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Standard Operating Procedures Checklist

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For many years, I was tasked with writing standard procedures for help desk employees, including how to access support tools, update the customer relationship management database, and resolve simple and even complex customer inquiries.

Creating these procedures in a way that is clear, concise, and easily understood proved quite challenging. I began to recognize gaps in my writing when attempting to describe a process that I knew backward and forward. But as I became more proficient, I learned to convey complex, technical procedures in simple, easy-to-follow steps. I also learned how to quickly identify gaps in procedures written by others, even when I was not a subject matter expert in the topic of focus.

What keys helped me gain proficiency? And where do you even start when creating standard operating procedures for your business or department? This article will discuss what a standard operating procedure is and how to write one effectively.

What are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)?

An SOP provides step-by-step details on exactly how to accomplish a task. This removes trial and error and prevents employees from “reinventing the wheel” each time they need to solve a problem or complete a project, task, or assignment. Employees can get right to work without brainstorming or interrupting other employees with the institutional knowledge to ask for help. Another benefit of having easily assessable SOPs is that each employee will be able to produce the same consistent result each time an action is performed.

Although the type and content of SOPs vary across industries, the process of creating and building a robust directory of SOPs is built on eight key steps. And with the proliferation of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, it is extremely convenient to leverage tools that make standard operating procedures available to employees via the cloud and various online applications. See the article Top 10 Tools for Standard Operating Procedures to see the top tools used for standard operating procedures.

Having a complete set of standard operating procedures at your team’s disposal has many benefits, including minimizing errors and mistakes, improving productivity, and minimizing waste. Additionally, SOPs will assist in the following areas:

  • Improve compliance by outlining steps to meet organizational and regulatory requirements
  • Drive team engagement by reducing miscommunication between employees
  • Reduce accidents by highlighting safety precautions 
  • Streamline workflows and improve efficiencies by minimizing errors
  • Improve consistency, quality, and overall credibility by promoting repeatability
  • Streamline recruiting, onboarding, and employee training by providing clearly defined steps
  • Increase customer satisfaction by improving the consistency of product deliveries

How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure

A systematic approach must be taken to creating standard operating procedures. No matter how large or small the procedure, utilize the steps below to improve communications, drive team engagement, improve quality, and achieve consistency in your organization.

Step 1: Document the Purpose

You must first understand the purpose of the operating procedure you are creating. Analyze the overall benefit and impact your team, department, organization, and business will gain by implementing and continually following the outlined steps. When necessary, collect as much preliminary information as you can to assist you in defining the purpose of the SOP. Document the purpose in a way that outlines the need for the SOP.

For example, a restaurant will create very detailed SOPs for cleaning and sanitizing all cooking and eating surfaces to ensure the safety of its customers and staff.

Step 2: Choose a Format

If your organization is new to creating SOPs, you will need to adopt a format that best serves your team and processes. Work with your team on creating a template that can be reused repeatedly. Following are examples of the most widely used format for standard operating procedures.

  • Checklists / Step-by-Step SOPs
    • SOP Checklists are a very simple method used to implement basic SOPs. Word processors can be used to make lists of items that can be made assessable to employees by print or online shared documents.  
    • Step-by-step SOPs are very similar to SOP Checklists; however, they employ bulleted or numbered lists to detail steps that typically must be executed in a particular order.
    • Utilize one of these formats when the task is less complex and requires very little explanation. For example, outlining the steps to log in to one of the company’s proprietary systems.
  • Hierarchical Steps
    • Hierarchical-step SOPsare best leveraged when a procedure includes multiple steps and complex decision-making.
    • In comparison to step-by-step SOPs that contain steps 1, 2, and 3, a hierarchical SOP will include steps 1a, 1b, etc. For example, when explaining troubleshooting steps to resolve an issue, step one may present instructions, whereas steps 1a and 1b provide alternatives to handle scenarios that may be encountered upon taking step 1.
  • Flowcharts
    • Flowcharts are a great option when the results of taking specific steps are unpredictable, or you anticipate a multitude of outcomes.
    • Utilize the flowchart to develop a map of the procedures and all the probable outcomes. Each outcome will lead to another step and perhaps a decision box that leads the end user down a different path. But creating the outline helps to lead your employees and drives consistent outcomes.

Determining the right SOP format for your organization will ensure consistency. By outlining the critical steps involved, you will significantly increase your chances to a successful implementation.

Step 3: Involve Employees 

Involving frontline employees is the key to ensuring your SOPs really tell the story and outline critical tasks. Interview these team members and understand their points of view when developing your standard operating procedures. Also, when they have a hand in their development, they will adopt the SOP and promote it to other employees.

Step 5: Identify Your Audience

When writing SOPs, you must have the end user in mind. Who will consume the SOP and actually put it to use? You will need to consider terms that the end user will be familiar with, along with their experience level. Don’t forget to include their overall authority and access permissions to ensure that your SOP does not lead them to a blocked door.

Step 6: Develop Your SOP

Now it’s time to do the writing! Utilize the steps above to create your first draft. Don’t forget to include the purpose statement to emphasize the need to follow the SOP consistently each time. Also, refer to the article 7 Best Practices for Standard Operating Procedures to ensure that your SOPs are implemented with the highest quality.

Step 7: Review, Test, and Edit

Once your SOP is drafted, allow key team members to review the SOP and perform a dry run. Identify critical stakeholders and make sure they have the opportunity to provide a thorough review. Have them document the results to ensure that it meets the business purpose, contains no gaps in the process, reads with clarity. All steps are able to be executed by the intended user.

Emphasize to team members that their feedback is highly valued and greatly appreciated. Use all relevant suggestions and incorporate edits to develop the final draft.

Step 8: Implement the SOP

Once your new SOP has been reviewed and approved by critical stakeholders, it should be published for employee consumption. Implement a tool that is easily accessed from multiple mediums and presents your preferred format that is easy to consume.

By following these steps, you will be well on your way to developing a suite of Standard Operating Procedures that will take your organization to the next level. Develop a system to monitor the use and usefulness of your new SOPs. A well-designed tool and well-written SOPs must be adopted as quickly as possible for optimal results. One way to do this is by acknowledging employees who consistently use and promote their use. Contact SOPHeroes for assistance whether you need new SOPs or you need to revamp existing ones.

Check out: 10 Tools For Standard Operating Procedures


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