What is a Standard Operating Procedure?
A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a standardized process that outlines a set of detailed instructions to help workers perform complex tasks properly and safely. The main objective of SOPs is to develop an effective quality system, reduce work variations and comply with industry-specific regulations and standards. Failure to follow SOPs can cause significant errors in production and operations.
SOPs are commonly used across different industries such as manufacturing, hospitality, construction, and pharmaceutical industries. These procedures are designed for:
- quality and compliance;
- routine or highly repetitive activities;
- high-risk tasks;
- new processes or line of business; and
- training program initiatives
This article covers 1) the top 4 benefits of using an SOP; 2) how to write an effective SOP template; 3) technology to streamline SOP record keeping and; 4) free SOP templates you can download and customize.
Go straight to download top 3 SOP templates.
Top 4 Benefits of Using an SOP
Businesses often do not invest enough resources into creating SOPs for their workforce. Often cited reasons include the significant time investment required, limited trained staff to create them and difficulties with tracking whether staff use and perform them.
However, there are significant benefits of incorporating an SOP into a workplace which should encourage trainers and managers to invest the relevant time into building SOPs. Here are just 4 benefits of using an SOP in your workplace:
#1 Improves efficiency and quality
Variations in work processes can compromise quality and work efficiency. Implementing SOPs help prevent this scenario by helping to standardizing all critical processes and reduce work variations. SOPs also assist with improving the Quality Management System (QMS) and can prepare the organization to pass relevant ISO certification and comply with regulatory requirements.
? Industry example: Common food manufacturing SOPs cover tasks such as handwashing, cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces, and proper packaging process. This applies to all the employees working in the facility to maintain food safety standards and prevent contamination of food, ingredients and packaging materials.
#2 Facilitates employee training
SOPs complement training materials to educate workers and serve as a guide for onboarding new hires. Senior staff with relevant job experience should also be involved in drafting the SOP procedures and steps. SOPs are an effective tool to supplement classroom and supervised training as workers can follow steps at their own pace when performing their duties.
? Industry example: Common pharmaceutical SOPs cover tasks such as dispensing, sourcing of medicines, and expiry dates checking. SOPs help ensure that pharmacists assist in protecting the safety of the patients and reduce unintended omissions and errors in dispensing correct drugs to patients.
#3 Increases profitability
Following SOPs can help ensure consistent and high quality delivery or products and services. It helps improve and maintain brand standards and customer satisfaction. This is important to ensure smooth business operations and overall profitability.
? Industry example: Common hotel SOPs cover tasks such as general housekeeping, bed making, dining, and performing pest control treatments. This is essential to maintain the quality and consistency of service and standards in a hotel and provide good customer care and experience.
#4 Ensures a healthy and safe environment
SOPs describe in detail how to safely perform work involving hazardous processes, materials, equipment, and conditions. These procedures help reinforce strict compliance in safety protocols to prevent unforeseen accidents and fatalities.
? Industry example: Common construction SOPs cover tasks such as toolbox talk or pre-work meetings, risk assessments, and job safety analysis. This is vital to discuss and evaluate high-risk tasks that workers will perform and develop ways how to perform these tasks safely.
How to Write an Effective SOP Template
SOP templates come in various forms depending on the purpose, industry, and audience and can range from process manuals to checklists or flow diagrams. However, an effective general SOP template should focus on three key areas:
- Purpose - states a clear objective of what needs to be accomplished and why it is important. This should answer the essential questions such as “What is the target process?”, “Why write an SOP for this process?” and “What needs to be improved in this process?”. A clearly written purpose should help staff understand why they are following the relevant SOP procedures rather than simply performing process for the sake of process.
Example purpose (office housekeeping):
The purpose of this SOP is to outline housekeeping services and to ensure that workstations are free of debris and clutter. This is vital to maintaining a safe work environment and to prevent any minor or major incidents from occurring.
- Scope - outlines what specific tasks are covered for the intended audience is. This should cover who should be following the SOP and list the relevant duties and responsibilities that the SOP covers. It may also be helpful to outline what is out of scope for this particular SOP and reference other documents that the audience can refer to for other tasks.
Example scope (office housekeeping):
This standard operating procedure is intended to guide facility management staff in covering the following office housekeeping duties:
- Window cleaning
- Carpet care
- Waste disposal
- Procedures - list of detailed steps to effectively perform the duties as stated in the scope. Procedure steps should be written in an orderly, concise and easy-to-read structure. Keep all steps direct and avoid including irrelevant or unnecessary information for that process. Pictures or illustrations can be included for a more comprehensive and clearer presentation of SOP.
Paper based SOP documents make it challenging to track whether staff are following and completing the procedures in their daily duties. An effective digital SOP tool should be easy for staff to use and provide visibility and record keeping to trainers and managers that tasks are being completed properly.
iAuditor is the world’s #1 digital inspection tool and can help streamline your SOP systems.With the iAuditor mobile app and web platform you can: