we'll show you how to build a standard operating procedure in 11 simple steps. All you have to do is keep reading!

<a href="#standard-operating" class="anchor-link">What is a standard operating procedure?</a>

<a href="#benefits-sops" class="anchor-link">Benefits of SOPs?</a>

<a href="#sop-template" class="anchor-link">Standard operating procedure template</a>

<a href="#use-sop-template" class="anchor-link">Why use an SOP template?</a>

<a href="#sop-formats" class="anchor-link">Different types of SOP formats</a>

<a href="#choose-sop-format" class="anchor-link">Choose the right SOP format</a>

<a href="#good-sop-format" class="anchor-link">A good SOP format</a>

<a href="#writing-effective-sops" class="anchor-link">11 steps to writing effective SOPs</a>

<a href="#sop-templates-examples" class="anchor-link">Examples of SOP templates</a>

<a href="#sop-creation-challenges" class="anchor-link">Challenges when creating SOPs</a>

<a href="#crm-tools-sop-templates" class="anchor-link">Use CRM tools to improve your SOP templates</a>

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But first, what is a standard operating procedure?

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a compilation of clear and consistent instructions that detail how employees should perform specific tasks. Their main aim is to maintain consistency among team members and provide a quick and seamless introduction to the internal processes of a company.

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What are the benefits of SOPs?

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) have a myriad of benefits that your team and company will reap if prepared properly, including:

  • Creating uniformity and quality control: When your entire team follows the same steps while working, you ensure consistency and quality as different people perform similar tasks.
  • Reducing training time to save time: SOPs make training new team members a piece of cake as they clearly outline the steps to complete tasks.
  • Keeping tribal knowledge internal: No matter how many experienced employees leave your company, you'll be able to retain their knowledge and pass it along to newer team members through your SOPs.
  • Offering quick answers to common questions: SOPs answer many of the common questions employees have, saving time otherwise spent seeking leaders and finding answers.
  • Standardizing training: Delivering the same training to all employees will eliminate common mistakes and fluctuations in task quality. Also, it'll save team leaders the time spent preparing training for each new employee.
  • Streamlining communication: SOPs provide clear guidelines for tasks, eliminating confusion and misunderstandings that may arise from miscommunication.

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What is a standard operating procedure template?

A standard operating procedure template is a pre-designed document that gives you a head start in preparing your SOPs. It typically consists of generic steps that you can personalize to match your task objectives.

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Why use an SOP template?

Breaking down your business processes into written steps can come as a challenge if it's your first time. However, using a free SOP template will make it easier, as you'll have prompts to follow and blank spaces to fill. You won't need to build it from scratch or reinvent the wheel.

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What are the different types of SOP formats?

There are five common types of SOP formats that you might come across in different organizations. Here's a brief overview of each.

Checklist

An SOP checklist is similar to a to-do list with tasks that you should finish and tick off the list. You don't have to finish them in a specific order, making this format more flexible than others and ideal for an onboarding SOP. It's the easiest to prepare but might not be suitable for complicated tasks with a specific flow.

Hierarchical

As opposed to checklists, a hierarchical SOP format is ideal for complicated tasks with sub-tasks, guidelines, policies, and required documentation. It consists of a table of contents with various headings and specific instructions for every task. We admit it's a bit of a pain to prepare, but it's much easier than explaining the tasks every time.

Flowchart

A flowchart SOP format is a visual explanation of the tasks your team needs to follow. It's the simplest to read because it looks like a map with organized steps that you can follow in a specific order. In terms of use, it's best suited for tasks with conditions, like approvals from other teams or replies from clients. Flowchart templates show which way to go after each response, whether it's a yes or no.

Simple

A simple SOP format typically consists of a short table or bullet points that explain an easy task. They're ideal for quick tasks without conditions or sub-tasks, but they're not quite right for super complicated internal processes.

Step-by-step

A step-by-step SOP breaks down a complicated task into small steps that need to be followed in a specific order. It's the most famous format and is easily read and understood by employees.

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How to choose the right SOP format

To choose the right format for you, start by evaluating the overarching task that you want the SOP to explain. If it's a straightforward task without too many steps or requirements, you can use a checklist or a simple format. However, if it has sub-tasks and is conditional upon other factors, you should go with a hierarchical, flow chart, or step-by-step SOP template.

All in all, your SOP should be actionable, accessible, and easy to understand for anyone who reads it. Also, you should make it as brief as you can to avoid confusion.

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What makes a good SOP format?

To craft a good SOP format, you should include all the key elements of a standard operating procedure. Here's a checklist that can help you:

  • Title page: Include the specific task in the SOP's title to make sure it's easy to recognize among other SOPs. Also, include the date it was created and the name of the department on the page.
  • Table of contents: Outline the main components of the SOP in a short table of contents at the beginning to help employees navigate it faster.
  • Preliminary information: Write general information about the contents of the SOP to help employees know what to expect inside, like the following:
  • Statement of purpose: Explain the aim of the task you explained inside the SOP.
  • Scope: Write the teams and departments that should follow the SOP.
  • Materials and tools: Write what tools employees will need to follow the SOP.
  • Definition of terms: Write the definition of any complicated business terms.
  • Roles and responsibilities: Explain which employees are responsible for following the SOP and who should review their work.
  • Procedures: Write the steps and clear instructions your team needs to follow to finish the task.
  • Revision history: Write the date when you prepared the SOP to clarify to employees whether it's updated and relevant to the current times or not.
  • Approval signature: Sign your SOP to let employees know who's accountable for it.

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What are the 11 steps to writing effective SOPs?

With that said, below are the exact steps you need to follow to write an excellent standard operating procedure (SOP).

Step 1: Determine what works now

If you're writing an SOP for a task you don't perform day-to-day, you should sit with the team leaders who do and understand how the task currently works. This way, you can better explain the process to new employees.

Step 2: Come up with a goal

Before writing your SOP document, you should identify the goal you want the SOP to accomplish. What task are you writing the SOP for? Do you want to prioritize simplicity or details? Answering these questions will give you a clear image of the path you should follow while writing.

Step 3: Determine the scope and format

Depending on the task at hand, you should determine the scope of the SOP and what you hope to achieve using it. Also, you should settle on a format to write in so that you can break the task into smaller, more understandable steps.

Step 4: Decide where to document it

Do you want your standard operating procedure templates to be easily accessible online through sharing platforms? Or do you want to go classic and write it on paper? This is the step where you decide where you want to write the document. Keep in mind that you want multiple team members to access it with ease, so choose wisely!

Step 5: Decide the audience

Some SOPs are limited to specific departments, while some are generic and meant for the whole company. Before filling out your SOP template, you should determine the audience you're writing for so that you can relate to their skill levels better.

Step 6: Create the SOP outline

Now, you need to create a draft of the steps you want to include in your SOP. Try to make them as straightforward as possible, and write them in the proper order.

Step 7: Collaborate with colleagues

After you have a clear outline of the SOP, you should show it to the team that'll follow it. Ask them what parts feel confusing or need improvements, and edit them as much as needed until you're sure it's an accurate representation of reality.

Step 8: Refine the process

As a final touch, you can refine your SOP draft by automating the workflow, using a standard template for all the SOPs you make, and training your employees on how to use them.

Step 9: Review the final output

After you finish editing the SOP, you should review the final output and see if it needs any tweaks here or there. Ideally, you should show it to your team one last time to make sure it's relevant and easy to understand.

Step 10: Implement the SOP document

Once reviewed and approved, you can start implementing the SOP document and using it in employee onboarding processes or with other organizational tasks.

Step 11: Update the SOP when needed

Every once in a while, you should review your SOP and make sure it's relevant to your current tasks and workflows. If any changes happen, and it's no longer applicable, you should update it as needed.

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What are some examples of SOP templates?

Here are a few examples of common SOP templates that organizations use:

  • Retail SOP template: Retail stores have standardized steps for handling customers' complaints, applying discounts, accepting refunds, and more store operational tasks.
  • HR SOP template: HR departments prepare SOPs to explain the employee onboarding process and to prepare standardized training manuals.
  • Manufacturing SOP template: Industrial places have SOPs with detailed instructions regarding quality control, safety procedures, and production steps.
  • Customer service SOP template: Customer service departments have SOPs that dictate how employees should respond to clients and how to resolve common inquiries.
  • Restaurant SOP template: Restaurants have SOPs to streamline ordering ingredients, sanitation and food safety regulations, quality standards, and more.

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What are some challenges when creating SOPs?

Many companies don't invest as much time as they should in creating SOPs, which leads to avoidable challenges like:

  • Inconsistent and overlapping SOPs: If each department builds SOPs in silos, you may end up with inconsistencies in templates or overlapping and contradictory tasks. For the best outcome, all the leaders responsible for creating SOPs should get together, review their processes, and make sure everyone’s marching to the beat of the same drum.
  • Overdoing the SOPs: When entrepreneurs try to create an SOP for every small task they assign to their teams, the process becomes strenuous and time-consuming. Ideally, you should start with the key processes in your company and slowly expand your SOP library.
  • Inaccessibility: Paper SOPs aren't easily accessible to all employees, especially remote workers. Plus, they can be challenging to update. To improve the training process, you should upload all your SOPs online and share them with your teams digitally.

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Use CRM tools to improve your SOP templates

To make your SOP writing process as smooth as possible, you should use an effective CRM tool to help you communicate with your team and organize the steps. We’re biased, but we like Streak. (Fun fact, our blog creation SOP lives right in Streak. We use it to write, edit, and publish all of our posts, including this one.)

Using Streak's pipeline templates, you can prepare an SOP in a short amount of time. If none of the templates meet your needs, you can even build a custom one from scratch. Better yet, you can include every step you want and track where team members are in the process. For smooth communication, you can choose who to share the SOP with and invite your entire team for collaboration.

And here’s the best part — you can try Streak for free. It'll only take you 30 seconds to get started.

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