SOPs

How to Write an SOP in 8 Simple Steps

SOPs are crucial to ensuring work is done quickly and effectively. Learn how to write them properly and faster than ever before.

Introduction

There’s nothing more challenging and time consuming for your employees than trying to complete a task with no instructions or instructions that are unclear. It leads to inconsistent work and a lack of efficiency. But there’s good news: standard operating procedures (SOPs) are your simple solution.

SOPs are a streamlined way to make sure that all the processes within your business are effective and well-documented. SOPs also ensure that your employees are consistently producing high-quality work with more efficiency. For your company to run smoothly, SOPs are key.

If you haven’t written an SOP yet, don’t fret — we’ve got you covered. Start with one process that needs improvement. Once you’ve identified that process, you’re ready to start planning and writing your SOP.

Step 1. Determine the desired outcome of your process

Your desired outcome is the reason you’re even writing the SOP, so it has to be clearly defined. For instance, the desired outcome of your SOP might be to shorten the time it takes to complete this designated task by a certain number of minutes or seconds. Or maybe your desired outcome is to increase consistent output by a certain percentage. It’s important that each step of your SOP helps the end-user meet this outcome.

Understanding your end goal will help you create a clearer path to achieving it. Ask your personnel what their biggest hurdles are and incorporate how to get over those hurdles in your SOP. Identify procedures that result in the most inconsistencies and inaccuracies and create SOPs for those first.

What not to do

Don’t be vague with your outcomes and goals. Try to be as specific and detailed as possible; this will help you as you start writing out each step.

Step 2. Define the end-user

The end-user is the person who will follow the SOP; it’s the specific role or roles that you’re writing for. It could even be for the whole company. An SOP with a defined end-user is much clearer than an SOP without one. Defining the end-user, as well as their role and department, will help you write out each step. The defined end-user tells you what terminology to use and what tools, technology, and software they have access to that can be included in the SOP.

For example, if you’re writing an SOP for ‘How to Post on Social Media’ then you know your end-user is the whole marketing department. And you know the marketing department uses Hootsuite to schedule posts rather than TweetDeck or Sprout Social, so you can include that specific information in the steps of your SOP.

What not to do

Don’t write for anyone other than your intended end-user. Keep the end-user in mind throughout the writing process and make sure the information provided in the SOP is what the end-user needs to know about the process.

Step 3. Establish the steps of your SOP

These are the steps that your end-user will follow to complete the designated task. This is probably the most important stage of writing your SOP because each step needs to be simple and easy to follow. Be as thorough as possible: don’t assume what your end-user knows, especially since the SOP will also be used for new employees.

The best way to establish these steps is to observe people who do this procedure already. Interview them about what their biggest challenges are. See if some people do the specific process differently and if there’s a benefit to doing it a certain way. Once you’ve observed, interviewed, and gathered information, you can make an outlined list of the steps in your SOP.

What not to do

While each step should be as thorough as necessary, don’t make them convoluted. If you start overcomplicating the steps in this stage, it’s likely that the SOP will be overcomplicated, too.

Step 4. Choose a format for the SOP

Once you know the steps that need to be included in the SOP, you’ll have a better understanding of how it should be formatted. There are multiple SOP formats, each with its own best use case.

  • Step-by-step checklist: For simple processes with few steps, like publishing a blog post.
  • Hierarchical steps: For more complicated instances with not only steps but with multiple actionable items under each step. A common workplace example of this is onboarding new employees.
  • Flow chart: For processes with steps that have multiple possible outcomes, like answering IT help-desk calls.

Formatting can dictate how easy your SOP is to follow by your end-user. It may even be helpful to ask your end-user which format they believe the SOP should be written in.

What not to do

Don’t choose a format before you’ve established your steps. You may go into the process thinking that a simple step-by-step checklist is sufficient, but as you start to write out each step and realize they have sub-steps or multiple outcomes, you’ll see that a simple checklist isn’t as effective as a hierarchal or flow-chart format in this case.

Step 5. Draft your SOP

Take the steps that you outlined in Step 3 and plug them into the format you chose in Step 4. Write each step in a clear and actionable way. You’ll need to elaborate on each step you outlined in Step 3. For example, if in Step 3 you outlined an action that tells users to log in to a certain platform to complete the task, as you draft up your final SOP, you should include which username and password they should use or how to find it, plus who to contact if they are unable to successfully log in to the platform.

Keep your end-user in mind as you draft up each step and consider: Do they need to know this? Is this step necessary? Should it be combined into another step? Also, as you draft your SOP, keep your intended outcome in mind as well and consider: Will these steps help the end-user get to that outcome easily and effectively?

What not to do

Don’t make any step impracticable — your end-users must be able to act on every step. Impracticable steps can make it more difficult for the end-user to get to the intended outcome efficiently.

Step 6. Have relevant personnel review the SOP

Every piece of content benefits from having a second set of eyes, and SOPs are no exception. Have the appropriate people in your company review the SOP before you start implementing it. The “appropriate personnel” are dependent on the focus of the SOP, but relevant department heads and C-suite-level employees should review it for accuracy and to make sure all the steps are necessary and actionable for the staff in their department. Ideally, you should have the end-user review it as well. Your CEO should review all SOPs to sign off on them.

When you get other people to review your SOP, you’ll gain insights into whether you’ve included too much information or not enough information, or any other issues. Your SOP will be stronger and more effective when you’ve had input from the people who oversee and conduct the designated tasks.

What not to do

Don’t skip out on sharing it with the end-user. They may be able to point out a step that’s been overlooked or help you trim any unnecessary parts.

Step 7. Train end-users and test the SOP

This is the step where you can see whether the SOP is delivering on its intended outcome. Encourage feedback from the end-users to find out how well the SOP is working.

Ask them questions that pertain specifically to the desired outcome. For example, if the desired outcome is a shorter amount of time spent on a process, ask them if the SOP helped them decrease their time spent. Check whether the SOP is easy to understand and follow.

What not to do

Don’t ignore feedback from your end-users. Your end-users are the people who actually use the SOP, and they often have the best insights on how to make a procedure run more smoothly. If your intended outcome of a task is to produce more consistent work regardless of which employee completes it, your end-users probably have good insight into why the work isn’t being produced consistently or how to improve it.

Step 8. Refine your SOPs as needed

Treat your SOPs as a living document. It’s unlikely that your SOP will be perfect or that it will never evolve; processes change as your company grows. Be mindful that you’re going to need to make adjustments to any SOP you implement.

Your SOPs should be reviewed on a regular basis. Your company has to decide what “regular” is, but often it’s annually or every six months. Understand that you may need to make small tweaks in between reviews in order to maintain accuracy and avoid any confusion. For instance, if one of your SOPs references a vendor that you no longer use, be sure to update the SOP with the new vendor.

After you have implemented your SOP, set a date for review three to six months after implementing (depending on how often the procedure is used), and then at least annually after that.

What not to do

Don’t constantly make big revisions. Otherwise, the process never gets standardized, which is the reason you’ve implemented SOPs in the first place.

Now that you know how to write an SOP, use them to increase efficiency across the board

Scribe makes it easy for anyone on your team to create SOPs for web-based tasks. Simply hit “record” and Scribe documents their online process and turns it into a beautiful, easy-to-follow step-by-step guide with text and screenshots. Want to see how it works? Try it now for free.