Standard operating procedures are documents that outline how a task gets done. Essentially, they are the user manual entries for how a company completes certain steps. There are numerous use cases for SOPs. They can be written for employee onboarding or training, collaborative workflows, detailed processes, and more. SOPs should be followed exactly to ensure the process is executed correctly.
Writing a SOP is easiest when you have a template to work from. This also ensures that each SOP you complete follows the same easy-to-understand format. A simple SOP will include a brief introduction, including the purpose of the guide. Each step of the process will be bulleted, outlining clear instructions for how to get from point A to point B and so on. More complex SOPs may include a table of contents, flowcharts, and other graphics or visuals.
You may decide to create a SOP when a task keeps getting done incorrectly. Or if you are hiring several new team members, creating a SOP ensures everyone is on the same starting page. It can also be beneficial for those filling in temporarily, such as an employee subbing for someone on maternity leave.
Some companies find it valuable to create their own SOPs, however in many instances it may be useful to outsource this task. For instance, if you are enmeshed in a specific software platform, you may think some tasks are intuitive. But that may not always be the case, especially when it comes to onboarding new employees. Skilled technical writing services can create SOPs in an efficient, streamlined manner — and hit on all the necessary points that should be documented.
Now that you have an understanding of SOPs and what they entail, here are a few reasons why you should prioritize them.
Today’s business world is fast-paced. Employees are moving rapidly from one task to the next in order to get everything accomplished. There isn’t always time to double-check their work, not to mention another colleague’s. This is when errors occur. Some mistakes may be trivial, while others can have a much bigger impact.
Establishing SOPs is one way to reduce errors within your company. Having written documentation for each step of the process ensures nobody is guessing as to how to get the job done. Without SOPs, everyone may have a different way of completing a task. This can make it much harder for team members to achieve the same results each time. A well-written SOP can help with maintaining compliance and producing similar (and desirable) outcomes.
Have you ever had to assemble a piece of furniture? Even something as simple as a table can take hours if the instructions weren’t clear. You may screw a leg on backwards, creating an unstable worktop. Going back to fix your error may mean disassembling most of what you’ve just accomplished. This is clearly an inefficient way to use your time.
Following a well-written SOP can boost efficiencies and productivity by streamlining workflows and processes. There is no guessing as to what to do next. You won’t need to go back and repeat a step because it was clear how to follow it accurately the first time. This clarity makes SOP documents advantageous, particularly as businesses are seeking to get more output out of their employees. Giving team members adequate SOPs before a task is assigned to them ensures they are starting off with the information they need.
Lastly, SOPs can provide valuable learning opportunities within a company. The beauty of having a diverse workforce is that everyone has different experiences. Some may be brand new to the working world, while others may have been working in the industry for decades. Cross-collaboration can be beneficial, as it engages all employees while also allowing for innovation.
SOPs should be seen as living documents; nothing that is written in them should be set in stone. Allowing for flexibility means that employees can share their insights. If a SOP is unclear about a particular step, an individual can make a suggestion for how to make it more explicit. If a team member sees a place where something can be done better or faster, they can point it out.
This sharing of knowledge not only improves company processes, it promotes a more positive workplace environment. When employees feel like their opinions are valued, they feel more empowered to speak up and suggest a change to a SOP. This, in turn, allows for learning to happen across the team or company.
While they do encourage helpful standardization, SOPs aren’t something that are written and subsequently filed away. They are meant to be used regularly and shared widely. All relevant employees should have access to SOPs. Your company may decide to keep them stored on a shared drive or another internal platform, such as Notion or Asana. It’s typically a good idea to share SOPs as PDFs to ensure that edits aren’t made unintentionally.
SOPs may seem like something you’d only find at Consolidated Worldwide Widgets, but they can actually benefit companies of all sizes. After all, what business wouldn’t like fewer errors, higher efficiency and productivity, and continuous learning? By developing SOPs in a thoughtful way, your company can achieve all three.