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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are a few elements that should be included in most SOPs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 >>
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:
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:
Manufacturing SOPs can reduce errors, improve efficiency, and ensure worker safety in a warehouse or factory environment. Examples of SOPs for manufacturing include:
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:
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.
If you're interested in standardizing and optimizing more processes in your workplace, check out our on-demand webinar, How to Diagram Your Way to Better Work.
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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