What is SOP and why is it important?

Standard Operating Procedure – what is it, and why is it important?

Standard operating procedures define how well-run businesses run the way they do. SOPs are not just the bread and butter of the military or enterprise accounting teams anymore. SOPs are now a mainstay in how software engineering departments are run as well.

The general thinking in marketing and sales teams is that the work they do every day cannot be formalized and defined. While it is true that marketing teams rely on their intuition and creativity, which leads to the vast majority of positive outcomes, there is enough that they do that can be defined, written and executed without any creative input. Modern enterprise sales teams have built SOPs, often referred to as playbooks, which are very high-level and provide a birds-eye view of how to generate sales.

Even these playbooks, however, can be broken down into executable ‘process chunks’ within reason and with minimal creativity or talent needed. The parts that require creativity, critical thinking or sales talent are why the sales team exists, but the vast majority of their work can be broken down into ‘executable chunks’ of tasks.

SOPs help non-standardized work even when large parts of the defined work (or its outcome) rely on creativity and intuition.

A logistics company might have a standard procedure document to accept goods into a warehouse with specific instructions on how to store a particular type of material, where to keep it, how to update the inventory system, the tools the warehouse manager needs to use to transport it within the warehouse and whom to inform on receipt of the goods.

This particular SOP helps follow industry regulations (how to store it), a best practice (where to keep it), follow protocol (update inventory systems), labour relations (correct tool to move the goods) and proper communications procedures (whom to inform), all through a single document which helps the warehouse manager do their job.

An SOP is a document to help customers or employees understand how to achieve a particular task through a repeatable process.

Regardless of the size of your organization, standard operating procedures should be implemented everywhere. For large organizations, the number of SOPs will be notably greater. It is recommended to document regular duties to ensure the information is accessible and not merely stored in a single individual’s mind.

A Definition

An SOP is another way of describing process documents, playbooks, how-to guides, training manuals and user guides.

A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a documented process that outlines the steps required to complete a routine task consistently and efficiently. It ensures the consistent and uniform execution of processes within an organization.

SOPs are used in many industries and organizations to ensure that tasks are performed in a consistent and efficient manner.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) strive towards creating an efficient system, producing a high-quality result, and consistently producing the same result, all while avoiding miscommunication and ensuring adherence to industry regulations.

A Brief History

The concept of SOPs has a long history dating back to the early 20th century when they were first used in the manufacturing industry to streamline processes and improve efficiency. The term “standard operating procedure” was first used during World War II, when military leaders recognized the need for a set of standardized procedures to be followed by soldiers to achieve consistent results in battle.

SOPs later became popular in manufacturing and industrial settings and were used to standardize quality control processes. In recent times, SOPs have become integral to various industries, including healthcare, hospitality, and even office administration.

SOPs quickly spread to other industries and organizations, including corporations, government agencies, and healthcare facilities. In these organizations, SOPs are critical for ensuring that procedures are performed consistently and correctly, reducing the risk of errors and improving overall efficiency.

One of the earliest examples of SOPs in action was in the manufacturing industry during the Industrial Revolution. During this time, manufacturing processes were becoming increasingly complex, and it was recognized that a set of standardized procedures was needed to ensure that products were made consistently and accurately. The development of SOPs helped to improve efficiency and reduce the risk of errors, leading to higher levels of productivity and quality.

During World War II, the military recognized the need for standardized procedures to achieve consistent results in battle. They developed SOPs to ensure that soldiers followed the same procedures to minimize the risk of errors and improve the overall effectiveness of military operations. This concept was later applied to other organizations, including corporations and government agencies, where SOPs became a vital tool for ensuring that procedures were performed consistently and effectively.

Why does one need SOPs?

The importance of SOPs lies in the consistency and uniformity they bring to processes. SOPs help organizations avoid errors and inconsistencies, which can lead to costly mistakes, reduce efficiency, and damage the organization’s reputation. SOPs also provide a clear framework for training new employees and make it easier for them to understand their responsibilities.

  1. Improved quality: SOPs ensure that tasks are performed consistently and accurately, enhancing the quality of services and products.
  2. Increased efficiency: Consistent processes increase efficiency, reducing the time and resources required to complete tasks.
  3. Compliance: SOPs ensure that the organization complies with regulations and laws.
  4. Training: SOPs provide new employees with a clear understanding of how to perform their tasks, reducing the time and resources required for training.
  5. Risk management: SOPs can help mitigate risks by ensuring tasks are performed consistently and correctly.

Consequences of not having SOPs

Not having standard operating procedures can result in several negative consequences, such as:

  • Inefficiency: Without SOPs, different employees may perform processes differently, leading to inefficiencies and inconsistencies.
  • Errors and mistakes: SOPs help prevents errors by providing clear instructions and guidelines. Without them, employees are more likely to make mistakes, which can lead to costly consequences.
  • Lack of accountability: Without SOPs, it may be challenging to determine who is responsible for specific tasks and to hold employees accountable for their actions.
  • Reduced quality: Without clear procedures and guidelines, the quality of work can be negatively impacted.

Tools for writing SOPs

Various tools can be used to write SOPs, including:

  • Word processing software: Microsoft Word and Google Docs are popular tools for writing SOPs. They provide a simple way to create and edit documents.
  • Process mapping software: Tools like Lucidchart and Visio can create visual representations of processes, making it easier to understand and document the steps involved.
  • SOP management software: There are specialized SOP management tools, such as Process Street and StandardOps (among many others), which provide a centralized platform for creating, storing, and sharing SOPs within an organization.

How to write an SOP:

  1. Define the purpose of the SOP: The goal should be specific, concise and clearly state why the SOP is needed.
  2. Identify the process or procedure to be documented: Define the process or system in detail, including the steps involved, materials required and the people responsible for each step.
  3. Use clear and concise language: Write in simple language that the target audience can easily understand.
  4. Include illustrations or diagrams: Use illustrations or diagrams to help explain complex procedures.
  5. Review and test the SOP: Have others review and test the SOP to ensure it is accurate, complete and easy to understand.
  6. Update and revise as necessary: SOPs should be reviewed and revised periodically to reflect changes in the process or procedure.

Best practices for writing SOPs:

  1. Keep them simple: Avoid using complex language and technical terms.
  2. Make them accessible: SOPs should be easily accessible to all employees who need them.
  3. Keep them consistent: Use a consistent format for all SOPs to ensure they are easy to read and understand.
  4. Make them a living document: SOPs should be updated and revised as needed to reflect changes in processes or procedures.
  5. Involve stakeholders: Involve the people using the SOP in the development process to ensure it meets their needs.

Real-world examples of SOPs in an enterprise context:

  1. Human Resources: An SOP for the onboarding process for new employees, including orientation, paperwork and benefits enrollment steps.
  2. Quality Control: An SOP for the finished product inspection process, including inspection steps, documentation and reporting.
  3. Customer Service: An SOP for handling customer complaints, including steps for receiving complaints and investigating and resolving issues.
  4. Data Management: An SOP for data backup and recovery, including steps for regularly backing up data and procedures for restoring data in the event of a disaster.

In conclusion, SOPs are essential for organizations that want to ensure consistent and efficient performance of their processes and procedures. They help to improve quality, increase efficiency, comply with regulations and laws, provide training, and mitigate risks. When writing SOPs, it is essential to keep them simple, accessible, consistent, up-to-date, and involve stakeholders. With these best practices in mind, organizations can develop SOPs that meet their needs and improve their operations.

Sid Varma

Sid Varma is the co-founder of Syren Cloud and Founder of AllyMatter.com and writes here at allymatter.com. He is an expert marketer and has built Syren Cloud to over 400 people so far. He is passionate about building processes and documentation to help businesses scale on the power of repeatable documented processes.

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