SOP Manual Best Practices

A standard operating procedures manual improves quality and consistency in operations. Here are some best practices for creating one for your organization.

December 22, 2020

Every organization has routine practices and standards that guide day-to-day operations.

In some organizations, these guidelines for “business as usual” are mostly informal. But the most effective organizations formalize correct processes with an SOP manual.

So what does SOP mean?

SOP is a common business acronym that stands for Standard Operating Procedure.

What Is an SOP?

A standard operating procedure is a written document with step-by-step instructions for a certain task.

An SOP lays out who is responsible for a task and ensures that the organization’s operations comply with industry regulations. SOPs help employees follow the correct methods for all of the organization’s most essential tasks – everything from using equipment to filing reports.

What is the purpose of a standard operating procedure?

The purpose of a standard operating procedure is to improve the quality and consistency of operations.

SOPs give employees a frame of reference for how to do their jobs properly. Instead of flying blind or making things up as they go, employees can refer to SOPs to make sure they’re following correct procedures. This helps operations run more smoothly and reduces potential errors.

For example, an organization may issue an SOP about the proper procedure for filing a report on a work-related injury. This would cover what information to include on the report, who needs to sign off on the document, and where to file the report.

With an SOP in place, the reports are less likely to get lost and are more likely to include all the right information. Thus, the organization can handle the incident quickly, comply with all relevant laws and regulations, and take steps to prevent future incidents.

The Need for an SOP Manual

Some organizations distribute SOPs individually, but most gather them into some sort of SOP manual used to train staff and guide daily operations.

After all, having SOPs for individual processes is good, but combining them into an SOP manual is even better.

What is a standard operating procedure manual?

A standard operating procedure manual is a handbook that lists all the written instructions for an organization’s essential tasks.

An SOP manual houses all an organization’s individual SOPs in one place. The manual provides a comprehensive guide for overall operations. Employees can reference the SOP manual to answer any questions they may have about proper procedures.

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What will an SOP manual do for me?

Individual SOPs may be written over several years. Sometimes, organizations develop SOPs piece by piece as new processes and tasks arise.

They may be written by different department heads or supervisors, or even by employees who take it upon themselves to document a process that works well for them.

This means that existing SOPs may be hard to locate.

They may be floating around on different servers or department email accounts. And since they were developed at different points by different people, existing SOPs may contradict one another.

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.

An SOP manual is also tremendously helpful in training new staff and maintaining continuity. It standardizes practices so things can keep running smoothly even if an important employee leaves.

Get the Most Out of Your Standard Operating Procedures

Not all SOP manuals are created equal. Creating an SOP manual takes more than just gathering all your organization’s individual SOPs into a folder.

It will involve some retooling and rewriting of current SOPs as well as creating procedures for tasks and situations not yet covered.

Here are some best practices for crafting a high-quality SOP manual for your organization:

Use common language and formatting

Employees need to be able to understand SOPs. So as you’re crafting your SOP manual, avoid overly complicated or technical language.

Try to keep instructions simple and clear, and use consistent language and terms throughout the manual.

Using common language across all standard operating procedures will help avoid any confusion about terminology. Some organizations even include definitions in SOPs to be as clear as possible.

Along with consistent language, be sure every SOP follows the same format. You may already have a standard format for SOPs, but the layout and sections may vary drastically from one SOP to the next.

These types of inconsistencies can make your SOP manual look unprofessional and may distract from the content.

So as you gather your SOPs into one manual, use a design template to make sure every SOP uses the same fonts, graphics, spacing, and layout.

Each SOP should include similar sections. For example, if you include “purpose” and “scope” sections on one document, make sure you include it on the rest.

Put all SOPs in one location

Some organizations hand out an SOP manual at employee orientation and leave it up to the employees to keep track of it. But a paper manual can easily get lost, damaged, or simply ignored.

Plus, procedures change. If employees don’t have access to the most up-to-date SOPs, they may end up following an outdated process.

Employees need to know exactly where to look to find the information they need. They should have easy access the SOP manual when they need it, where they need it.

A policy and procedure management software tool can provide a safe, easily accessible place to store your organization’s SOP manual.

Software such as PowerDMS has secure cloud storage that keeps all your SOPs in one place. Employees can simply sign into the online system from any device to find the procedures they need.

Make your SOPs searchable

Employees don’t want to spend much time flipping (or scrolling) through pages and pages of SOPs to find the one they want.

Some employees may abandon the search and simply choose a procedure that works for them, which may or may not be correct. Others can waste valuable time looking for the answers they need.

A McKinsey report found that the average employee spends almost two hours a day looking for company information.

SOP software like PowerDMS makes it easy for employees to find what they’re looking for. They can do a simple keyword to pull up the SOP they need, letting them quickly return to the task at hand.

Develop a distribution and training plan

An SOP manual isn’t helpful if it just sits on a shelf or in a computer folder unseen.

Employees need to be aware of correct procedures in order to follow them. In order to maintain compliance, organizations should regularly remind employees of proper procedures.

Come up with a distribution and training plan that will ensure employees see the SOPs more than during their initial orientation. And don’t wait until a mistake or incident arises to remind employees about proper procedures.

Take a proactive approach by implementing regular retraining. This is especially important for high-liability areas, or areas where the standards and regulations change often.

With PowerDMS, you can send out new SOPs via email with just the click of a button. You can track employee signatures, assign quizzes, and create customizable online training courses.

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Establish an ongoing review/management plan

Creating an SOP manual isn’t a one-time event. In order to keep your operations current and efficient, you need to constantly review and update your SOPs.

Most experts suggest reviewing your organization’s procedures at least annually. This will help ensure that your SOP manual can grow and adapt with your organization.

Reviewing and updating your SOP manual may seem like an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be.

Software such as PowerDMS allows you to create workflows to collaborate on updates and get the necessary approvals. You can even set automatic reminders to make sure your team meets deadlines.

With full version control, you can make sure your staff only sees the most up-to-date version of SOPs. Plus, side by side comparisons allow you to see what changed between versions.

A standard operating procedure manual can help your organization improve productivity and consistency.

Follow these best practices to make sure your organization gets the most out of your SOP manual.

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