Last Updated On / Written By Daphne Blake

How to Use a Standard Operating Procedure Template

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is the fast, efficient, and foolproof way to define business procedures and step-by-step instructions to your employees. But how do you use one to your best advantage? Read on to find out!

What is a standard operating procedure template and why do I need one?

A standard operating procedure (or SOP) is your business' policies and procedures document, including the written steps to finish tasks or how to handle any issues that might crop up. You can also look at it like a "how-to work here" document. Generally speaking, your SOP should outline company expectations, job procedures, and any necessary regulations employees need to know before they begin working, as well as covering the detailed steps they should take to complete their tasks. Ideally, your standard operating procedures would also include your action plan for emergencies and employee safety.

In fewer words A SOP gets essential information to everyone in the shortest amount of time possible, ensures everyone follows the same procedures and helps maintain some degree of quality for your customers. And the standard operating procedure template is where you will begin laying it all out.

What do I do with a SOP template and the SOP itself?

First, you'll need to fill out each section in your SOP template. Make sure your SOP is accurate, up-to-date, and covers all the major points your employees need to know. As a manager or owner, it's your responsibility to be sure all the information is covered and that everyone has access to it. Using productivity software can help in this arena. Not only can you create and modify your SOP in such apps, but they're updated in real-time, so every copy is up-to-date without extra effort on your part. For more information on productivity software, check out this blog post.

A good SOP will include instructions for daily tasks and emergencies, local regulations that your employees must be aware of, specific procedures to complete every task, and answers to common questions. The complexity of your SOP will depend heavily on the size of your business, how many departments you oversee, and how complicated your business is, but all SOPs should have the same basic elements.

Basic elements in an effective standard operating procedures template

1. Policy and purpose stated plainly and clearly. Describe what the mission is, or the reason for this procedure.
2. Scope. Which departments are affected by this system? Give a brief overview of the steps involved and the time frame expected for completion.
3. Responsibilities. Who will be responsible for this procedure, and how should they complete this task?
4. Definitions. If the SOP contains words or phrases that readers might not know, use this section to define them. This includes technical terms and acronyms. If you get a lot of employee questions regarding language, it's time to update your SOP.
5. Procedure. This will be your step-by-step instructions to carry out the whole process. Explain each step in detail, outlining what to do should things go awry.

You can also include a section for the history of changes made to the SOP. If you're using digital SOPs and apps, this will come in handy when you look at the yearly reports. You can use the history of the SOP to track if updates were effective in improving productivity or if they caused slowdowns or an increase in mistakes. Ideally, your standard operating procedure template will be easy to customize to your needs.

Distribute your standard operating procedure

Once you've completed filling in your standard operating procedure template, it's time to send it out to your employees. Each employee should be given a chance to go over the document and be free to ask for any clarity they may need. If you find yourself getting a lot of questions after your staff has read the SOP, you'll need to consider an update to cover those aspects. The whole point of the SOP is to reduce questions and confusion. Encourage employee feedback and suggestions, and make the necessary changes.

Distribution of your completed SOP should be fast and easy, as should any updates you need to make. If you're interested in making this process as streamlined as possible, read on for a discussion of some powerful tools to make this step a breeze.

Get the right tools to create, modify, and distribute SOPs

The saying "use the right tool for the job" comes into play here. You wouldn't use a saw to drive nails into a board, so why use pencil and paper to craft and edit your standard operating procedure documents? Paper is "old-school," and wasteful of both time and money. When you harness the power of technology, your business will run smoother, and you'll have more time and money to spend on growing your business, not storing, reprinting, and shredding old SOP documents.

We mentioned productivity software a little earlier in this article. We strongly believe apps and software geared toward productivity, tracking, logging, and secure audits are integral to the success of small to medium businesses. Bigger companies are already using powerful software to make their work more efficient. It's time for the smaller companies to have access to the same competitive edge. Using productivity software to create, edit, and distribute your SOP will be a game-changer.

What if I'm not sure about adding that kind of technology to my business?

That's okay, too. If you have been doing business the old way and it's been working for you, we understand how intimidating trying new technology can be. But imagine how much time and money you'll save when you don't have to rewrite and reprint a hundred SOP manuals every year or more often. The simplicity of updating your procedures in real-time and with a fraction of the effort has to be tempting. Wouldn't you rather be handling other aspects of your business instead of slogging through old printed SOP documents looking for errors?

If you're still not sure if productivity software can help with your standard operating procedures, we invite you to read this article.