At the core of every business is its series of processes. A business is made up of moving parts that all need to work together to help your team deliver projects on time, exceed customer expectations and contribute to overall growth.
Take a car for example. It consists of various parts (big or small) that all work together and contribute to a car’s overall health. If a car’s radiator overheats, the gasket would most likely burn. A faulty gasket would leak coolant, which wouldn’t keep the engine oil and coolant separate. What happens then? Your guess is as good as mine. The coolant can leak outside of the car’s engine, and as the coolant drops, so does your car’s ability to cool down. Eventually, it would lead to engine failure.
It’s a simple equation:
Faulty, unchecked radiator = Engine failure
Notice the ripple effect?
The same principle applies to an organization. If a part breaks down, a ripple effect is bound to occur across the entire company. Projects would get delayed, customer experience would be horrible, customer expectations wouldn’t be met, and the organization would surely suffer huge cost overruns.
So, how can your organization escape doom like the faulty car above and not fall apart at the seams? How can it become a well-oiled machine? How can you organize your business processes and achieve consistent results? The answer is a go-to document that surprisingly, may look simple, but has surely saved countless organizations.
It’s an SOP. Companies use SOPs as internal guides to remain consistent and comply with industry regulations and business standards.
According to Salesforce via The TAS Group:
“Almost half of all sales teams don’t have a playbook. For the 60 percent that do have a well-defined sales process in place, the benefits are clear. Organizations that follow a well-defined sales process are 33 percent MORE likely to be high performers, and the win rate exceeds 50% for two-thirds of companies that have a defined process in place.”
In lieu of this, it begs to ask, “What is the scope of an SOP?” What’s its essence and what purpose does it serve in an organization?
Curious? Read on to find out more.
In this article, we are going to dive into:
- What is an SOP?
- The purpose of an SOP
- Basic components of an SOP
- The SOP lifecycle
- Examples and potential SOP templates
What Is An SOP?
A standard operating procedure (SOP) is an instructional document that explains a process in steps and can come in different formats, from pictographs to checklists and flowcharts. An SOP contains step-by-step instructions that guide employees on how to perform certain repetitive, technical tasks within an organization. If you think of it as Playbook 101: How to get things done, you aren't far from the truth.
Why are SOPs written?
SOPs are written for a particular category of people who will perform certain tasks within an organization. Without these detailed guidelines, it is safe to assume that everyone would complete their responsibilities in ways they deem fit. Unfortunately, this can tilt the balance in favor of or against the company. To remove guesswork, deliver expected outcomes and achieve more consistency, your business needs an SOP to keep it grounded.
For example, a company’s SEO department could create an SOP on how to run website audits and create a detailed content strategy. HR might create an SOP for onboarding new hires, Product Management teams could create SOPs on how to run experiments to learn what customers want, measure what is and isn’t working for customers, and remove or tweak products that are not successful; while Quality and Control could create an SOP to guarantee that production operations are performed constantly and ensure quality control of processes and products. You get the drift…
SOPs are important for organizations looking to save money and run efficiently and effectively. SOPs are what smart businesses use to scale and create a lean, uniform, and efficient workflow.
For example, customer support teams can create SOPs for team members to provide excellent customer service. Having a go-to document in place ensures that every member of the customer support team clearly understands what is expected of them at every stage of the customer journey, and knows how to handle conflict, de-escalate a heated situation, or calm an angry customer down.
The instructions detailed in the SOP could range from answers to standard customer support questions to how to handle complaints and difficult inquiries or queries, or how a customer should be spoken to via email or social media, on the phone or through live chat.
The purpose of an SOP
An SOP is like a recipe. If you follow each step outlined to the T, you’re bound to achieve great results. However, if you use the incorrect amount of ingredients or use them in the wrong order, the probability of encountering disaster is high, and you are most likely to start from scratch.
When thinking about the scope and purpose of an SOP, the first thing you want to do is to understand whether to write a totally new SOP or update an existing one. Think about it: There’s no need to waste time creating an entirely new document if you have an existing document that simply needs some updating.
With this in mind, ask yourself, “What is the scope of an SOP” for my organization? For scope, you want to ask questions such as:
- What areas of the organization should the SOP be used and in what places is it not applicable?
- Who is the SOP for and aimed at? Quality and Control Specialist, Customer Support Manager, Customer Onboarding Team Lead?
- Are there any limitations or exceptions that should be highlighted? Plus, in the case of these specific limitations, what should be done instead?
Consider the following questions for an SOP’s purpose:
- What is the aim of the SOP? To satisfy compliance regulations? To reduce health and safety risks? Or to improve work quality and improve work consistency?
- What problem(s) will the SOP solve and what are its metrics for success? What would it achieve? Increase productivity, reduce mistakes, improve efficiency?
The standard purpose of an SOP is to:
- Provide clear-cut clarification for employees.
- Achieve a consistent and excellent provision of products and services.
- Align and ensure that team members understand the standard way of working in an organization to achieve consistency.
- Stay on schedule and meet expectations.
- Mitigate risks and reduce the chances of costly errors.
- Reduce product recall rates and customer churn.
- Increase profit margins.
The standard operating procedure (SOP) lifecycle
An SOP’s lifecycle consists of six stages. These stages are:
- Initiation: At this stage, the need for a new SOP is identified and all needed approvals are collected to commence drafting.
- Drafting: This is where the new SOP is written but hasn't been reviewed or published.
- Reviewing: The drafted SOP is reviewed by all necessary stakeholders to ensure compliance with all standard or regulatory requirements, and to ensure it covers all required aspects.
- Approval(s): The SOP is approved before it is published or released for use.
- Revision: The SOP is revised frequently to accommodate changing business needs.
- Decommissioning: The SOP is no longer needed and it is deleted or removed from the business’ systems.
We will now examine each of these six stages comprehensively.
Stage #1: Initiation
Situations that could call for the creation of a new SOP include:
- Implementation of new processes and procedures.
- Installation of new equipment or machinery.
- Changes in business conditions.
- Changes in the company’s philosophy or corporate policies.
- New information from regulatory bodies.
Scribe top tip: When initiating the creation of the new SOP, ensure that the document contains vital information such as:
- The title of the proposed new SOP.
- The reason for creating a new SOP.
- A clear, concise description of the purpose of the SOP.
- The scope of the SOP.
- The departments involved in the creation of the new SOP.
- Training requirements.
- A list of stakeholders to review the document.
Whoever came up with the idea of creating a new SOP should also discuss it with the subject matter expert, who would determine if there are any similar SOPs on the subject that could be revised and incorporated into the new subject matter.
Stage #2: Draft the new SOP
At this stage, you need to choose a format. Depending on the complexity or simplicity of the process, certain SOP formats work better than others. For example, if the subject matter is simple, a checklist or blog post could suffice. There are three popular formats for writing an SOP. They are:
This SOP format is suitable for simpler processes because it breaks down a procedure into a numbered list with a set of instructions for carrying out each. For example, a step-by-step SOP format for dealing with an angry customer might include the following:
- Listen (to understand the customer’s POV).
- Show empathy.
- Maintain a calm tone of voice.
- Use the customer's name.
- Build and maintain trust.
- Don't take difficult customers personally.
- Handle angry customers using positive language.
- Resolve the issue.
- Share feedback from angry customers with product managers, designers, and engineers.
Simply put, a step-by-step SOP should be simple and clear enough for an employee to understand without any hand-holding. Scribe's free SOP generator can save you hours in documentation and socialization with auto-generated SOPs. Onboard new employees, standardize best practices and support training.
This SOP uses a bulleted or numbered list, accompanied by a collection of more specific instructions. Hierarchical SOP contains the following:
- Policy: Defines the scope of an SOP and its purpose.
- Procedures: Highlights the steps for completing a process and outlines the roles of stakeholders involved. Think of it as the “who” and “what” of the process.
- Guidelines: Ensures extra guidance is offered to achieve quality standards.
- Documentation: Establishes a reference system to ensure compliance with industry regulations and internal policies.
A flowchart SOP creates a visual representation of the process from start to finish. This SOP format can be used in scenarios such as invoice approvals and are more suited for reducing a backlog of work and achieving more efficient workflows.
Stage #3: Reviewing
The review process can become difficult if many people are required to review and approve the Standard Operating Procedure before publication. Start by reviewing with subject matter experts (SMEs) who would serve as a second pair of eyes and confirm the accuracy of the information in the SOP.
Stage #4: Approval
Once the SOP has been reviewed by the SME, gain approval from the company leadership. Don't forget to also submit the SOP to the Quality Assurance department for approval before publishing.
Stage #5: Revision
It’s important to keep your SOPs up to date. Keep in mind that your company spent a lot of money, time, and energy creating these documents. Without periodic maintenance and regular updates, SOPs can quickly become a complete waste of resources. The rule of thumb is to review SOPs every two years, although some might need to be reviewed frequently.
Stage #6: Decommissioning
Once you’re sure an SOP has outlived its usefulness, the next step is to permanently and officially stop using it. Remove it from service or usage.
Examples & potential SOP templates
An SOP template makes it easy to craft SOPs for every task that requires one. A standard SOP template should contain the following sections:
1. Title: Every SOP should have a defined title that communicates what it intends to do.
2. Introduction: If you like, you could add your company’s mission and vision as a reminder to keep employees on track and aligned with the overall business goals.
3. Scope of SOP: The purpose of the SOP should be covered here and all processes must be outlined. You would also want to explain why it’s important to follow all detailed steps, like safety or compliance.
4. Stakeholders: The SOP should identify who the SOP is created for, outline the roles and responsibilities, and include the contact instructions, and information for coordinating personnel.
5. Glossary: Include a glossary of terms if the SOP includes acronyms, specific language, or industry jargon.
6. Step-by-step procedures: Here, break down the procedures into simple, easy-to-understand step-by-step instructions. If applicable, include visual representations like flow charts or graphs.
Creating standard operating procedures is the best way to keep your team on track and maximize their talents. With a comprehensive SOP, your team members would know exactly what to do in specific situations. This, in turn, would increase your team’s efficiency and productivity and improve the overall company success exponentially.