How many ways of building a graph do you know?
There are hundreds of methods and tools, but you use one approach every time you work on the performance report. You might have also built a template to save time every month.
In other words, you’ve made your SOP. You just haven’t written it down.
Your colleagues also develop SOPs for recurring processes. Some of them are effective. Others aren’t — in any case, you have no control over them unless they’re documented.
Standardizing processes across your team is the #1 method for increasing team productivity.
The good news is — we know a thing about SOPs and want to share the best practice tips we’ve been developing for years with you.
Read on for our SOP best practices and guidelines.
TL;DR: SOP best practices
- Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are written documentation for an organization's routine processes and repetitive tasks.
- To create effective SOPs, communicate the idea to your team and involve stakeholders.
- Decide on the format and structure of your SOPs, and develop standards for writing them.
- Prioritize and publish all SOPs in a centralized repository for easy accessibility and retrieval.
- Create a distribution plan for new documentation.
- Regularly revisit and update SOPs, and don't hesitate to decommission outdated ones.
What is an SOP?
An SOP stands for “standard operating procedure”— written instructions for any organization’s routine processes that standardize working practices and help employees perform effectively.
SOPs can be company-wide or team-specific. Examples of SOPs can vary widely, but a vacation approval process is an excellent example of a company-wide SOP.
You can also standardize team-specific tasks like sales outreach and lead qualification with SOPs. Whether you implement SOPs on the company or team level, the process will look more or less the same, leading to consistent outcomes.
Top 12 SOP best practices
However effective standard operating procedures are, documentation isn’t done in one day. You’ll face several phases (and challenges) as you try to communicate this idea to your team.
✔️ How do you identify procedures to standardize?
✔️ Who should be managing the process?
✔️ How do you keep your SOPs up-to-date?
There are a dozen of questions you must have as you get started with SOP creation.
That's why we’ve compiled 12 best practices for creating SOPs your team will thank you for.
1. Communicate the idea to your team
You need teamwork to create SOPs. Collaboration allows you to create great SOP manuals and adopt them effortlessly when they’re ready.
When communicating the idea, make your motivation crystal clear. This initiative isn’t about controlling your team. It’s about all of the benefits that come with alignment. Highlight these potential wins and collect feedback from team members.
It’s also important to talk to the entire team, not only the people you expect to participate in the process. At this point, you can gather information on process gaps, address the team’s concerns and get off to a good start.
2. Assign stakeholders
Who writes standard operating procedures? While SOP development is one of the main tasks of operating managers and process engineers, you can involve anyone in the process. Just be sure to involve team members who already understand and implement the procedures.
Also, stakeholders don’t have to be managers or team leaders. While managers have big-picture thinking, junior specialists typically have hands-on experience with routine processes.
Combining the process coordination skills and firsthand experience helps build actionable and effective SOPs.
💡 Scribe top tip: Avoid entrusting the entire project to one person. Collaborative development is the best way to identify truly useful workflows.
3. Decide on the SOP format
SOPs come in various formats that fit into three major categories.
- Step-by-step guides: Straightforward processes can be easily covered with step-by-step guides.
- Hierarchical charts: A hierarchical format should be used if the process includes multiple stages.
- Flowcharts: Processes with conditional circumstances can be standardized with flowchart SOPs.
Choose one SOP format based on the nature and complexity of the processes you expect to cover.
Different types of SOPs might fit different formats. In this case, create a clear distinction between SOP types (e.g., operational, administrative and technical) and assign one design for each.
4. Create an SOP structure
Once you’ve chosen a format, outline a structure for your future SOPs. While it’s entirely up to you what to include in yours, the most common SOPs typically have the following components:
- Title: Each procedure should have a title that clarifies what it covers and how it relates to other documents. Create a naming convention for your SOP documentation to make it searchable.
- Identification: Specify who and when collaborated on the document.
- Scope: The scope of an SOP is its purpose and expectation. Your SOPs should only cover what's in scope. It’ll also explain when to consider the procedure complete.
- Glossary: If an SOP includes acronyms, terms or industry jargon, you can explain them in the glossary.
- Procedure: This covers each step of the process. Depending on your chosen format, you might create a simple step-by-step guide, design a hierarchical chart or build a flow chart.
- References: Include links to relevant resources that cover the procedure.
Adjust your SOP structure based on your needs. You can add elements like title pages or a table of contents, but create an SOP template with this format across all your procedures.
5. Create standards for SOP writing
You expect contributors to bring their unique expertise to your SOPs, not their tone of voice or writing style. Keep in mind that your subject-matter experts (SMEs) likely don’t have much content writing experience or know how to write an SOP. Clear writing guidelines and standard formatting will help you ensure consistency and achieve a quality outcome.
Develop simple writing standards for stakeholders to follow when working on the SOPs. Guide them on the style, fonts, formatting, punctuation, using an active voice (vs. a passive voice), and other rules.
Although things like spacing or layout might seem insignificant, an inconsistent structure will make your SOPs look unprofessional and confusing.
6. Know when to write SOPs
Set criteria for the processes that require SOPs. While many repeating processes will benefit from having an SOP, some procedures don’t need one.
For instance, documenting one-off tasks, exceptions that apply to one individual, and rapidly changing processes is a huge waste of time.
By creating guidelines for when to write SOPs, you can save hours you might have otherwise spent on standardizing procedures that are never repeated or are too simple to document.
7. Prioritize your SOPs
If you’re only getting started with SOPs, you have plenty of work ahead. So it's best to prioritize your SOPs and start with the ones that matter most.
It’s up to you to decide how you should prioritize SOPs. For example, in active recruitment, you'd better standardize the steps new hires go through by creating onboarding SOPs for new employees.
If hiring and onboarding aren’t on top of your priority list, pay attention to performance gaps in your team. Start by documenting and standardizing processes that need improvement.
8. Use SOP creation software
While you can create all your SOPs manually, the process will probably take a year or so. To save your time and nerves, use SOP software that does it for you.
With Scribe, you can finally auto-generate SOPs and forget about copying and pasting screenshots in your guides. Simply turn on the Scribe recorder and perform the process — Scribe will document it in seconds (screenshots included!).
In seconds, Scribe auto-generates easy to understand, step-by-step instructions with the relevant steps and activities. Turn complex processes into visual guides with detailed instructions as you work.
Scribe user Nate McCallister how he uses Scribe to create SOPs with the click of a button:
Ask Scribe's generative AI to add titles, descriptions, additional context and more. Or use the ChatGPT features to build your process documentation in a step-by-step, easy-to-read format.
Incorporating visual aids is quick and easy with Pages — combine multiple Scribes, add videos, images, GIFs, and more. And with features like version control and universal updates, you can be sure your team has accurate and up-to-date SOPs.
Ready to reduce the time your team spends creating documentation by 93 percent? Try Scribe's ChatGPT SOP Generator to get started for free!
9. Publish all SOPs in one location
Christiaan Huynen, CEO and founder at Designbro says:
"An SOP handbook should always be available for everyone should they need to consult one. Having a digital copy that anyone can access through any device would be best as it's going to be very convenient as long as company security policies allow it. This is because people will deviate from set policies and procedures when it's inconvenient."
And we agree with him. Stunning SOPs are great. But stunning SOPs that are easily accessible in a centralized internal repository? Even better.
Publish all your SOPs in a single location, like an internal knowledge base, internal wiki, or knowledge management systems. Tools like Guru allow you to store all the company information in one place, regulate access to specific files and monitor the use of SOPs within the team. And yes, Guru integrates with Scribe.
10. Adopt SOPs
Promoting SOPs and training your team on them is crucial to improving processes.
Making standard operating procedures stick isn’t an easy task. People are used to following their own methods — so why would they start turning to a different set of guidelines now?
Along with explaining the importance of SOPs, create a distribution and training plan for new documentation. Link to them from your organization’s communication channels, share the updates in email newsletters and refer to them during standups. It’s also good to run a workshop once you’ve published your first round of SOPs to set your expectations and guide people through the new process.
When implementation is complete, test your employee's level of comprehension. Assess their performance on adopting the most critical SOPs by asking them to perform the procedures and explain their actions.
⚡ Scribe top tip: With Guru, you can set up a Slackbot to quickly reply to your teammates with links to relevant SOPs in Slack channels or direct messages.
11. Revisit SOPs regularly
Processes change quickly. Creating an ongoing review/management plan to review and update SOPs can improve your internal processes and keep them running like a finely-tuned machine. Set yearly reminders to survey relevant employees about any changes in existing procedures and keep SOPs up to date.
For critical, role-specific methods, run monthly checks with individual team members to discover how they understand SOPs and whether any adjustments are needed.
12. Don’t hesitate to decommission old SOPs
Year after year, your documentation will grow. If you don’t remove outdated SOPs, you’ll have an unsearchable knowledge base no one wants to use. So, when you’re sure an SOP is outdated, don’t hesitate to delete it from your knowledge base.
Wrapping up: SOP best practices
We all want to stick to the standard, but it shouldn’t prevent you from developing new, more effective processes. As you develop best practices for standard operating procedures, keep encouraging your team to innovate and improve their performance. After all, with the right tools at hand (yes, we’re referring to Scribe), you won’t have to spend hours developing new SOPs. Sign up for Scribe today and streamline your SOPs today!