SOPs

SOP Best Practices: Guidelines for Stunning Standard Operating Procedures

Looking to create standard operating procedures for your team? Find SOP best practices to outline, draft, finalize and socialize your SOPs.

Introduction

How many ways of building a graph do you know? 

There are hundreds of methods and tools to choose from. But every time you work on the performance report, you stick to one effective approach. You might have also built a template so that you don’t have to create an entirely new structure every month. 

In other words, you’ve made your SOP. You just haven’t written it down.

Your colleagues also must have developed their own 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. 

Yet however effective standard operating procedures are, the documentation process isn’t done in one day. You’ll face a number of 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. 

The good news is — we know a thing about SOPs and want to share the best practices we’ve been developing for years with you. 

Read on for our SOP guidelines and best practices.

What is an SOP?

An SOP stands for “standard operating procedure,” ie., written instructions for any organization’s routine processes to help employees perform effectively. 

SOPs can be company-wide or team-specific. An example of a company-wide SOP is a vacation approval process. Tasks like sales outreach and lead qualification are standardized with team-specific SOPs. Whether you implement SOPs on the company or team level, the process will look more or less the same.

Standard operating procedure best practices

We’ve compiled 12 best practices for you to create 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 SOPs 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 have a chance to 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 make sure to involve team members that already understand and implement the procedure. 

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. 

  1. Step-by-step guides: straightforward processes can be easily covered with step-by-step guides. 
  2. Hierarchical charts: if the process includes multiple stages, a hierarchical format should be used.
  3. Flowcharts: processes with conditional circumstances can be standardized with flowchart SOPs.

Choose one format to follow 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 format for each. 

4. Create an SOP structure

Once you’ve chosen a format, you need to outline a structure for your future SOPs. While it’s entirely up to you what to include in yours, the most common SOP examples 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. It’ll also explain when the 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 flowchart. 
  • References: If relevant, include links to relevant resources that cover the procedure. 

Adjust your SOP structure based on your needs, but make sure to follow 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 SMEs likely don’t have plenty of experience with content writing. Clear writing guidelines will help a lot.

Develop simple writing standards for stakeholders to follow when working on the SOPs. Guide them on the style, fonts, formatting, punctuation 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 just 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 you need a way 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 the process of active recruitment, you’d better standardize the steps that new hires go through first. 

If hiring and onboarding aren’t on top of your priority list, pay attention to performance gaps in your team. Start by revising and standardizing the procedures that clearly 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 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!). 

Ready to reduce the time your team spends creating documentation by 93 percent?

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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 are even better. 

Publish all your SOPs in an internal knowledge base. 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 a crucial step toward creating better processes. 

Making standard operating procedures stick isn’t an easy task. People are used to following their own processes — so why would they start turning to the guidelines now?

Along with explaining the importance of SOPs, create a distribution 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 employees on how to adopt 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 right in Slack channels or direct messages.

11. Revisit SOPs regularly 

Processes change quickly. Set yearly reminders to survey your team about any changes in existing procedures and revisit your SOPs.

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 end up with 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.

Remember: SOPs should increase productivity, not kill it

We all want to stick to the standard, but it shouldn’t prevent you from developing new, more effective processes. As you create 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.