Simple SOP Format Guide: How to Write Standard Operating Procedures

sop format

One of the most important things you can offer your customers and employees is consistency.

Your customers need consistency in your products and services, your employees need consistency to help them do their job efficiently, and your company needs consistency in order to continuously improve your policies and procedures.

The best way to make sure that you have consistency within your company is by implementing standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Most companies already have SOPs that their employees follow, but they’re either rarely updated, or they’re never even properly documented to begin with.

This is often because writing, reviewing, and regularly updating your SOPs can typically take a lot of time, especially when starting from scratch.

But thankfully, there are ways to make your job a lot easier.

That’s why in this Process Street article, we’ll go over the general guidelines for the SOP format and other ways you can streamline your processes to help you get started building your SOPs.

We’ll be covering:

If you’re simply looking for a SOP format to get started with, then look no further!

Here’s one of our SOP format templates, so you can quickly and easily build your SOPs:

You might also be interested in our similar ISO 9001 structure template, for building out a mini-manual of SOPs in accordance with ISO 9001 for quality management:

And for a more general use case, check out this procedure for new employee onboarding for a more typical checklist structure:

Now, let’s start with a straightforward definition of a standard operating procedure.

What is a standard operating procedure (SOP)?

Simply put, a standard operating procedure is a defined procedure that lays out the steps necessary to complete certain tasks in line with your company or industry standards.

Any checklist, or how-to document can be categorized as a procedure. For example, a company that manufactures a product would have a clear, step-by-step procedure for staff to follow when making that product to ensure quality, consistency, and production efficiency. SOPs are key to building a business that consistently meets quality standards.

What does the SOP format look like?

Whether you’re an enterprise or a small startup, SOPs should be easy-to-use and relevant to your organization. Though SOPs are generally written under specific guidelines, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all format. Standards and procedures will vary with each organization, as should their SOP internal formatting.

Here’s an example of what an SOP format might look like:

This is just an example, but there are some things that will apply to all SOP templates. Let’s break down the most important elements.

Contents of a standard operating procedure document

The first section of any SOP should contain:

  • A clear title that encapsulates the procedure
  • A way to easily identify your SOP, like an ID number
  • Date of issue and/or revision
  • Name of department/branch/etc. who will be following this SOP
  • Signatures and dates of signatures of those who will be approving the SOP (For digital SOPs, electronic signatures or features such as Process Street’s Approvals are a great alternative.)
  • Definitions of terms used in the SOP, to avoid confusion from jargon or technical terms.
  • Complete step-by-step instructions (each of the steps in the procedure)

Best practice principles for SOP writing

An effectively written SOP should concisely explain the procedure’s purpose, including any quality standards or regulations relevant to the SOP, and a summary of what is covered. Make sure to clearly define any specialized terms in a separate glossary section if needed.

Divide your procedures into sections for digestibility. Some examples of this could be: equipment needed, safety precautions, possible hazards, etc. Then outline any relevant quality assurance practices for the SOP and make sure to cite your references.

Your SOP should be written in a step-by-step format and should be clear enough to be accessible to someone who perhaps only has a general understanding of the concepts that pertain to the procedure. It might be useful to include supplementary diagrams or images to help summarize some of the information and break up any long sections of text.

It might also be necessary to cite other related SOPs within the procedure. In which case, you should include:

  • An attached copy or location of cited SOP (or a link to it for digital SOPs)
  • Any context needed to follow the cited SOP

If you’re working in a small company or startup, it isn’t always necessary to strictly adhere to this format. But it’s important to keep in mind that this format was developed on common sense structure and it can always benefit your company to follow it.

How to make your SOPs agile

Traditionally an SOP was a physical document, but managing paper forms like this is often clunky and difficult to maintain, especially when standards are constantly changing.

Now, it’s possible to build and maintain your SOPs with software like Process Street.

Quickly and easily edit your SOPs in an intuitive, no-code environment with features like conditional logic and dynamic due dates to supercharge your SOPs.

Process Street’s export feature allows you to effortlessly share your procedures online when exported to PDF. With this feature, your SOPs will be more robust and available for your clients to save and view for reference.

If possible, it’s always best to break up the information into clear and scannable steps. The amount of detail provided in your SOP may depend on circumstances, such as: the number of employees who will follow the SOP, whether the procedure is high-priority, how often the SOP is being followed, etc.

Should your company use an SOP format?

The short answer is yes.

Creating a template for your SOPs may seem like a daunting, time-consuming task, but it’s necessary to take your business procedures to the next level.

An SOP template can:

  • Help your team get started quickly
  • Streamline your processes
  • Answer frequently asked questions
  • Provide the SOP format framework
  • Save your company a lot of time
  • Offer a starting point to write your SOP

Standardizing your company processes helps avoid setbacks. It’s important to offer your employees with easily accessible answers for all your company tasks and provide a step-by-step procedure for them to easily follow.

Using an SOP template makes sure that your processes are efficient and can be repeated by anyone who picks up the SOP.

Using Process Street to build your SOPs

Process Street is superpowered checklists. That means your SOPs are easy to build, maintain, and improve, and most of all, actionable.

Process Street is so easy to use, that you can have the people in your business who are actually following your processes build, maintain, and improve on them (the process owners). The result is less human error, more efficient work, and better processes.

The easiest way to use Process Street to begin building your SOPs is to start by documenting your processes.

There are many ways that you can use Process Street’s templates for documenting standard operating procedures, but one of the main benefits of using this platform is that your employees can follow the procedures by simply running your processes as a checklist.

This Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Template Structure walks you through all the steps necessary to get started building a new procedure from the beginning:

This template also offers a bunch of resources and use cases to help strengthen your understanding as you’re building your procedure.

You can use this template as is or edit it to better fit your needs and when you’re finished, you have the option of running it as a checklist within the Process Street platform or exporting it as a PDF.

The most important thing to keep in mind when writing your SOP is that simplicity and clarity is key. If your procedures are unnecessarily lengthy or difficult to sift through, your team would be far less likely to read them, let alone actually follow them.

Running your procedures though Process Street can help encourage your employees to follow them by breaking everything down into easy-to-follow steps. This will save you and your team a significant amount of time and effort in future.

Feel free to check out some of our other SOP and workflow automation resources:

Don’t forget to sign up for a free Process Street trial today!

What kind of SOP format do you use? Would you say your system is agile? Leave a comment below; we’d love to talk and learn about how you get things done!

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Oliver Peterson

Oliver Peterson is a content writer for Process Street with an interest in systems and processes, attempting to use them as tools for taking apart problems and gaining insight into building robust, lasting solutions.

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