How to Write the Perfect Standard Operating Procedures

How to Write the Perfect Standard Operating Procedures

Hi, welcome to our blog again!

Today we are going to explain to you how to write or create the best standard operating procedure (SOP) for your company, business, project or whatever it is you need a standard document for! If you don’t know what exactly is a standard operating procedure we really recommend you to read this other article we have:

Related: What is a Standard Operating Procedure

We also recommend you to check this other article about writing a how-to guide for those simple-explanation-processes you may face:

Related: 8 steps to create a how-to guide

Have fun!

What is the difference between a process and a standard operating procedure?

Well, at this point you may be wondering what is the difference between process documentation and a standard operating procedure. Or you may be wondering why there is even a difference (to begin with). Well it is important to understand this subtle difference so you can better execute your documentation.

On the one hand, a process is a general overview of a specific activity or task where you just want to show what is happening right now. Instead, a standard operating procedure will show you not only what is happening, but also when it is happening, where those activities are going to be developed or the actors involved in said process.

Easy put, it is all about the level of detail we want to obtain from our documentation. Are the consumers of our documentation going to replicate the same exact process within the same conditions? Then they will need the proper SOP so they can adapt to that specific situation.

Think of a cooking recipe as an example:

While a process documentation would tell you to Prepare your cooking environment and tools, mix your ingredients, put it in the oven, let it sit for a while, an SOP would describe the proper working conditions you need, which ingredients, measurements (Cups? Ounces? Kilograms? Liters?), to what temperature you should cook in the oven or the times needed. This level of detail will not only give you a real and proper view of your process, but it also will serve its main purpose: replicability. These SOPs are important for one reason above all: knowledge retention, so if we can replicate that knowledge independently of the conditions, we will have gold on our hands.

So it does really matter to clarify first what we are going to work with: A process or an SOP.

Steps to create an SOP

Gather info

It may seem like a boring and unuseful step. However, it may probably be the most important one. This step will deal with bringing a process down to earth, which means being honest and realistic with our job.

You will need to collect as much information as possible to dive deep into the ocean of your process. It is all about having a deep understanding of it, so you either need to obtain that information on your own or let experienced people explain it to you.

Determine your main goals

At this stage, you will also need to properly define and determine the objective and main goal of this SOP. Why? Well, as we have explained earlier, an SOP is all about the level of detail you are willing to describe in your documentation. So a high level of detail needs a proper and specific goal. That is why we recommend you to keep SMART goals in mind throughout the whole process.

SMART goals pretend to give you guidelines on how to stay specific. This acronym stands for Specific (detailed), Measurable (explicit), Attainable (realistic), Relevant (important) and Timed (framed).

Define your target audience

Just because you are still in the stage of defining terms and preparing for writing, you will need to have a clear understanding of your target audience. This step deals with your ability to empathise with your SOP consumers. With consumers we refer to that same target audience you are preparing this for. They would be your coworkers, maybe colleague from another department or even maybe from another company you are working with and of which you don’t have the same culture.

So it is important to clearly define who you are talking to. Here we have a list of questions that may be useful for you:

  • What is their specific language?
  • Do I know their slang?
  • Are they new hires?
  • Do they have any knowledge?
  • Are they from my same department?
  • How many of them are there?

Choose a format

We are now at the doors of writing the SOP, but don’t rush. First you need to decide what is the best and most suitable type or format to do your SOP.

If you don’t have any knowledge about what we are talking about, we strongly recommend checking out this other article we have where we explain each category in more detail. (INSERTAR AQUÍ EL LINK EN LA FRASE) Either way here is a summary:

  • Checklists: “To-do list” to define what has been done or not
  • Step by step guide: Linear representation of a process or way of developing a task
  • Hierarchical list: Extended step-by-step guide that gives more structure and detail to your process by adding subcategories within each step.
  • Process flowchart: More structured and non-linear way of representing different activities and actors involved.

Related: How to create a project diagram with BlueworksLive

Data of the SOP

Now it is time to create your standard operating procedure. After having a clear overview and structure of how you are going to do it, you will need to specify some relevant data for your readers. What kind of data? Well, whatever you find relevant for your target audience:

  • Clear title of the SOP
  • Name of the creators or individuals involved
  • Department or target audience you are writing for
  • Date of creation
  • SOP’s identification or codification number

But why are those necessary if my target audience is just going to read the contents, they do not care about who did it as long as it works. Well, you may have a point right there. But data like dates, departments, titles, numbers etc. help us to quickly identify and classify these kind of documents. Maybe it is not THAT useful for a company that deals with two or three SOPs.

However, imagine the scope of a firm that needs hundreds of these documents. It is clearly important to classify them properly and also knowing the date to know whether these SOPs need an update or not.

Get it done

Now that you have started writing your SOP you must reflect that preparation and structured information you gathered before on the paper (or pdf). As we have explained, the main difference between a process and an SOP is the level of detail, so they will be pretty much relevant here.

  1. Create an index or table of contents so your readers can navigate through your document
  2. Provide previous definitions in case you have to deal with new concepts that may be repeated throughout the the entire document
  3. Provide information about security a caution procedures related to that specific process (it doesn’t matter if it’s a physical job or a digital one)
  4. Aim for clear descriptions: Remember the cooking recipe, you need to know specific measurements, units, quantities, times, etc. to develop a good activity
  5. Close with conclusions and reminders
  6. Add a reference page in case your readers need to know more about specific information

Good practices

  • Remember to add visual support when needed (screenshots, videos, infographics, tables, etc.) but always relevant ones
  • You don’t need to stick to one specific SOP format, you can always use to your advantage and alternate them to create a unique and personalised SOP
  • Proofread and check your work constantly. Remember that you may have a well defined structure but it can change in the development of the documentation. Give regular checks to provide coherence to your work
  • Try this procedure on your own to see if your work has made sense. Sometimes you will obviously need to give it to some of your colleagues or target audience so they can test it for themselves. This sampling technique will be useful to obtain feedback and improve your work!

Conclusion

→Notice the labor you are developing; use Uphint to facilitate your work

Well, we hope it hasn’t been tough! These kinds of procedures are of high importance within firms with lots of workflows and processes that they need to standardize. Taking care of them and being constantly conscious of all details can be a rough work. Always consider that these documents can contain lots of wording and specific terms that can confuse workers and also get them bored reading them.

Uphint is a documentation tool that will help you save lots of time creating these workflow documents. Whatever it is you can record it with Uphint and share it with anyone you want in seconds so they get top quality process documentation.

Related: How to create my first Uphint?

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