Writing standard operating procedures is a cumbersome task but a serious requirement for businesses the world over.
In many industries it is important to have documentation which shows you have been adhering to ISO guidelines. This can help you clinch major clients and demonstrate your professionalism.
However, when you’re starting out with your first SOPs it can be difficult to know where to begin.
That’s why we’ve pulled together a range of the best free SOP templates for you to work from.
Simply go through the available SOPs below and pick out the one best suited to your needs. We’ve included Microsoft Word templates and Process Street ones too. You’ll also find a guide for writing SOPs to help you get started.
Given that it can be intimidating writing standard operating procedures, we have provided a number of industry specific examples plus suggestions for how you can pull together basic SOPs even if they’re not documented according to ISO standards.
Writing standard operating procedures in 16 steps
To help you make use of your templates once you’ve downloaded them, we’ll give you these 16 steps to writing effective standard operating procedures.
You can employ them within the framework of a traditional SOP framework, adhering to ISO 9001 standards, or you can use them to create the processes best suited to your particular needs at this moment in your business’ journey.
Writing standard operating procedures doesn’t need to be a gruelling task. If you follow our collaborative guidelines, it could even be quite fun! (Fun not guaranteed)
- Understand how you will present your SOPs. This step is about choosing your template to fit the needs of the process. In certain industries you will have requirement which you need to adhere to. The layout of your SOPs will be influenced by the kind of information you need to display. Investigate which international standards apply to your business operations.
- Gather the relevant stakeholders. To properly map the processes in use within the company, you need to have relevant members of the company present. These standard operating procedures must reflect reality so that they can be adapted and optimized to improve reality.
- Work out your purpose. Are you documenting your standard operating procedures in order to adhere to industry standards? Or are you confident your operations already adhere, you just need to document them? Are you doing this out of a general process optimization push? Knowing the answers to questions like these will help you prioritize your approach.
- Determine the structure of your SOP. There are different forms a SOP document can take. Before beginning one, understand whether this is to be a manual, a mini-manual, or a procedure document. The larger your company, the more likely it is you’ll be creating an incredibly in-depth manual.
- Prepare the scope of the procedure. If you’re mapping only one procedure within the document you are working on then you need to understand exactly where the procedure starts and where it finishes. It is important to clearly define the scope in order to reduce overlap with other procedure documents. Not doing so would lead to inefficiencies.
- Use a consistent style. This is more writing advice, but you need to think about the purpose of the document to understand how it should be written. If this is a document used solely for demonstrating to the industry that you have documented SOPs, then maybe the language will be technical and trite. However, if workers are going to be using this document as a reference point, then you’ll need to make the language clear and actionable.
- Use correct notation, if applicable. There may well be standardized forms of conveying processes within your company, but if not you could begin to implement them. Business process model and notation (BPMN) provides a universal way to explain processes in a concise visual style.
- Work through all the necessary steps of the process. Assess the process from start to finish and note down each task required along the way to complete the process. This can be done in the form of a bullet point list with pen and paper or a note-taking app.
- Try to assess potential problems in the process. If you’re looking to improve your process as you work through your documentation, now is a good opportunity to do so. Assess the basic steps you have recorded and ask if anything else could be added or removed. If something were to go wrong in the process, where would it occur? Where does it currently occur in real life?
- Determine metrics against which SOPs can be judged. This is a great opportunity to make your standard operating procedures actionable and to find a way of assessing their positive impact. What metrics you choose to use will depend on the process you’re documenting. The key metrics may be related to performance or speed or a formula utilizing both of those variables.
- Test the process. To make sure the standard operating procedures you have documented are the most effective, test the process with the employees who undertake those tasks on a day to day basis. Make sure they are able to give feedback on the procedures presented so that you can make alterations to the process, procedures, or simply the document style before submission.
- Send the process to superiors. Submit your process for review by your line manager. Alternatively, if you do not have a line manager, find a colleague whose feedback you value and send the SOP document to them before declaring it to be complete.
- Clarify the method of optimizing the process. A standard operating procedure document should track its own revisions over time. However, it is useful to have a general system in place to govern these revisions and how and when they occur. Creating a process for process optimization is an effective means of delivering this iterative change.
- Run a risk assessment on the process. A process involves people or data or something somewhere which can be hurt, damaged, or lost. Make sure to run a risk assessment on your processes to make sure you’re not opening up your company’s risk exposure.
- Consider creating a flow diagram. A visual aid to help other people understand the overview of the process will prove useful for people both assessing and following the process presented in the standard operating procedures. Including one increases the user friendly level of the document.
- Finalize and implement the SOPs. Once all participants and stakeholders have signed off on the document and people have agreed to its use, implement the standard operating procedure document for the necessary process and file the document appropriately.
Using Process Street for your SOPs
There are ways in which you can employ a Process Street template effectively for documenting standard operating procedures. The key advantage in using Process Street for this is that each process can be run as a checklist by staff members following the procedures.
Finding a way to balance the standardized layout of standard operating procedure documents and the regular actionable properties of Process Street will allow you to save considerable process documentation time as your company moves forward.
The most simple way to start working toward standard operating procedures with Process Street is to simply begin documenting your processes.
Not every documented process needs to adhere to ISO dictats. Within Process Street’s system a template acts as the standard procedures for a particular task. You then run the checklist from that template when you undertake the process without it affecting the original documentation. At its heart, that is exactly what standard operating procedures are in the real world.
If your processes are well documented then you’ve made a good start. If your processes are actionable then they are much more likely to be adhered to. No one likes picking up an SOP manual and sorting through page after page to find something useful.
With Process Street, you dodge that barrier and increase the chance of someone following the procedures correctly. In short, running your SOPs through Process Street helps improve process adherence.
Here’s an example Process Street SOP template:
This template is engineered to adhere to the ISO-9001:2015 Quality Mini-Manual standards.
Being a template, you can edit it as you please and replace the text you’re prompted to replace. The initial few sections cover the key information pertaining to the template while the procedures section where the process is documented follows.
If you wanted to use this template on a day to day level, you can store a master copy in an SOPs folder within Process Street and make a copy of the template which could exist in a different folder for use by a team. Your team could then run the copied template as a checklist every time they come to undertake the task.
This would be one way of making your template actionable within your organization once the SOPs have been documented.
If you want to keep physical versions of your standard operating procedures, then you can always click to print your template and save it as a PDF. This will provide a clean copy of your SOPs with the task list structured as being a table of contents from which other sections follow.
Use one of these Word templates to build your SOPs from
The traditional route to take when someone wants to start documenting their standard operating procedures is to begin the task within a word processing system and create a series of smaller documents which eventually can come together to form a larger manual.
Essentially, it’s like writing a book.
The first template we’ll present is one of the most useful. I’ll explain why.
A general purpose template with guiding notes
Standard operating procedures are important in all industries but particularly valued within healthcare. Lives are at stake and stated processes must be very carefully followed.
This template is from the National Health Service in Britain and was designed by researchers from the University of Oxford. Given that is template is a result of collaboration between one of the best universities in the world and the world’s largest healthcare provider, I think we should take it pretty seriously.
More than just being a template you can enter information into, this document contains highlighted text in each section which explains to you how to approach each task.
In this sense, document acts like both a writing template and a writing guide; clearly and concisely guiding the user through the document.
As my grandad would say, “there are many ways you can skin a cat” – not that you would want to.
Not every layout will feel right for every company. That’s why we’ve included a range of other options for you to choose from.
A formal general purpose SOP template
This template doesn’t do anything particularly fancy.
However, it is four pages long and covers all the areas you’ll need to cover in creating fully documented standard operating procedures.
Again, the template is geared slightly toward medical affairs, but only by specifying that one of the assessors is a medical director. Other than that, this is a fully actionable outline which is ready to go without changes or adaptations.
This is a comprehensive SOP template from freetemplatedownloads.net and doesn’t provide guidance throughout. Fair warning.
A general purpose template with tables
This getwordtemplates.com template makes use of a simple table structure which makes it relatively easy to navigate and set up.
As you build out the sections you’ll find it take shape and begin to look like the standard operating procedure manual you always dreamed of.
It lacks a certain je ne sais quoi in terms of design, but what it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in practicality and relative simplicity. At only 2 pages long, it’s less of an intimidating template for a beginner yet to take off their training wheels.
A laboratory technician SOP for workplace safety
This template is geared toward lab work, as you can see from the preview image above.
This more specialized approach from freetemplatedownloads.net would be effective not just for laboratory technicians but anyone working within similar circumstances. It has steps already labeled in regards to dealing with controlled chemicals and other such hazards.
If you work in a high risk single location then this template could prove to be useful for your needs.
An SOP for conducting pilot studies
This template.net template is geared for a researcher running trials and trying to adhere to strict processes while doing so.
It’s a very short set of standard operating procedures and isn’t going to intimidate anyone.
As you can see from the preview image above, it is geared more for pilot testing than for full all-out research. The goal is to record each time you have ran a test and to track the processes with the table provided.
This template is useful for anyone wishing to control for process variance when undertaking research.
A GP’s SOP for controlled substances
This getwordtemplates.com template is designed – as you can probably see in the image preview above – to help doctors with the management of controlled drugs when prescribing and dispensing them to patients.
It is quite a niche use case, but similar structures can be replicated by other industries for controlled access scenarios. The same principles generally apply.
This is a very in depth standard operating procedure template in comparison to the others presented in the last few given above.
Process Street’s privileged password management
I’ve included this Process Street Privileged Password Management template here to provide a contrast between different approaches one can take for utilizing standard operating procedures for managing controlled substances or access.
I designed the above template, so I am likely a bit biased – however, I feel that the Process Street solution provides a more actionable way of keeping on top of monitoring, authorizing, and tracking given the flexibility and speed of the interconnectivity the software provides.
That particular password management system is designed for very large companies who limit access to highly sensitive data. If you’re a company which handles high level client data, you need to have these kinds of processes in place to demonstrate your commitment to data security.
A simple, easy to use layout
This is a very simple template from template.net which just provides an overview of the key sections and encourages the reader to check out its related procedures.
This template demonstrates that you don’t need to have a million sections with ALL CAPS everywhere to have a standard operating procedures document.
You can have some light pastel colors and funky bullet points if you choose. This template is a little more light hearted and laid back than its partners in the list.
More NHS templates
To finish off our general purpose standard operating procedure templates, we’re going to return to the templates designed by the University of Oxford for use within the National Health Service in Britain.
We’ll present a number of more niche templates that are geared for specific purposes. These should show you how to construct complex SOPs while providing you with the templates to employ in your business if you have these needs.
Excel database design
This template works as an example SOP for how to standardize the setup of databases within Microsoft Excel.
The specific focus of this template is on setting up the database for medical research purposes, but the structure can be adapted to suit any database needs. The real detail lies in the procedures which you can write to fit your specific needs.
Archiving essential documents
As you should be able to see in the preview image above, this standard operating procedure template is structured to systemize the archiving of important documents.
You might include details of the referencing system in one section and then a step by step walk through in the procedures.
Document control SOP
Again, as presented in the preview image above, this standard operating procedure covers document control.
This includes elements like naming conventions and storage while also looking to help with standardizing processes. Though originally geared toward the healthcare needs of the NHS, this provides a valuable template for any organization looking to implement document controls.
Ethics committee application
This template helps to standardize the approaches for applications. In particular, applications to ethics committees.
However, the general purpose could be very easily reimagined for the purposes of submitting investment applications, tendering for government contracts, or any similar process.
Preparation and approval of protocol amendments
Throughout your business you will have different processes, procedures, protocols, or policies in place.
These are the general rules which guide our actions.
However, sometimes these practices need to change or be adapted after they’ve already been put in place. This standard operating procedure template aims to create a clear means of changing those established practices through the correct channels.
The SOP will help you manage your other SOPs.
Qualitative research study protocol template
Within your company, you likely carry out a considerable amount of research. This research may be qualitative or quantitative. Either way, you need to have standard operating procedures in place for how this research is conducted.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to standardize methodologies, but you do need to establish how data will be stored, who has access to what data, how to ensure participants can give informed consent, and a whole range of other factors.
This SOP is geared to make sure all research is carried out to high standards.
Risk assessment templates to review your procedures
Hopefully, by now, you’ll feel fairly comfortable with what is required from your standard operating procedures and how you can approach them.
No standard operating procedure is complete, however, until risk assessments have been completed.
As such, we’ve included 5 links here for you to explore. We have two templates specifically geared for risk assessing standard operating procedures plus one example document to show you how the finished version might look. We then have two more general purpose risk assessments for those of you not aspiring to ISO levels, and performing a more casual documentation process.
- US Food and Drug Administration. This PDF works as both a template and a guide to risk assessing your standard operating procedures and further risk management.
- National Health Service South Tees Clinical Commissioning Group. This risk management strategy and standard operating procedure document demonstrates what a risk oriented section of your SOP manual would look like. Check out page 30 for some actionable risk assessment insights.
- British Transport Police. This PDF template provides a guide to how to manage risk management and its impacts.
- Newcastle University. This risk assessment form is general purpose and helps you predict and manage risks and hazards in any given situation. This is the example template created by the university.
- Health and Safety Executive of the UK. This document is the combined risk assessment and policy template published by the Health and Safety Executive 08/14. This template is easily actionable and not overly complex while remaining effective. This is my recommended risk assessment given it is produced by a standard setting body.
Pick the right template and get started
As much as it can be intimidating when you begin writing standard operating procedures for the first time, we hope these templates, explanations, and examples have made the task at hand a little clearer.
Once you recognize the shared structures between different templates, you can begin to see what are essential elements and what are optional inclusions.
With that knowledge in mind, you can look past the unnecessarily verbose language normally used in SOPs to see that they are just very thorough process documents.
So pick a template – or two – and begin documenting your first procedure.
Before you know it, you’ll have an entire ISO level manual on your hands!
Have you written standard operating procedures in the past? What resources would you recommend for someone approaching it for the first time? Let us know in the comments below!