A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a document that consists of a set of instructions or steps on how to execute a task. A Standard Operating Procedure serves as a tool to ensure that activities are performed properly all the time and following operational, quality, environmental and safety requirements.
Here are some recommendations on how to write Standard Operating Procedures that have a positive impact in operations:
1. Choose the correct format.
Depending on the activity, the correct format should be chosen:
- A simple steps format. This is used for routine procedures that are short and simple. These are usually a set of simple sentences highlighting step-by-step what needs to be done.
- A hierarchical steps format. This is for long procedures (more than 10 steps) where decisions need to be made and clarifications and terminology is essential for the activity to be performed correctly. These consists of a list of main steps with substeps.
- A flowchart format. This is used for complex procedures that could have many possible outcomes.
2. Consider who the Standard Operating Procedure is for.
Standard Operating Procedures are written for a variety of activities performed by a variety of people. The factors that should be considered to guarantee that the Standard Operating Procedure is understood by the person reading it are age, education, knowledge, skills, language abilities, etc. This information will determine if it’s necessary to include basic terminology, pictures, diagrams, etc.
3. Keep the purpose of the Standard Operating Procedure in mind.
Keeping the purpose in mind will help to include all relevant information. Some of the main reasons for creating Standard Operating Procedures are:
- Provide all the safety, health, environmental and operational information required to perform a job properly.
- Protect the health and safety of employees, the environment and/or the community.
- Ensure consistency in operations and quality control of processes and products.
- Ensure activities are completed on time.
- Prevent failures in manufacturing and related processes.
- Ensure compliance with company and regulatory requirements.
4. Consider different views/perspectives.
Ideally, Standard Operating Procedures should be written by a team that includes personnel from different areas. However, in the real world, they are written by just one person. If this is the case, the person in charge of creating them should:
- Interview someone that performs the job, a supervisor and the people in charge of ensuring that quality, health, safety and environmental requirements are met.
- Have people from different areas review and comment before releasing the final Standard Operating Procedure.
5. Keep the writing simple.
Standard Operating Procedures should be clear and concise. Sentences must be as short as possible. People usually don’t want to read Standard Operating Procedures, they have to, so making them clear and easy to read is essential.
These are some recommendations for writing effective Standard Operating Procedures. What is most important to remember is that these documents need to be comprehensive and easy to read. If they are never read or understood by the intended audience, they are not likely to serve as an effective tool in any process.