How to Write an SOP in 8 Steps: Who Should Write SOPs?

Rana Bano
April 4, 2023
min read
November 9, 2023
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Discover who should write a standard operating procedure and the important factors to consider in creating an effective SOP.
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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.

With the right SOPs in place, you can empower your team to perform at their best, achieve their goals and exceed expectations.

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. SOPs are key for making your company run smoothly.

What is an SOP?

An SOP is a documented set of step-by-step instructions or guidelines that a company creates to outline their processes

SOPs are designed to ensure that these tasks are performed consistently and correctly—regardless of who carries them out. While these SOPs can differ from team to team, they share the same core characteristics:

  1. Detailed Instructions: SOPs provide clear and detailed instructions on how a specific task or process should be carried out. They often include the sequence of steps, required materials or equipment, safety precautions, and quality control measures.
  2. Consistency: SOPs help ensure that tasks are performed consistently across different individuals, shifts, or locations, reducing the risk of errors and variations in outcomes.
  3. Compliance: SOPs often incorporate regulatory requirements and industry standards to ensure that processes adhere to legal and safety standards.
  4. Training: SOPs are valuable for training new employees or team members, as they provide a structured guide for learning how to perform tasks correctly.
  5. Reference: They serve as a reference document for employees to consult when they need guidance on a particular procedure.
  6. Continuous Improvement: SOPs can be updated and improved over time as organizations identify better practices or as regulations change.

SOPs are especially crucial in environments where consistency, safety, and quality are paramount, helping organizations achieve operational efficiency and maintain high standards of performance.

Who should create SOPs?

Whether you're building SOPs for HR, Ops or an internal team, the person responsible for performing the task or training others should create the SOP.

So, really anyone with an in-depth understanding of what needs to be done to achieve the desired results can create an SOP. This individual is also responsible for ensuring the document is easily accessible to all team members, such as a knowledge base or wiki. 

Should be easy right? Unfortunately, it's not.

It may seem simple, but creating an effective SOP document requires more than just writing down a business process.

When should you create an SOP?

SOPs are like the North Star that guides your team to complete routine work with clarity and efficiency. They help ensure that everyone knows what they need to do, when they need to do it and how to do it right.

Of course, having an SOP document alone won't automatically turn your team into superheroes. But SOPs are crucial for standardizing best practices and processes across your organization or team. This not only improves the quality and predictability of outcomes but also saves valuable time and resources that can be reinvested elsewhere.

Here are some common instances when you may need an SOP for:

  • Documenting key processes.
  • Supporting knowledge transfer and succession planning.
  • Meeting production or operational requirements.
  • Ensuring everyone adheres to the predetermined schedule.
  • Maintaining compliance with applicable standards and regulations.
  • Preventing errors and failures.
  • Evaluating employee performance.
  • Creating a safer work environment. 
  • Facilitating employee training and development.
🎓 Related resource: 7 Employee Training Program Examples to Steal From Today

How to write SOPs: A step-by-step guide

When writing standard operating procedures, you need a clear line of thought to identify the most effective way to standardize critical but repetitive processes. 

To help you avoid common mistakes, here are the main steps to write an SOP:

  1. Identify your tasks and desired results
  2. Know your end user
  3. Outline your process steps
  4. Get additional input.
  5. Determine the scope.
  6. Write the SOP.
  7. Review, edit and repeat. 

1. Identify your tasks and desired results

Identify which tasks or workflows could benefit from an SOP. You can conduct a team-wide survey or ask employees to list their tasks regularly. Once you have a list, review it with other managers and leaders to refine it further.

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.

But don't stop there! Before you start creating your SOP, determine how you will measure its effectiveness. This will give you a clear idea of how it will affect your organization and help you develop the best practices for your team's specific needs.

You can also work with employees to identify the key challenges and pain points they face in their day-to-day work. By creating SOPs around these issues, you have a solid reason for putting in the effort to create an SOP and improve the chances of getting employee buy-in.

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.

2. Know your end user

The key to creating successful SOPs is having an in-depth understanding of the end users. 

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.

Answer the following to know how to endure your document resonates with the intended individuals:

  • Who will be using the SOP?
  • Are they new employees? What level of prior knowledge about the process?
  • What’s the size of the team?
  • Does an SOP already exist?

Aim to collect as much information as possible on the end user. This will help create an SOP that caters to their needs and points of view, helping you transform your processes at the same time.

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.

3. Outline 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, or ask subject matter experts to write SOPs themselves. 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

Don't wait until the last minute to outline your process steps. Knowing how long or complicated the process is will let you know how to write the SOP.

4. Select an SOP format

If your company already has SOPs from the past, refer to them to understand your team’s preferred formatting guidelines. There are multiple SOP formats, each with its own best use case.

Step-by-step guide SOP

This is best for straightforward SOPs with low complexity. A standard simple SOP template includes three to five sections like:

  • Statement of purpose.
  • Short summary.
  • Step-by-step instructions/Short table.
  • List of person(s) responsible for each step.

Hierarchical SOP format

This more formal format is suitable for organizing large, complex or technical information. A hierarchical SOP template includes:

  • Table of contents.
  • Statement of purpose.
  • Short summary.
  • Step-by-step instructions with details on completing each task and links to related checklists or action plans.
  • List of person(s) responsible for each step.

Flowchart SOP

This is useful for SOPs with a flexible scope, as it allows you to outline both simple and complex procedures. A standard flowchart SOP includes:

  • Statement of purpose or introduction.
  • Flowchart or diagram outlining various scenarios.
  • List of person(s) responsible for each step.

What not to do

Don’t choose a format before you’ve established your goals, audience and process 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.

5. Write the SOP

This is where you’ll write the first draft of your SOP. Use a tool like Scribe to capture and write your first draft in less time. That way, you can spend your time finalizing and sharing 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.

Here are the main elements of an SOP template to guide your writing process:

  • Title Page: Start your SOP with a title, unique identification number, creation or revision date, department/employees/team the SOP applies to and the name and signatures of those involved in creating the SOP.
  • Table of Contents: Add a table of contents to help summarize the document structure and guide the reader to relevant sections, particularly for large documents.
  • Purpose: Describe the goals and objectives of the SOP document and explain how it will benefit the user and organization.
  • Scope: Define the limits of the document and provide an overview of what it covers to help the reader understand its boundaries and what it aims to achieve.
  • Glossary: Include a glossary of words, abbreviations, or acronyms that may be unfamiliar to your audience.
  • Roles and Responsibilities: Identify key stakeholders (think: employees, managers) who need to follow the SOP and what responsibilities they have to avoid confusion and create accountability.
  • Procedures: This section will be the bulk of your SOP, comprising step-by-step instructions and any additional information needed to complete tasks.
  • Related Documents: Provide a list of related training materials or reference guides to your SOP.
  • Health and Safety Warnings: Include a separate section to describe what employees need to avoid and how to perform tasks safely to protect them from potential dangers and your company from liabilities.
  • Revision History: Add a revision history to show that the reader is looking at the latest version of the SOP.
  • Approval Signatures: If required, get the SOP approved by an authorizing officer and include their signature before sharing the document with the audience.

Consider adding elements like screenshots, flowcharts, images, videos and screen recordings to add visual interest while clarifying what needs to be done to avoid misinterpretations.

Here’s an excellent example of an engaging SOP made using Scribe.

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.

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.

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.

Make sure you assign someone to update and maintain the SOP and plan periodic reviews to gauge its effectiveness and engagement. Keep tweaking the document until it's approved and accepted by all stakeholders and employees. Once everyone's on board, make the document easily accessible to those who need it.

🔥 Scribe Tip: Don't forget to review the SOP every six to twelve months or as needed to reflect any changes in your procedures and identify areas where improvements can be made. This ensures that the document remains relevant, and your organization stays on track to achieve its big-picture goals.

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.

Final Thoughts: how to write an SOP

SOPs provide the essential structure and guidance you need to ensure that tasks are carried out consistently and efficiently.

SOPs empower your team to perform at their best, maintain quality standards, and streamline processes.

Whether you're creating SOPs for HR, operations, or any other department, SOPs should be a living document, subject to periodic reviews and updates to reflect changing processes and goals. W

ith SOPs in place, you can navigate the complexities of daily operations with clarity, consistency, and precision — leading to to improved productivity and outcomes for your organization

The end result? Detailed, easy and uncomplicated SOPs.

Want to write an effective SOP in half the time? Try Scribe for free!

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