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January 14, 2021

What is a Standard Operating Procedure? SOP Examples and Applications

Diagrams for Businesses

A standard operating procedure is a clear, step-by-step document that describes how to complete a particular activity. Standard operating procedures, or SOPs, are a common way for businesses to improve efficiency and perform consistently.

The Difference Between a Process and an SOP

In order to do business, every member of the organization likely completes dozens of different processes every day. A process is simply how work gets done at a moment in time and it can vary from person to person or from situation to situation. 

For example, you could get a manager’s approval on something by swinging by their office to check in, sending them an email, or waiting for them to drop that “thumbs up” icon on Slack. All of these have the same output: approval. Multiple possible processes lead to the same output, and each employee may choose a different process each time. 

An example flowchart showing how multiple process create the same output
Example of multiple processes followed to get an expense reimbursed.

A standard operating procedure, on the other hand, ensures that every employee uses the same process to receive a particular output. Imagine that you’re having a hard time logging in to an application at work. It may be tempting to send a quick message to your friend on the support team, but that could distract them from a more urgent project or ultimately take longer than if you followed the outlined procedure. 

Instead, you’re better off following the SOP for tech issues: this may be emailing your organization’s IT help address or opening a ticket. Put simply, an SOP is a formalized process that’s meant to be repeated and is optimized to benefit the business overall.

Example of a standardized procedure represented with a flowchart
Example of the standardized way to get an expense reimbursed.

 

What is the Purpose of Standard Operating Procedures?

The purpose of any standard operating procedure is to clearly define how to do something so that any employee or member of the team can get it done. 

Onboard New Employees with SOPs

Standard operating procedures are important for growing organizations, so that the knowledge of how to complete recurring tasks or activities is easily shared with new employees. As part of employee onboarding, they can save time and resources by requiring less hands-on training. 

Work Efficiently and Accurately

Having SOPs in place will also reduce errors and ensure consistency. When it comes to documenting work, having a consistent process ensures that the same information is captured each time a task is completed. For example, each time a customer service agent works on a case, they’ll be sure to ask the same questions and document the same pieces of customer info. In this way, you’ll have complete, consistent, and accurate data from your employees as they work — great for evaluating your cases in the future.

Improve or Automate Workflows

Last, having a series of standard operating procedures can better act as a starting point to evaluate when you can improve the efficiency of a process or even add automation to a process by identifying opportunities in each step. Check in with your team occasionally — are they actually following the SOP? If not, why? This feedback can help.

What Should Be Included in a Standard Operating Procedure?

There are a few elements that should be included in most SOPs. 

Select a Clear, Specific Title

First, it’s imperative that your title allows users to quickly identify what information it contains. Vague titles, like “Invoicing Issue 1” or “Opening Procedure A” won’t allow your team to quickly find the document they need. Instead, be specific in your titles. “Opening Procedure — Weekend” and “Opening Procedure — Weekday” would be more helpful when it comes to quickly identifying which procedure to read.

Include a Date, Revision Dates, and SOP Owner

How we work changes over time. Including a date and revision dates help you re-evaluate SOPs and ensure that employees always have the most up-to-date version.

Including the names of people who created, maintain, or approved the SOP can also be helpful so that employees know where to relay feedback or ask questions if they struggle to use the document.

Identify the Scope of a Procedure

By briefly describing who is equipped or prepared to carry out the procedure, when the procedure should be applied, specific requirements or inputs needed to complete the procedure, and so on. Essentially, this description should ensure that nobody tries to begin the procedure without having everything they need to successfully complete it.

Describe the Procedure with Detailed Steps

While describing the procedure, carefully consider your audience. Define any terms they may not be aware of, avoid using jargon, and do your best to assume they’re entirely new to the work. By being specific, clear, and including every relevant detail, you set your team up for success.

Add Visual Aids to Your Standard Operating Procedures

While outlining the procedure in detail is the main task of writing an SOP, including visuals can help the SOP user more quickly understand their tasks. Helpful visuals could be simple flowcharts, floor plans to show where certain tasks are completed in your facility or how a space is organized, or even diagrams that show which buttons are on a piece of machinery.

This is where Gliffy’s online diagramming tool comes in handy. With Gliffy, you can make a flowchart online or draw a floor plan with Gliffy and add it to your SOP to help your users quickly navigate the procedure.

If you’re using Confluence, creating standard operating procedures in your documentation there is a great idea as well. Our Confluence integration will help you visualize processes for your team there, too.

Start your free trial of Gliffy Online to add visuals to your SOPs >>

SOP Examples, Ideas, and Use Cases

Standard Operating Procedures for Restaurants

As a customer service-oriented business, restaurants benefit from quality and consistency. They also need to meet specific food safety standards and minimize waste, so clearly documenting and instructing employees on these processes is crucial. Examples of SOPs for restaurants include:

  • Opening procedures
  • Closing procedures
  • Customer complaint management
  • Taking inventory or placing orders for perishables
  • Food storage procedures

Standard Operating Procedures for Laboratories

In order for laboratories to successfully run experiments and tests, every aspect of the environment must be controlled. Workers may also handle sensitive or dangerous substances, so having the correct procedure in place can ensure their safety. Labs can use standard operating procedures to maintain that high standard of control by creating documents for things like:

  • Equipment cleaning procedures
  • Lab inventory management
  • Hazardous waste handling
  • Chemical spill response procedures
  • Labelling and storing materials
  • Documenting results and observations during a test

Standard Operating Procedures for Manufacturing

Manufacturing SOPs can reduce errors, improve efficiency, and ensure worker safety in a warehouse or factory environment. Examples of SOPs for manufacturing include:

  • Managing equipment failure or downtime
  • Reporting quality control issues
  • Using specific pieces of heavy machinery or equipment
  • Preparing items for shipment
  • Training new workers

Standard Operating Procedures for Sales Teams

With customer interaction at the forefront of everything salespeople work on, clear procedures ensure that each customer has a great experience and knows what to expect from your company. SOPs for sales could include things like:

  • Handling complaints
  • Managing discounts or special pricing
  • Client or customer tours of facilities
  • Product demonstrations
  • Trade show preparation and build-out

Use Gliffy for Better Standard Operating Procedures

As you write or revisit your SOPs, consider the needs of their users. Are your step-by-step instructions filled with words like “if” and “or”? Your procedure might make a great flowchart or workflow diagram! Does an employee have to collect materials from different parts of a building or move around your facility? Consider making a floor plan to supplement your instructions.

Regardless of what procedure you define, visuals will help your teammates quickly understand their role. Get started with a free trial of Gliffy Online or check out Gliffy’s Confluence integration to make flowcharts or floor plans that support your documentation today.

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