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How to Write Standard Operating Procedures

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Is your organization seeking to increase consistency, efficiency, speed, and compliance? If so, implementing accurate and engaging Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) could be the answer. But where do you begin? What details should be included, and what format is the most desirable?

Breathe easy! By closely following these eight steps, you can create and incorporate highly effective SOPs that will be easily adoptable by your organization.

Eight Steps to Creating Standard Operating Procedures

  1. Determine the goals for creating SOPs
  2. Determine your target audience (or readers)
  3. Decide the format
  4. Outline the details
  5. Review the SOP
  6. Test the SOP
  7. Publish the SOP
  8. Implement Continuous Improvement  

Writing is a process, but it doesn’t have to be a daunting one. By breaking the process down into eight steps, we can eat the proverbial elephant and be well on our way to a suite of SOPs that grow with the organization. Additionally, we will reduce confusion by introducing consistency.

So, let’s proceed!

Step 1: Determine the goals for creating SOPs.

What will this specific Standard Operating Procedure accomplish for your team?

  • Will it lead to a more productive or customer-focused team?
  • Will there be a positive economic impact on the bottom line?
  • Will it make onboarding new team members more successful?

In reality, well-written SOPs will assist in each of these areas; however, identifying an initial focus will help you develop SOPs that meet your organization’s top goals.  

Step 2: Determine your target audience (or readers)

The proof is in the pudding! The quality of your SOP is measured by its value to its readers. Having clear roles in mind when developing your SOPs will ensure that you meet the needs of your target audience. Here are keys to success in reaching your readers:

  • Use familiar terminology and define terms they may be unfamiliar with.
  • Explain details that are essential, but don’t overdo it. Keep it simple.
  • Focus on the actual duties performed by the end-user.

Step 3: Decide the format.

A variety of designs can be utilized when developing SOPs. You may be able to reuse or repurpose a formatting standard that has already been developed in your organization. Or you may decide to utilize a number of online templates. In general, you will want to include the following:

  • Simple step-by-step instructions
  • Detailed Checklists
  • Flowcharts or Diagrams

Step-by-Step Instructions simplify processes by providing simple and clear steps to complete a particular task or activity. A procedure guiding a Customer Service Agent on logging into their Customer Relationship Management tool may read as follows:

  • Press the power button on the monitor
  • Enter your password
  • Select the Company Logo Icon
  • Enter your identification code
  • Enter the current date and time
  • Enter telephone extension at your workstation

A detailed checklist of the same task might be outlined as follows:

  • Access Company Call Log Database
  • Press the power button on the monitor
  • Enter your password
  • Select the Company Logo Icon
  • Open Active Call Log
    • Enter your identification code
    • Enter the current date and time
    • Enter telephone extension at your workstation

And a flowchart of the process could be detailed as:

The rule of thumb is to use the method or combination of methods that will be most beneficial for your end-users to follow.

Step 4: Outline the details.

Once the goal, target audience, and format are determined, it is time to begin writing. The SOP will start with a clearly defined purpose. Explain to the reader right up front how they will benefit from the SOP. Define the call to action.

For example, the purpose for a Customer Service Agent position may read:

Purpose: To achieve efficiency, quality output, and performance uniformity of all agents while delivering exceptional customer service with every interaction.

Define the roles and responsibilities of the team member or department that will read and apply the SOP. Outline the tools and resources they will use to complete the procedures. Provide callouts or tips for cautions, hazards, or other information that may need to be referenced.

Using your desired format, describe the actual operating procedures necessary to complete the task. Achieve this with detailed step-by-step simple instructions, including sub-steps and references where necessary.

For example, a Customer Service Agent may utilize a procedure similar to the following:

Procedure steps

  • Answer each call with a friendly greeting, stating your name and desire to assist them.
  • Listen to the customers’ concerns and create an incident log using the customer relationship management application.
  • Identify solutions to the customer’s inquiry and communicate available options for resolution.
  • Implement the resolution and complete the incident report.
  • Thank the customer for their call and ask if you can assist them in any other areas.
  • Notify the manager of the successful completion of the customer concern.

The procedure may also include a link to additional resources that the Customer Service Agent can take advantage as illustrated below:

Step 5: Review the SOP

During and after completion of a Standard Operating Procedure, it is a best practice to collaborate with critical stakeholders to obtain their input and feedback. First, review the SOP for accuracy, clarity, and comprehensiveness. Then, make edits based on their feedback.

The next step is to get the target user involved. Remember, the quality of the SOP rests on its value to the reader. The reader will help identify areas that need more detail and where “less is more.” Be sure to include newer team members in the review, as they may ask questions that indicate missing or less detailed steps in the SOP that needs attention. The newly created SOP will assist new hires by decreasing their learning curve and enhancing their performance.

Step 6: Test the SOP

As a natural continuation of step 5, introduce the new SOP to the entire team and allow all or a segment of the team to implement the SOP for a defined period. Regularly review the benefits, challenges, and opportunities they have experienced with the implementation of the SOP. Make immediate adjustments to the SOP as appropriate.

Step 7: Publish the SOP

Implement a publishing standard to alert your organization of the new process. Communicate the importance of utilizing best practices to enhance the organization’s consistency and efficiency. Ensure the new SOP is available to all members of the team using the platform where the SOP resides.

Step 8: Implement Continuous Improvement

Remember that your SOP is a living document. Review your new SOP regularly to ensure changes are updated as they become known and that best practices are always communicated. Be on the lookout as processes, tools, and resources change, as this will likely trigger amendments to your SOPs. At times, customer or team member feedback may result in the need for document changes. Incorporate formal, periodic reviews of your company’s SOPs as an ongoing activity.

Well-developed SOPs will improve your team’s consistency and performance. You will soon find that experienced and newly hired employees lean on the SOPs because they trust the process and the commitment and diligence put forth to develop accurate and reliable documentation. Utilize these eight steps to create powerful SOPs and increase your organization’s consistency, efficiency, speed, and compliance!

Looking for more information on developing Standard Operating Procedures? Reference the article 7 Best Practices for Standard Operating Procedures.

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