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 standard operating procedures is to develop an effective quality system and comply with industry-specific regulations and standards. Failure to follow SOPs can cause significant errors in production and operations, increasing unwanted work variations.
What is an SOP Template?
An SOP template is a document used to create an organization’s standard operating procedures and avoid common mistakes such as making them too long that no one will read them. SOP templates have three common formats which are step-by-step guides, hierarchical steps, and flowcharts. They are all used to prevent being too detailed that people could subjectively interpret standard operating procedures or too negative that people will not be encouraged to do them.
The Purpose of a Standard Operating Procedure Template
Using a well-designed standard operating procedure template, or standard operating procedure form, makes it easier for managers and employees to put the best practices for a specific job to be done or an established business process into a clearly-communicated, systematically-written document.
Benefits of Implementing a Standard Operating Procedure
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:
SOP Benefit #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.
SOP Example: Food Manufacturing Industry
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.
SOP Benefit #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.
SOP Example: Pharmaceutical Industry
Common pharmaceutical SOPs cover tasks such as dispensing, sourcing of medicines, and expiry date 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.
SOP Benefit #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.
SOP Example: Hospitality Industry
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.
SOP Benefit #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.
SOP Example: Construction Industry
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 on how to perform these tasks safely.
How to Write A Standard Operating Procedure Effectively
Writing an SOP, with the use of SOP templates, depends on the purpose, industry, and audience and can vary from process manuals to checklists or flow diagrams. That said, an effective SOP should focus on three key areas:
Step 1: State a Clear Purpose
State 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.
SOP Purpose Example (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.
Step 2: Define the Scope
Outlines what specific tasks are covered for the intended audience. 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.
SOP Scope Example (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
This document does not cover identifying equipment damage and repair work. Refer to the office incident report SOP for those tasks.
Step 3: List the Procedures
List the steps or procedures in detail. 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.
The elements of an SOP vary according to its industry-specific purpose. There’s no standardized set of questions that are applicable to all SOPs but the crucial aspect is that they should be aligned with the purpose and created according to certain requirements—set by a team, manager, or organization—that need to be complied with. Here are a few sample questions you can include in your SOP template:
Ideally, before going in on the nitty-gritty of any SOP, you should add basic information and indicate details that help strengthen its foundation. Consider asking these questions:
- What is the main purpose of the SOP?
- Or what do you want to accomplish with the use of the SOP?
- What are the scopes of the SOP? (Specify each one so they are clear.)
- Which procedures should be followed?
- What are the tools and materials needed to ensure successful completion of the procedures?
- Who are the people responsible for performing the procedures?
Most SOPs contain general housekeeping questions to ensure a clean, safe, and organized execution of tasks and activities in the place. Some general housekeeping questions include:
- Is the room/place free from clutter, obstructions, or other unnecessary items?
- Is the place cleaned/disinfected as frequently as needed?
- Are floors vacuumed regularly?
- Are windows spot cleaned with appropriate glass cleaners?
- When cleaning, are necessary protective gear such as gloves and goggles, observed?
If your business is related to food manufacturing, the SOP should help you and your employees standardize the procedures required to keep the place safe and sanitary. Here are some food manufacturing questions you can include in your SOP template:
- Are hands washed with warm water and soaped for 20 seconds?
- Did you scrub your wrist, fingers, and fingertips while handwashing?
- Are food contact surfaces pre-rinsed with hot water?
- Are food contact surfaces cleaned with appropriate cleaning materials?
- Are equipment and surfaces visually inspected for the presence of food residues?
FAQs About SOP Template
Yes, there are pre-existing SOP templates that can be used or exported via Microsoft Word. Ready-to-use templates such as this enable managers and staff to work together and communicate procedures effortlessly. If you want to know more about that, try this simple SOP template from SafetyCulture.
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.
When creating an effective and comprehensive SOP, steps to consider include:
- Set a clear objective
- Plan the operation tasks
- Set procedures
- Test and revise
Below is a simple standard operating procedure outline and sample sop format:
- Title Page – contains the complete SOP title, SOP number, date of approval or version number, the name and signature of the author, the name and signature of the person authorizing the SOP, and their dates of signing respectively.
- Table of Contents – indicate page numbers and the total number of pages of the SOP
- Purpose – establishes the objectives and scope of the standard operating procedure
- Procedures – provides unambiguous and imperative descriptions of each process step
- Quality Assurance – states the criteria for the control of the described product/service, system or process
- References – any related SOPs of operations used in the present SOP