Most people dread on-the-job paperwork, especially standard operating procedures (SOPs). But, SOPs don’t have to be a chore to create or read. Done correctly, an SOP can guide you clearly through tasks, including complicated and hazardous work.
This article provides everything you need to know about SOPs. We discuss the purpose of standard operating procedures, the industries and standards that use SOPs to support and track compliance, and how software can assist in creating and managing SOPs. Then, we look at the characteristics and common elements of SOPs and explain the steps to create an SOP. Finally, we provide a variety of SOP templates in Word format to streamline and standardize your efforts.
What Is the Purpose of Standard Operating Procedures?
A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a set of written steps that captures the best practices of a field or industry as applied in a specific organization. SOPs are often created to provide specific steps when activities include known hazards that could inflict loss of property or injury, but SOPs also ensure the repeatability and consistency of the performance of any type of process. SOPs help employees perform complicated tasks: ones in which remembering every detail of a procedure can be difficult or in which a precise sequence of steps is essential. These documents create measurable processes that provide structured approaches in the event of problems or emergencies. SOPs can be thought of as a script — in the case of the service industry, SOPs often are a script, with a call center or hospitality workers greeting customers and responding to situations with a spoken-word formula.
When SOPs originate in compliance requirements, they standardize activity, guarantee consistency and quality, and provide a means to record performance metrics and capture any path to deviation in results. These records can aid in the corrective action process. The SOP development, implementation, and revision procedure is similar to the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) quality management model: Research the steps in a procedure (plan); create the procedure (do); verify the procedure in a walk-through (check); and use the SOP to standardize daily activity and revise as needed (act). The procedures of an SOP also form the basis for training material for new employees. Moreover, they provide remedial or refresher training for existing employees. However, while SOPs pave a pathway to greater efficiencies in daily practices, creating them and maintaining them should never become an aim in itself. SOPs must serve the quality and efficiency, not the other way around.
What Is Standard Operating Procedure Software?
Standard operating procedure software provides centralized, often cloud-based, support for SOPs. Functions include purpose-built templates for documents, document and change control, review scheduling, tracking for revision approvals, task tracking, training and logging of training sessions, acting as a central repository for documents, and more. Some packages cost as little as $40 a month.
Who Uses Standard Operating Procedure Templates?
Many regulations and governance frameworks call for standard operating procedures to be defined, enacted, and periodically reviewed. In these instances, SOPs prove that your organization follows guidelines in day-to-day activities and provide a structure for capturing the details of tasks and activities. SOPs and SOP templates are also common in government and military organizations. Here is an example of one such template for IT security. Use SOPs to show compliance with some of the following standards and regulations:
- Accounting: Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX); Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP); International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS)
- IT: Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies (COBIT); IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL)
- Food and Pharmacology: Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Quality Systems: International Organization for Standards (ISO 9000); Aerospace Basic Quality System (AS 9000)
- Health and Safety: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- HR: Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA); Equal Opportunity Employment Act (EOE); Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
What Is the Format of a Standard Operating Procedure Template?
A template’s strength is that users don’t have to become designers in order to use one. A template should guide you as to what content to include. Here are the main characteristics of an SOP:
- Written (not lore or word of mouth)
- Structured in an approved template
- Numbered and titled so that it can be easily located
- Added to document control
- Sponsored and signed off by management
- Used in day-to-day activities
- Reviewed regularly
An SOP generally includes two parts: identifying information (document control information) and content, which includes the procedures and supporting information.
Identifying Information (Document Control Information or Metadata): Document control information, such as the logo, the title of the SOP, and so on, is often rendered in a table on the front page or at the top of the document. However, if you have a simple one- or two-page SOP, you can also list this information along the left margin. Here are some examples of metadata:
- Organization name and logo
- SOP title
- Document number
- Name and signature of approver
- Version number
- SOP template references
- The date of implementation or effective date
- Review dates
- Headers and footers (include such things as the company name, document name and number, date, and page number)
SOP Content: Although your organization may need more or less of each type of element, an SOP usually contains the following sections:
- Links to the referenced process
- Standard or policy the SOP fulfills
- Purpose for the specific SOP
- Scope of the SOP (what departments, groups, or individuals the document applies to)
- The party responsible for the SOP
- References to any documentation that supports the procedure (policy, regulations, or other SOPs)
- Definitions of any jargon or terms that may be misunderstood
- The step-by-step procedures (which can have a single numbered level or multiple level, but generally not more than three levels)
- Evaluation criteria to indicate if the procedures are effective
- A list of revisions to show how the document has evolved and when changes were added
How Do You Write a Procedure?
Creating an SOP may seem daunting. But, if you follow a few simple steps, you can quickly get your document on track.
- Find an industry or department-specific standard operating procedure template, or choose an appropriate format for creating a new template.
- Consider the audience for the document and write for them. Include the advice of potential users of the SOP as you write procedures.
- Decide whether you want a manual of many procedures or individual procedures.
- Consider the scope of the document — not only in terms of what personnel or departments and activities it applies to, but also in terms of the individual procedure level.
- Determine where a procedure begins and ends to eliminate overlap and inefficiencies.
- Use language and tone appropriate to your audience and the function of the document. Also, in any documentation, use proper notation for your field. For example, you may need to precisely annotate workflow charts by using Business Process Modeling Language (BPML).
- Consider any risks involved in your procedures to encourage safety and to understand the extent of your liability.
- Verify the procedures to ensure they are correct and streamlined.
- Make sure that a draft of your SOP is reviewed by a manager with signing authority and by individuals affected by the document.
- Create a revision schedule to guarantee that SOPs reflect updates in your field and changes in your process.
To learn more about writing an SOP, read this article.
Creating a Standard Operating Procedure Template
A template saves users time by eliminating the need to format the document with fonts, styles, and colors. More importantly, it reminds users of the types of information they must include to create an effective document. If you are creating a new SOP template or customizing one for your organization, follow these steps:
- Use your organization’s usual word processing program to create a template file. Many standard operating procedure templates are available in Microsoft Word, but other word processing programs also work well.
- Define the format, including styles for headings and body text, fonts, and color. Consider readability as you design.
- Add common SOP elements as listed above.
- For each element, add brief explanatory text to suggest the types of content to be added and the format to use.
- Publish the template and introduce it to the organization. Store your template on a local drive or intranet where everyone who should use it can find it.
Standard Operating Procedure Templates
Help Desk Standard Operating Procedure Template
No matter your line of business, help desk SOPs guide your customer service staff to process online and telephonic customer problems and questions, providing consistency and structure to staff responses. Complete this help desk SOP template to describe such things as information to collect during first contact with a customer, prioritization of issues based on a predefined priority matrix, troubleshooting steps for known issues, and customer follow-up processes.
Hotel Guest Luggage Handling Standard Operating Procedure Template
Standard operating procedures are crucial to maintaining consistency and quality of service in a hotel. An SOP can form the basis of a checklist for daily tasks and provides training material for new employees and refresher material for existing employees. A hotel usually has multiple short SOPs covering everything from the check-in process to bill disputes to evening bed turndown. This Word template helps you describe how bell desk staff should greet new guests on arrival, move luggage, gather luggage, assist guests on checkout, and organize and store guest items in long-term storage.
Laboratory Standard Operating Procedure Template
Standard operating procedures are crucial to the efficiency and safety of any laboratory. Although not every process or chemical is governed by law, SOPs help employees, students, and others in a lab work safely with chemicals and processes that can cause injury or workspace damage. Laboratory SOPs in particular should be collaborative efforts that leverage the expertise of people who work daily in your facility. Also, augment your own processes by using data sheets and manufacturer documentation to understand and describe substances and equipment. Use this Word template to comply with all the SOPs for working in a lab.
Warehouse Standard Operating Procedure Template
Order and routine are important in any warehouse, but if your facility handles regulated material, well-considered procedures may be necessary for compliance. Use this SOP template in Word to detail approved vendors and processes for ordering material, catalog where shipments are received, document how deliveries should be verified before acceptance, and keep track of how paperwork (such as packing slips and labels) is processed.
IT Standard Operating Procedure Template
IT standard operating procedures may be required by your organization for compliance with financial and technical regulations and standards. This IT standard operating procedure template in Word provides a reminder not only to define and document troubleshooting, security events, and setup procedures, but also to create maintenance schedules, procedure checklists, and configuration notes and diagrams.
HR Standard Operating Procedure Template
Human resources SOPs can cover many aspects of an organization’s functions. Use this SOP template in Word to detail HR processes from recruitment to hiring and termination for such matters as employee conduct, computer and phone policy, and more. Also, consider these employee onboarding checklists.
Restaurant Standard Operating Procedure Template
Undoubtedly, the most important SOP a restaurant of any size can publish concerns food safety. This restaurant food safety SOP template in Word is essentially a manual that covers employee hygiene, food storage, correct cooking and cooling procedures, utensil use, and more. A restaurant SOP should also specify who inspects for correct procedure, logging practices, and record archiving routines.
Pharmacy Standard Operating Procedure Template
The goal of a pharmacy SOP is risk management. Use this pharmacy template in Word to detail definitions, responsibilities, and procedures. When fulfilling CAPA requirements, pharmacy SOPs should be updated to reflect improved practices.
Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure Template
Called a Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure (SSOP), this Word document details cleaning procedures for food-related farm operations, such as packing houses. In this template, you describe what to clean, how to clean it, and who should clean it.
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