Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are necessary in making an activity—and all businesses carry out activities—as efficient as it could be. It is the written record of activities, steps, scope, responsibilities, formats, and other details involved in carrying out an activity. From answering the telephone to preparing the annual financial reports, SOPs can be made for every activity and the decision should be when or how to do it rather than if to do it.
SOPs have two primary benefits: they make on-boarding new employees more efficient and they ensure consistency in the result or output of the activity. Efficiency and consistency help deliver profitability.
SOPs should include these basics:
Scope – which activity(ies) are covered by the SOP and who are involved in carrying it out.
Definition of Terms – abbreviations or acronyms used, titles, industry-specific terminology, and any word or phrase that may be misinterpreted.
Procedure – step-by-step instruction detailing how to carry out the activity.
References – a User Manual for an equipment that is used in the activity, company policies and guidelines, a screenshot of a user interface as it appears on the display, or the original document(s) which the SOP is summarising.
Three Simple Steps in SOP Writing:
Identify the Scope – determine which activities are to be included and who should be involved. Ideally, heads of departments are the ones preparing SOPs and have a thorough understanding of all activities in their department. However, consulting with the staff who actually carry out the activity is highly recommended to capture best practices and ensuring that the SOP will have the staffs’ support.
Writing the procedure – flow diagrams are the most common way of documenting an activity. Checklists, charts, images, or illustrations also help clarify what the flow diagrams are trying to explain in detail. In preparing SOPs, keep in mind that the user could be doing the activity for the first time or trying to remove any doubt they have on how the activity should be carried out. SOPs should reassure the user that if they follow it correctly, everything will go well.
Identify the References – SOPs are supposed to be simple enough to be understood, brief enough to be useful, but detailed enough to ensure safe and efficient execution of the activity. In most cases, references or additional information would help in either explaining some steps or clarifying some information.
An additional step that could be taken is the observation and review of the new SOP. Many people realise that once an SOP has been published and as the staff adjust to it, further improvements are identified. If these can be implemented as soon as possible, efficiency will immediately improve. It might even happen that after reviewing the SOP, it would be decided to either outsource the activity(ies) or automate them even if these would require a reorganisation or additional investment in resources.
Preparing SOPs do not necessarily ensure they will be followed. SOPs must be shared with all relevant staff, copies must be accessible in case the staff need them, and supervisors must actively check to see that they are being followed.
SOPs are the backbone of any management system. What is not documented cannot be managed. In order for activities to be optimised, resources to be utilised efficiently, and for documented information to be kept accurate, SOPs are a must.
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