What Is An SOP- A Complete Guide To Prepare An SOP

Imagine an orchestra with musicians playing the violin, trumpets, oboe, cello, and other instruments, but not in sync. Would you like to listen to their music? Probably not.

Companies function in a similar fashion. You have a collection of domains (like technology, marketing, operations, etc)—each consisting of several team members and subject matter experts. What makes a successful business stand out from the competition is how well can these verticals come together in cross-functional harmony and rally behind the overall vision of the company. Just like you need a concertmaster to keep the musicians in sync, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) ensure that your teams are always on the same page. 

What Is An SOP?

According to Wikipedia, a Standard Operating Procedure is a “set of step by step instructions compiled by an organization to help workers carry out complex routine operations”.

Imagine that you work behind the counter at a supermarket. One day, a customer comes in to return a breadbasket. In all probability, your store already has a set of written rules that need to be followed for processing a return-and-refund. For example, you should ask the customer for more details about their purchase, ensure that the purchase falls within the return window, and/or inspect the product quality to ensure no prior usage. Here, the written rules are an SOP for handling a unique situation like return-and-refund. The good thing about SOPs is that they only need to be drafted once and require an update every once in a while. They are designed to offer a systematic approach to every resolve the problem at-hand with desired outcomes. As a result, there’s a uniformity in the overall workflow since everyone is following the same step-by-step instructions .

But that’s not all, an SOP is a detailed procedure for every task. It includes two things. Specific assignments along with the person responsible for and workflows that match up with the company or industry standards. 

For example, here is a simple SOP for an Internet Sales team member to handle customer queries. The SOP could include:

  • Which information should be included (procedures used by the organization to make the product )
  • Which information shouldn’t be included (Any changes or improvements made to the products and does not directly deal with the customers)
  • When information should be collected (Days, weeks, months before formally launching the product online)
  • Who collects the information ( product manager, testers)
  • Which format to use for the output (HTML, PDF)
  • How the review cycle works (Once the product is ready, it should go for a final review, how much time ideally used to review a product, how much time to implement changes suggested by the reviewer)
  • Who needs to approve the document (team leaders, sales managers, senior managers)

Creating An Effective SOP

There are multiple ways through which you can create an SOP. SOPs are not easy to make and require great attention to detail.  If your SOP is not elaborate and effective, it will not fulfill the purpose. Make sure to identify the work processes that help your business function properly and provide an effective SOP for each. Because a sloppy SOP can affect your team and your business as a whole. 

For example, a  poorly written SOP contains insufficient descriptions, lacks employee inputs, and old procedure or technology. And all this impacts your ability to meet customer demands, company’s capacity, company’s reputation, health and safety, and overall quality of your business.

Before you start building up your SOP you should be aware of your vital business processes. You must shortlist processes you’d like to have an SOP for. And regardless of what process you pick, make sure to keep the below-mentioned points in mind.

The Process Of Creating An Effective SOP

Take The Funnel Approach

There is a reason why you are writing the SOP, so first and foremost you must define that big goal you want to achieve. Once you have defined your main goal, find out the various processes in your company you would want to create an SOP for. Narrow down the steps to write for each process in detail.  

For eg., if your SOP is on a procedure for a product manager to make sure the product is ready before the launch. Then your main goal is to have a successful launch of the product. And the step-by-step procedure is what the product manager is required to follow to accomplish the task. 

Include Role And Impact

A detailed SOP makes an SOP complete.  And you must include two major details mentioned below to make it successful. 

a) Who is responsible for the completion of a specific step- People reading the SOP should know the tasks they are responsible for. Define what is expected out of them as the end result. It will make them more confident about their job roles and they will work efficiently without leaving any room for errors.

b) The impact of doing each task right- They must know how much they impact the growth of the company by doing their tasks right. They feel valued when you tell them that their role is important to the company’s progress. This encourages them to practice the procedures and deliver their work. 

For instance, what if a person referring to your SOP is just gaining mere knowledge of what all processes are there in a company and how to accomplish them. And does not know where he fits in these processes or how does he make himself helpful for the company. The SOP will become more like a magazine for him to read. 

But defining his job-role, department, his responsibilities, and boundaries in finishing a task can help. He will be able to use his knowledge for the growth of the business. Realize the importance of his contribution or the completion of his tasks. 

Narrow Down The Scope

Remember, how the orchestra will probably not be as good if the musicians are not in sync? They are all dependent on each other for the orchestra to sound perfect.

Like those musicians, departments are interconnected and dependent on each other too, to achieve the final result. None of the departments can function independently on their own.

So, you should be clear whether or not the SOP you are writing is for an independent process. Because there is a chance that for you to complete your SOP you require other SOPs or teams in different departments. In such a case, ensure that you are clearly defining the departments or other SOPs that a person reading your SOP needs to consult for a broader and better perspective.

For e.g., an SOP for your development team on compiling code and shipping to production will not include details about testing, right? So, you need to mention this explicitly in the SOP upfront. 

Get It Approved

How do you know that everything that you have done so far is right? Some reliable people will confirm that for you, let’s find out who these people are. 

Your SOPs are about different departments and their functions. Even if you are not part of all these departments, you are still writing their SOPs, which means, there’s a possibility that you might have missed out on some key information. So, to make sure you have the right procedures in your SOP ask the people who are involved in it, because they are experienced and know the procedures well. 

Once your SOP is signed by the people involved in the procedure, ensure that the SOPs also reach the upper management. The upper management will give you the right judgement and tell you whether or not the operations meet the goals. 

For eg. Only a sales team member or a sales manager will be able to tell you that the SOP of their sales procedure has been written correctly or not. And, not someone who is a part of a human resource department or any other. 

Once they have given a green light on the content, the upper management gives the final approval on the SOP. They check whether or not it fulfills the designed goals and expectations of the company. In this case consistency in quality of messaging. 

Followed by the final approval of the SOP, an official release of the SOP can be done so that it is declared open to all in the company. 

These approvals will help the SOPs smoothly become a part of the company, all set to make the changes.

Pro tip: Let your SOP Evolve With Your Business

Regularly Update SOPs

Your organization has invested money, time, and a lot of effort in building up the SOPs. To make sure that these efforts don’t go in vain, keep updating your SOPs with any changes. 

For e.g., If you have recently switched to a different sales approach, from traditional selling of your product/service to an online approach. But the SOP of your sales system is still a few years old, including the procedure of selling products using traditional methods. And this same SOP is handed over to a new employee at work. How would he know about your recent shift from traditional to online selling? 

The SOPs should be timely reviewed to make sure all the major or minor changes in the processes are included in the SOPs.

The timely updates will prevent your SOP from getting outdated and help it remain useful at all times.

Facilitate Periodical Reviews:

Imagine your company engages in many process-driven activities and ends up leaving you with a long list of SOPs. How will you track and manage them all?

If you happen to use an electronic database, then need not worry. Since it will automatically notify you on fixed review dates for different SOPs.

What Well-written SOPs Can Do For Your Business

Overall creating  SOPs for your work processes not only helps you run your business systematically but has multiple other benefits. When everyone follows a written set of rules or instructions, there is less room for error. This reduces the extra effort of redoing a task. It can also serve as a good reference guide thereby reducing  expenses on training materials.

For instance, if you have a new employee who does not know enough about his job-role, you can provide him with an SOP of his job role for him to kickstart in the company. So that despite being new in the company he will be on the same page as others.

SOPs also ensure consistent results, for e.g let’s assume you are a software development company. Like You design various softwares, apps, websites, etc.  There are some basic elements (Company’s logo, colors, etc) that necessarily go into your work. And even if one element is missing, your product will lose its consistency in the market. No one will be able to recognize your brand. But SOPs help you avoid it by allowing you to create your products/services in the same fashion every time, and get consistent results.

Like any other company, you either have already established multiple branches in different locations or you have long term plans to achieve the same. SOPs will help you maintain the quality of your product or service no matter where your branch is. This is because one common SOP will be followed by every employee in every branch. It is also an opportunity for you to empower your workforce and make them self-dependent. 

We hope this article helps you write an effective SOP for your team.