SOP stands for standard operating procedure, a document that provides guidance to employees on how to carry out routine complex tasks. It is a really important document so the individuals who are writing it need to be familiar with the steps involved in the process. They might need to make important decisions, such as deciding if the SOP is right for the procedure it is prepared for.
Regardless of how complex a task is, it can be broken down into smaller parts that are easy to understand. Some industries that use SOPs include hospitality, healthcare, education and manufacturing.
Benefits of SOP
There are many benefits attached to a standard operating procedure. Some of the main ones are:
Following the instructions detailed in the standard operating procedure maintains consistency and ensures that employees are compliant with the quality standards of the business. It is especially helpful when hiring new people. Employees will receive the same training which allows for adjustments if errors are found and will enable them to get used to the position faster. The framework aims to maintain reliability and allow the business to run smoothly without worrying about the outcomes.
Fewer mistakes will be made during the task as employees will have all the information they need and they will not be expected to come up with ideas. They will be able to gain knowledge from performing the same steps and the repetition of actions will make it easy for them to complete the task. In the case that an employee is absent, another one can take over the task as the instructions are already provided. SOP can make the procedure more efficient while increasing productivity.
It can increase the level of safety as the steps provided in the document are in agreement with work health and safety requirements. As someone familiar with the procedure has created the document, it is expected that they have researched the safest way to complete the task. It will also protect employees and the organisation from any potential legal issues that might arise.
Types of SOPs
SOP can be used as a tool to measure employee performance as everyone has to follow the same instructions. It makes it easier to review performance and provide feedback when all employees follow the same document. This is why it is important to choose the right type depending on the business. Management can choose from:
This type of SOP includes bullet points or numbered points. It is usually used for straightforward processes with a short time frame. Each point gives instructions that do not need a great amount of detail.
Hierarchical standard operating proceduress are necessary when the task requires a lot of information so steps need to have substeps and provide more instructions. It can look similar to a step-by-step SOP as it can be presented using numbered directions9
Flowcharts can provide solutions if outcomes are hard to predict. They have more visual elements than the other SOP types. They give instructions on what employees need to do based on a task they performed. It could be a health inspection during which a doctor needs to determine what issue the patient is facing.
How to write an SOP
The business needs to determine whether a standard operating procedure will be beneficial. It needs to outline the goals it will achieve and what will count as a successful document. The management might also need to think about the ways they will measure its effectiveness.
An individual will not be able to create an SOP by themselves. It is a complicated process that requires a team. After the team has been appointed they will need to collect all relevant information and details on the procedure. They can then choose the right type of SOP based on the task that will be performed. After writing the SOP they will need to review it carefully to detect inconsistencies or errors. They might need to test certain tasks, edit the document and test the new changes.
They can also ask for recommendations from other managers or staff members. After they decide on the final edits, they can implement and train employees on how to use the SOP correctly. Evaluations of the SOP might take place after it has been published as employees might not complete the task similar to the team that created the file. There is always space for improvement.
What is included in an SOP
Every standard operating procedure has its own structure and it heavily relies on the type that has been chosen. The most common structure includes:
-Title page with the name of the business, name of the procedure and date of creation
-Table of contents which shows the main titles
-Purpose of SOP
-Roles and responsibilities
-Additional details or documents
Definitions and references might also be included.
Potential problems with SOPs
A standard operating procedure is not the perfect solution. It needs to be updated regularly as equipment and procedures are updated to ensure it does not provide employees with incorrect and outdated information. Some employees might struggle to use one as they want to incorporate their own ideas into their work. Their creativity and individuality will be lost as they have to apply preplanned actions to their tasks.
If the team who created made it hard to read it will be difficult for employees to follow it. This is why the focus should not only be on grammar and language but on layout and readability. Short paragraphs will be necessary and information should be conveyed in simple terms.
Contrary to management belief the standard operating procedure might not suit the task as it has many components. In that case, the company could have wasted resources on creating a document that possesses no value. It might also not be suitable if the task requires a flexible approach that consists of more decisions. The standard operating procedure might not be enough, which is what Governor Philip Lowe believed in the case of Reserve Bank Australia.
A standard operating procedure can be a very beneficial document if used correctly. Communication between the team, management and employees is necessary to ensure that it is implemented properly and achieves the purpose it was created for. The organisation needs to be flexible and understand that not all tasks require an SOP.
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