How to Write an SOP Manual

An SOP manual can help your organization operate smoothly and efficiently. Here's how to write an SOP manual for your organization.

December 29, 2020

Article highlights

Most organizations have an employee handbook that helps guide day-to-day tasks. This manual brings together all the relevant standard operating procedures (SOPs), providing guidelines for operations.

An SOP manual helps an organization operate as efficiently and smoothly as possible. As we wrote about in our post about SOP Manual Best Practices:

An SOP manual brings together all the individual SOPs and makes sure they are consistent. It eliminates contradictory procedures and ensures that all SOPs comply with laws, regulations, and industry best practices.

When standard operating procedures are compiled into an SOP manual, it gives a broader picture of how things should run for the organization to meet its goals, provide quality service, and operate efficiently. It creates consistency in practices across the organization and improves productivity.

In that post, we outlined some best practices for creating an SOP manual for your organization. This post takes it a step further with step by step guidelines for how to write an SOP manual.

10 Steps to Writing an SOP Manual

Creating a thorough, consistent SOP manual may feel like a daunting task. Whether you’re gathering a variety of existing individual SOPs or starting from scratch, writing your SOP manual is an excellent opportunity to examine your organization’s overall operations.

You can identify outdated or dangerous practices, spot areas where operations can be streamlined, and make sure your SOPs align with industry best practices.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Determine your business goals

Standard operating procedures are so much more than a list of rules. It’s important to highlight the “why” as well as the “how” behind each procedure.

This means starting with the end result in mind. As you gather a team to brainstorm, think through the problems you need to solve.

What is the best way to address those issues? Does the method align with your organization’s core values? How does each SOP tie into your broader goals and mission?

While you may not include a detailed description of this in every SOP, regularly communicating the reason behind the rule can help employees see why procedures matter.

Plus, it can help them make good decisions in tricky situations where it’s hard to determine how to apply the rules.

2. Select a common SOP format

Don’t let inconsistencies in formatting or design detract from the content of your SOP manual. Each SOP within the manual should follow the same format. You will need to choose a layout that works best for your organization.

Typical SOP sections include:

  • Document header – with the title, date, author, document ID, approved by, department, company logo, and so on.
  • Purpose – a broad overview of why the SOP exists and what it aims to accomplish.
  • Scope – who is supposed to follow the SOP and what it covers.
  • Definitions – clarifying any abbreviations or uncommon terms or phrases.
  • Policy/Procedure – the main part of the SOP, spelling out expectations, guidelines, and steps to follow.
  • Responsibilities – who is responsible for each task.
  • References/Related Documents – standards, laws, regulations related to the task outlined in the SOP. Or other related SOPs.
  • Process Map – for complex processes, it may be helpful to diagram workflows.

Use a policy management software like PowerDMS to create an SOP template and collaborate with your team.


3. Identify current subject-matter experts

One person can’t create a comprehensive SOP manual alone. Seek advice and input from people from different departments and various levels of the organization.

Figure out who knows the current process the best, and talk to the employees who will follow the SOP as well as the supervisors who will enforce it.

This will give you a broader perspective and help you identify where processes are working well and where they can be improved.

For some policies, especially those in high-liability areas, you may also want to seek out external experts or consult with your legal department.

4. Map out existing processes

Chances are, your organization has some sort of written form of working policies and procedures. This may be in the form of an official SOP, or in the form of an informal document created by a long-term employee.

These existing documents can serve as the base for a standard operating procedure.

If no such document exists, you can interview employees and supervisors about the processes and procedures they follow.

You could even have them write out a step by step procedure for you to review. Or you could shadow employees to document their processes.

Whatever method you use, start with mapping out processes as they currently exist, not as they would ideally exist. It’s better to start with where employees are and implement improvements than trying to establish a brand new process from scratch.

5. Establish quality assurance/quality check steps

Quality assurance is an essential part of every standard operating procedure. One of the purposes of an SOP manual is to increase the consistency and quality of your product or services.

So make sure SOPs include formalized steps to check quality where applicable. Be clear about which steps of the procedure require input.

The steps for quality checks should be realistic and achievable. For example, requiring an employee to get input from a supervisor for every step is inefficient. Employees are likely to cut corners if quality checks are unrealistic.

It’s also a good idea to apply these steps to roles instead of specific employees, even if your organization is small.

For example, rather than saying, “Have Angela review the final product before shipping,” say, “Have the copy editor review …”

6. Gather reference materials and visual aids

For complex or hands-on procedures, it may be helpful to include visuals. For example, an SOP for operating a piece of technology may include pictures, screenshots, or even videos.

A procedure that requires a lot of supervisor sign-offs may include a diagram or flow chart outlining the steps.

Including visual elements will help new people understand and pick up the procedure quickly.


7. Write the first draft

After collecting all of the information you need, it’s time to create an initial draft. Try to put as much detail into this draft as possible. It’s better to have too much than too little at this stage.

If you’ve documented current processes, compare versions from multiple people and start to form them into a single SOP. At this stage, you will need to resolve discrepancies between how individuals perform each task and create one formal procedure.

A policy management tool can make this process much easier. With PowerDMS, you can gather all of your material in one place, collaborate to collect feedback and have full control over who can view and edit each document.

8. Review and test initial draft with fresh eyes

Chances are, your SOP manual will need to go through several revisions before you release your final version. Have your subject matter experts review it to ensure that all the terminology is correct and clear.

Also, make sure you test the procedure. Attempt to follow the outlined process, or have an employee follow the SOP while you observe.

This will help you make sure every step is clear and easy to follow, and identify whether there are variances from the draft.

Your SOP manual should always be evolving as regulations and processes change, and your organization grows. Make sure to regularly review and update your SOPs.

9. Edit for readability and transferability

Once you have fully documented a procedure, edit and proofread the SOP. Is the language simple and clear? Is it easy to understand? Could a new employee pick this up and use it?

It may also be helpful to have someone disconnected from the process read it to make sure it makes sense.

10. Send the final draft for approval

After finishing your SOP manual, make sure that every SOP gets reviewed and approved by the appropriate person.

Whether it’s a compliance officer, safety manager, or COO, having the right person sign off on the SOP gives it the level of authority needed and can limit liability down the road.

With PowerDMS, you can simplify this process by setting up automatic workflows to gather feedback and approvals.


Simplifying the Process

Writing an SOP manual can feel like an overwhelming task, but PowerDMS can simplify the process.

PowerDMS provides a secure, centralized location for all your SOPs. With PowerDMS, you can streamline collaborations with automatic workflows.

You can see the full history of each document and have full version control so that employees only see the most up-to-date version of each SOP.

PowerDMS lets you distribute new SOPS with just the click of a button, track employee signatures, and set automatic reminders to review each SOP.

It also can help you develop and distribute training.

Use PowerDMS to create a thorough, effective SOP manual for your organization and get the most out of your SOPs.

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