Standard Operating Procedures (SOP): What is and Types

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP): What is and Types

Hi, welcome! Maybe your boss has told you to investigate more about SOPs. Or maybe you are the boss and you have been told to implement it in your company. Maybe you are just an entrepreneur and want to know more about it. Either way, you may be wondering: why put so much effort and time into such a boring activity? Why not derive those resources into something more useful? Aaaand you may be right, why would anyone document a process that is already running? Or a training that my employees have already taken?

But most importantly, you may be wondering: What the h*** is an SOP? Well, let's find it out!

What is a Standard Operating Procedure?

STANDARD

OPERATING

PROCEDURE

Sounds like something difficult, right? Well, don’t be afraid, it’s simpler than it seems. Simply put: a standard operating procedure (SOP) is a generalized course of action of any process. It is an on-the-ground-type of document that represents the actual needed development of an activity.

In general terms, SOPs do not only serve a business purpose. If you think of your daily life you will find yourself dealing with lots of SOPs. Have you ever cooked something following a recipe? That 's an SOP. Have you ever written a checklist to do groceries? That 's an SOP. Have you ever built a Lego toy following the manual? That 's an SOP!

Well, looks like now we really know what an SOP is.

Why are SOPs sooo important?

Hey, don’t go yet! SOPs can be seen as a waste of time while we are doing it. However, they will be a highly differentiating factor in the efficiency and effectiveness of whatever activity we are working on.

It is all about asking yourself: What happens if everything stops? What happens if my employee suddenly leaves my company? How do I manage all that know-how?

SOPs will help you clearly define all that intangible knowledge in a document. A simple example:

Imagine one of your employees for some reason has to leave your company (let’s say she’s pregnant and she is going to deliver in a few weeks). You decide to either hire a new one or rearrange any other competent one from the same department to cover that same position while she is not there. Either way, you will have to train a new employee so they can perform as good as your outgoing employee. Well, lucky for you she left a document of her daily activities on her desk before leaving so you could replicate what she has been doing since she started in that position. Wouldn’t that document look like gold to you right now?

Well, THAT IS THE POWER OF SOPs!

Types of SOP

Let’s see the different types of SOPs you can work with (from least to most complex):

Checklists

As we have seen, even a checklist for groceries can be an SOP. The business equivalent to that list is a to-do list. They are the easiest and simplest form of procedure, since the elements do not have to be interlinked between them and you can just mark them as “done” or “not done”. As always, we can complicate them as much as we like so they can better suit our purpose.

Example

The Kanban methodology can be an example of such kind of list. Here you have an a guide of how to create a Kanban board using ClickUp  

Step by step List

This is the case with the cooking recipe or the Lego toy building manual. A step-by-step guide is a document that presents a linear way of developing a task. You can not accomplish task 2 before finishing task 1. It can be useful for lots of things, more than you can even imagine.

Example

Your new hire doesn’t know how to log in in your specific company software and you just create a guide on how to do it by using Uphint. Probably that colleague will use it again many times and will even pass it to newcomers.

Hierarchical Lists

Just like a step-by-step guide, a hierarchical list follows a linear path but it has some ramifications within each step. In the end, it is a more complex and more structural way of presenting an operating procedure, since it provides more detailed information and specific internal tasks when compared to the step-by-step guide.

Example

Mock standard procedure on how to make a painting:

Task 1. Select the space

Task 1.1. Check for good lighting

Task 1.2. Check for good airflow

Task 1.3. Check for no distractions

Task 2. Choose the right materials

Task 2.1. Canvas

Task 2.2. Brushes

Task 2.3. Paint

Process Flowchart

Flowcharts may be the one of the most complex SOPs you can create. Not only gives a clear representation of activities and sub activities, but it also allows us to visualize how those activities are bonded with each other. Another advantage is to identify bottlenecks, since it will display which activity depends on which. We can find flowcharts in lots of subjects: product design, innovation processes or even data-flow representation.

Example

Flowchart diagrams can even display different actors in different activities. For instance, here is a guide on how to create a project diagram using BlueworksLive by IBM

Why do you need SOP?

Maybe you are not convinced enough and you still have doubts of whether or not to spend time on creating SOPs. Well, here is a summary list of reasons why you and everyone should be creating SOPs STARTING NOW.

Reason #1: Knowledge retention

Knowledge is such a strong and important asset to a company, yet so intangible and difficult to measure. We have to make sure to maintain it as much as we can, always keeping in mind that it must be updated to our current requirements. There’s nothing more frustrating than an outdated how-to guide.

As we have seen, people can leave their current position for unexpected reasons. It will be important to be prepared in advance for anything. It can be a medical reason, maybe a pregnant woman or maybe our employee wants to leave the company and will negotiate with us using their knowledge as a bargaining tool.

Reason #2: Onboarding and training

Pretty much related to knowledge. Standard operating procedures will help onboarding of new employees and training of current ones to be much smoother and easier, not only for us as knowledge providers, but also for them as knowledge receivers.

Reason #3: Efficiency and time

We have to face it: time-consuming activities are difficult to manage and can be counterproductive when they are done wrong. It is better to take a little time creating an SOP than devoting much more time on repeating the same explanation over and over again. For instance, Uphint directly attacks this time-consumption problem and helps to save even more time when developing those operating procedures.

Reason #4: Proper flow of communication

Communication between departments and coworkers is key for the well-being of the processes and thus the company. Miscommunicated and unaligned employees will be fatal, and it won’t be a matter of employee aptitudes, but because of a lack of optimization in their potential. Communication = crucial. Good communication = excellence.

Reason #5: Quality control

SOPs can not only be useful for carrying out a process, but also to have control and view over it. We can identify bottlenecks, areas of improvement and even use it to check whether or not an employee is doing the right work. They can be used for safety reasons: our employees will perform a task according to specifications in the SOP. Maybe an office employee won’t see this as a strong reason, but for a field worker in a factory where they are using heavy machinery, they better have a proper manual on how to do their task.

Reason #6: Consistency and replicability  (standardization)

After all, standard operating procedures will give you exactly that: standardized processes. They will help to replicate tasks and be consistent with them for as long as we want. Again, always keep in mind that our knowledge bases need to be up to date.

We encourage you to use Uphint to streamline your SOPS. With Uphint you can create how-to guides in a matter of seconds and completely free of charge. We also recommend you to download the chrome extension ;)

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