What Is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)? Definition from SearchBusinessAnalytics (2023)

What is a standard operating procedure (SOP)?

A standard operating procedure is a set of written instructions that describes the step-by-step process that must be taken to properly perform a routine activity. SOPs should be followed the exact same way every time to guarantee that the organization remains consistent and incompliancewith industry regulations and business standards.

Standard operating procedures provide the policies, processes and standards needed for the organization to succeed. They can benefit a business by reducing errors, increasing efficiencies and profitability, creating a safe work environment and producing guidelines for how to resolve issues and overcome obstacles.

How to write a standard operating procedure

An effective standard operating procedure clearly explains the steps taken to complete a task and informs the employee of any risks associated with the process. The manual should be brief and easy to understand, with a focus on how things should be done rather than what needs to be done. Once written, the SOP should be analyzed and updated every six to 12 months to guarantee it remains relevant to the standards and requirements of the organization; any changes made should be recorded.

Before writing the SOP, the author(s) should perform arisk assessmentof all the steps in the procedure to determine any obstacles that may arise during the process and any risks associated with those obstacles.

Key questions that should be answered in the standard operating procedure include:

  • Who performs what role?
  • What does each role do?
  • What is the goal or outcome of each person's role?
  • Has what needs to happen been explained clearly?

To decide which procedures would benefit from an SOP, organizations should make a list of all theirbusiness processes. Managers should discuss employees' day-to-day responsibilities and tasks to ensure all procedures are accounted for. Any tasks that are repeated by multiple employees should be considered for SOP creation.

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Step 1: Define the task's goal and why it needs an SOP

The first step to writing a standard operating procedure is to define the task's goal and understand why that goal needs an SOP.

Step 2: Determine format for SOP

Next, the author must decide what type of format they would like to use for the SOP. Sometimes, an organization will have a premade template provided; other times, authors will have to design their own. Some examples of formats include:

  • Flowchart or workflow diagram: Used to display procedures with unpredictable or various outcomes.
  • Simple steps: Often written as a bulleted or numbered list, including documents such as safety guidelines. This brief, simple list is best used with procedures that are short and easy to follow.
  • Hierarchical steps: Also written as a bulleted or numbered list but intended for procedures with many steps and decisions. This list includes a numbered list of primary steps followed by a collection of more specific.

Once a format has been chosen, the author must then decide if the SOP will be available as a written hard copy or if it will be available online.

Step 3: Identify task dependencies

The third step is to determine any dependencies. It is possible that the task being recorded relies on other procedures within the organization. The author should identify these dependencies and decide how to incorporate them into the new SOP, or if it would be better to add the new standard operating procedure into an existing one.

Next, the author should identify their audience to determine how the SOP should be written. For example, an SOP written for employees with previous knowledge will be very different from one written for brand new employees.

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Once all these decisions have been made, the author can begin to write the SOP. While writing, a present verb tense and active voice should be used. The author should not use the word "you," but it should be implied. If a style guide is provided by the organization, then the author should adhere to it.

Components of an SOP

The standard operation procedure should include:

  • Title page.Lists the title of the procedure, for whom it is intended -- the specific role, department, team or agency -- its SOP identification number and the names and signatures of the people who prepared and approved the manual.
  • Table of contents.Provides easy access to the various sections in large SOPs.
  • A step-by-step list of the procedures. Includes explanations of the task's goal, roles and responsibilities, regulatory requirements, terminology, descriptions of what needs to be done to complete each step and a discussion of decisions that must be made. This section will make up most of the SOP.

Once the draft has been written, it must be reviewed, edited and tested multiple times. This process should repeat until an SOP has been written that is approved by allstakeholders. At this point, it can be distributed to every person who needs it to do their job.

It is important to allow anyone who will be using the SOP to review the manual throughout the writing process to ensure all necessary steps are included.

SOP best practices

Some best practice suggestions for writing and using standard operating procedures include:

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  • Establish a common style and format for all SOPs within the organization. Using simple, clear language will help employees understand the manual. A defined collection of fonts, spacing, layout and graphics should also be chosen.
  • Employees should be able to easily find content within the SOP. This can be done with the addition of a table of contents.
  • Keep all SOPs in one place -- this is best done by keeping SOPs online. This makes any necessary changes or updates easier to make and ensures employees know where to find the information they need.
  • Developing an ongoing review and maintenance plan for the SOPs ensures they stay relevant and error-free. SOPs should grow and change with the organization. Out-of-date SOPs are useless.
  • Create a plan for distributing the SOP to employees and training them in the procedure. Regular trainings -- in addition to the initial orientation training -- are beneficial and ensure all employees know and understand the most up-to-date procedures.

Uses of a standard operating procedure

Standard operating procedures enable organizations to gain a better understanding of their business process and identify areas that need improvement. Reasons to use a SOP include:

  • Helping one stick to a defined schedule
  • Assisting in training employees
  • Guaranteeing compliance standards are met
  • Certifying that the procedure will not negatively impact the environment
  • Ensuring the safety of all employees
  • Avoiding potential manufacturing failures

SOPs are still needed even when other published methods are available. The SOP should describe the procedure in more detail than the published content, as well as explain any differences between the SOP and the published method.

The SOP will fail if employees do not follow it. Management, specifically the direct supervisor, should monitor use of the standard operating procedure to ensure it is being properly employed and maintained.

Benefits of using a standard operating procedure

Two major benefits of using a standard operating procedure include consistency and a decrease in the amount of errors made. An SOP can also help an organization evaluate employee performance, save time and money and create a safer work environment.

In addition, SOPs can improve communication throughout an organization. If a task changes, the SOP is updated and redistributed to anyone who uses it, helping the organization efficiently communicate the change to anyone affected. SOPs also reduce the chance of miscommunication since the detailed steps leave little room for debate or questioning.

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Standard operating procedure examples

One example of how an SOP might be used can be found in a manufacturing environment. SOPs are used to record in detail the production line procedures used to train employees and make products.

An SOP might also be used in finance or administrative environments to record the processes needed to properly bill customers and collect payments.

A third example of how a standard operating procedure might be used is seen in customer service, sales and marketing. SOPs can be used to explain the service delivery process and response times, instruct the management of customer complaints and comments or prepare sales quotes.

Banks may also use SOPs to determine the identity of a customer who has walked in and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can use SOPs to certify that a company's operations meet agency standards.

Standard operating procedures can also be used to train employees to collect, track and store key performance indicator (KPI) reports or to create a consistent new client onboarding experience.

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Finally, SOPs are frequently used when hiring and training employees. In this situation, an SOP can ensure the orientation and training of every individual remains consistent with their peers' experience. An SOP can also guide managers through routine processes, from discipline and corrective actions to performance reviews.

FAQs

What is standard operating procedure SOP? ›

What is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)? An SOP is a procedure specific to your operation that describes the activities necessary to complete tasks in accordance with industry regulations, provincial laws or even just your own standards for running your business.

What does SOP stand for in business? ›

SOP stands for standard operating procedure. SOPs are more than simply a written set of work instructions. A standard operating procedure is a document containing step-by-step instructions to guide employees on how to perform a technical, repetitive process within an organization.

What is a standard operating procedure SOP quizlet? ›

what is an SOP. document containing detailed written instructions to achieve uniformity of the performance of a specific function.

What is standard operating procedure SOP essay? ›

SOP, or standard operating procedure, is a detailed, written instruction to achieve uniformity of the performance and appearance of a specific function.

Why standard operating procedures is important? ›

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) provide a baseline against which processes can be managed, performance reported, and continuous improvement embedded. Well-documented SOPs increase productivity, while reducing errors and improving policy compliance.

Why do we need SOPs? ›

Clearly written standard operating procedures are essential because they eliminate uncertainty about how to best complete assignments. Put simply, anyone within your organization should be able to produce a standardized outcome for any routine task by simply following the instructions.

What does SOP stand for for short? ›

The expression “Save Our Ship” was probably coined by sailors to signal for help from a vessel in distress.

What is the benefits of SOPs for a company? ›

SOPs can serve as a framework for measuring employee performance. When employees know exactly what's expected of them, evaluating performance and providing feedback for improvement becomes much easier. Additionally, well-structured SOPs streamline the onboarding process for new hires.

How do you write a SOP example? ›

What should be included in the Statement of Purpose?
  • Personal background.
  • Financial background.
  • Academic details.
  • Professional experience (full/part time, voluntary)
  • Immediate and long-term goals.
  • Reasons why you wish to study at this particular institution.
  • Reasons of being interested in the chosen field.

What is an SOP and how do you write it? ›

An SOP is a long essay required by universities abroad and nowadays some of the Indian universities during the application process. As the full form of SOP reveals, a Statement of Purpose is an essay stating the purpose of applying to a particular course in a particular university.

What is Ssop and why is it important? ›

Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure (SSOP) is generally documented steps that must be followed to ensure adequate cleaning of product contact and non-product surfaces. These cleaning procedures must be detailed enough to make certain that adulteration of product will not occur.

Why is SOP important for safety? ›

The purpose of an SOP is to eliminate the guesswork from your organization's procedures and ensure that everyone is following the same procedure when performing specific tasks. As such, it is important to avoid ambiguity and be specific with the instructions that you provide in the SOP.

Why is it called SOP? ›

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a set of step-by-step instructions compiled by an organization to help workers carry out routine operations.

What does OS stand for? ›

An operating system (OS) is the program that, after being initially loaded into the computer by a boot program, manages all of the other application programs in a computer.

What does SOP stand for in food service? ›

Foodservice industry standard operating procedures (SOPs) are written practices and procedures of how your establishment will produce safe food. SOPs are a key component of your overall food safety program. SOPs include specific details of how a policy will be implemented including: Who will perform the task.

What are the three types of SOP? ›

What Are the Types of SOPs? You can categorize SOPs into three different types: step-by-step, hierarchical steps, and flowcharts. Some business processes are better suited for certain types than others, depending on their complexity.

How do you write a short SOP? ›

And for that, you'll need some strategies.
  1. Write Stories. Not Statements. ...
  2. Quantify Your Stories. ...
  3. Be Specific. ...
  4. Customize Your Essay. ...
  5. Use a Formal But Conversational Tone. ...
  6. Decide How You Want To Portray Yourself. ...
  7. Don't Create Stories. ...
  8. Address Your Problems.

What are the 5 main benefits of an SOP manual? ›

We'll summarize the biggest benefits of implementing SOPs and how to begin.
...
What Are the Advantages of Using Standard Operating Procedures?
  • Achieve Consistency. ...
  • Improve Quality Assurance and Safety. ...
  • Save Time and Money. ...
  • Simplify Employee Management. ...
  • Avoid Knowledge Loss.
1 Aug 2022

What is SOP in food industry? ›

The foundation of each prerequisite program is its corresponding Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). By definition, an SOP is a set of written instructions that document a food manufacturer's routine or repetitive activity.

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