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What is SOP: How to Write Standard Operating Procedures That Save Time and Money

Operations Playbook

At its core, a business is a series of processes. If there’s one document that should be the go-to for how to get things done, it’s an SOP. Companies create these internal guides to create lean, efficient, and uniform workflows.

Learn how a digital workplace is the most efficient way to create and distribute checklists to your frontline teams. 

Let’s start with the basics. What does SOP stand for and what does SOP mean? It’s the acronym for a standard operating procedure. It’s an instructional document that breaks down a process into steps and can have different formats, from flow charts to checklists. Companies create standard operating procedures for different internal procedures. Instead of recreating the wheel every time, the best tactic is to create an SOP template.

What Is a SOP Document?

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. Think of it as a playbook for how to get a task done. 

SOPs are written for a set of people who will perform the task. Without guidelines, each person might complete the job in his or her own way. 

What is SOP? Man complaining about not being included in the pan.

An SOP creates consistency of process in order to deliver expected outcomes.

For example, HR might create an SOP for onboarding employees.

Standard operating procedures can help companies run more efficiently and ultimately save money. For example, manufacturers can create standard operating procedures for team members to manage machine maintenance. Having a checklist in place that needs to be reviewed daily can avoid unplanned downtime due to equipment failure. 

The general purpose of an SOP document is to: 

  • Align team members to the standard way of working in a company to create consistency
  • Provides clarification for every employee
  • Result in a consistent, superior product or service
  • Reduce chances for costly errors due to miscommunication 
  • Stay on schedule
  • Ensure compliance, i.e. food manufacturers must follow FDA regulations
  • Reduce product recall rates
  • Increase profits

An SOP is distributed to all relevant employees that are affected or involved in the specific process. 

What Is an SOP Template?

Now that we know the definition of an SOP, what is an SOP template and why do companies need one? Simply put, an SOP template is a preformatted document that a company uses as a starting point to write a standard operating procedure. Like any template, this one serves as a basic structural guideline for creating operating procedures. 

A company might have a number of SOPs, written by different people, reflecting methods of completing a variety of assignments. A template creates a single style, like a standard font and spacing, so every one of the documents is structurally consistent. 

A template will dictate what information needs to be in the document and placement of each topic within the SOP. This consistency from one SOP to the next helps readers (most often employees) easily find the information they need.

Recent events have demonstrated the importance of SOP templates and best practices. When COVID-19 emerged, many businesses had to quickly create new operating procedures to ensure workplace safety. Having a template on hand enabled swift changes to processes that support business continuity

SOP Template Overview: How to Write an SOP Template

Building a template makes it easy to write SOPs for every task that needs one. The first step in building the template is to set a style and layout. From fonts to line spacing to sections, build a framework that you can build on for every different SOP so the flow of information is the same in each one. 

Then, build the sections of your template that ensure you provide employees with the information they need. 

They should include:

  1. Title: Every standard operating procedure will have a unique title depending on what it’s outlining.
  2. Introduction: Some companies like to include a reminder of the organization’s mission.
  3. Scope of SOP: This section covers the purpose of the SOP and the process it covers and why it’s important to follow the enclosed steps, like compliance and/or safety.
  4. Contacts: Every SOP should identify who the document is intended for, list roles and responsibilities, and contact information for coordinating personnel.
  5. Glossary: If the SOP includes specific language or acronyms, include a glossary of terms.
  6. Step-by-step procedures: This section is where the procedure is broken down into step-by-step instructions with relevant information, like specific equipment used. For some processes this might be a visual representation, like a flowchart.
  7. Checklists: Often, itemized checklists are easier to follow and some SOPs might be better described in this form.

A Construction Management Case Study

With an annual budget of $3.65 billion, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s 3,817 employees build and maintain 123,546 miles of highway. In order to keep their numerous projects on schedule and on budget, the DOT has created a master standard operating procedure guide to running the many projects that are happening at any given moment across the state.

What is SOP? SOP case study example

Within this master SOP, there are 47 sub SOPs for specific tasks such as “Inspection of Guardrail Beams” and other work that falls under the department’s domain. By instituting a strict protocol and “how to” guides for every task, managing large projects is simplified and streamlined.

10 Tips for Crafting an Effective SOP

When it comes to operations, what is standard operating procedure worthy and what is not? Leaders should determine which processes are complex enough to benefit from written specifications and best practices. 

At first glance, SOPs might appear to create rigid structures with no room for flexibility. But an SOP simply dictates the maneuvers of a single task. The truth is, effective SOPs streamline processes to make room for innovation. The more efficient internal processes become, the less money is spent and greater capital is available to put into growth initiatives. 

Take Apple, for example. The company pushes the boundaries of design thinking by following strict protocols for task completion. Starbucks was able to grow leaps and bounds by standardizing the simple act of brewing coffee. Customers worldwide come back because of the familiarity and reliability of the process and the product. 

Here are 10 top tips for creating an effective SOP:

  1. Identify your audience. Your audience will guide the level of detail in your standard operating procedures and the language you use. If you’re addressing a group already experienced in this particular process you might opt for more technical wording. 
  2. Break the process down logically. Walkthrough the process and break the steps down in sequential order. Make sure you don’t forget any steps or information. 
  3. Be clear and concise. Your goal is to reduce ambiguity for employees. Use simple language and be brief. Use the active voice to engage your employees. Begin instructions with command verbs. For example, “Clean the machine after every use.” 
  4. Survey employees. Before crafting an SOP, you need to do some legwork to make sure it contains all of the necessary information. Interview employees to make sure you’re covering every step in the process. 
What is SOP? Screenshot of safety training on Beekeeper app.
  1. Distribute SOPs digitally. In today’s workplace, the most effective way to distribute an SOP is through a mobile workplace app which gives every employee access to the document on their mobile device. 
  2. Use visuals. Illustrations, flow charts, or photographs are a fast, user-friendly method of conveying a complex process. 
  3. Do several trial runs. Test out your SOP by asking subject matter experts, often people who regularly perform this task, run through the steps to . Repeat again with someone unfamiliar with the task to 
  4. Update SOPs as needed. Companies are constantly evolving. Make sure your standard operating procedure is reviewed and updated regularly to reflect change in processes and procedures. 

Why You Should Use an SOP Employee App

Your standard operating procedure might be a well-written, thorough document, but it’s only effective if it reaches your intended audience. A mobile-first digital workplace can serve as an SOP app and is the perfect distribution method to reach everyone. 

A workplace app is the perfect medium for storing and sharing SOPs. They are easily accessible and can be built in a user-friendly format like digital checklists allowing workers to record the completion of every action item. 

Another benefit to digital SOPs is the information can be translated into the reader’s preferred language. A company with a diverse, multilingual workforce can easily share a checklist that everyone can follow. 

Here are several other ways a digital platform can increase the reach and effectiveness of an SOP:

  • A mobile workforce app reaches everyone in your organization in real time. Employees can easily access the document on their mobile devices when needed. 
  • Employees are more engaged when job expectations are clear and they have a sense of purpose. The explanatory nature of standard operating procedures contributes to an overall understanding of responsibilities and helps boost engagement and productivity.
  • In order to be effective, team members must follow the exact steps outlined in an SOP to ensure the process is replicated the same way every time. 
  • With a mobile app, managers can use the read receipt feature to make sure employees are accessing the SOP protocols.
  • Managers can obtain valuable input and feedback from employees who regularly do the work in order to create an error-free SOP. 

Deeper engagement, greater productivity, increased innovation, and higher profits, aligning an organization by creating standard operating procedures and best practices is a business practice with big returns. 

Learn how Beekeeper can help streamline your operations and help save you money. Download our Ultimate Operations Management Strategy for Frontline Workforces playbook.