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Blog / Knowledge Management

Standard Operating Procedures: What SOPs Are and Why Your Organization Needs Them

Person drinking coffee and smiling

In the 90s TV sitcom Seinfeld, George Costanza doesn’t understand how to do his new job. All he knows is that he’s been assigned the Penske file. If George had been given access to a Standard Operating Procedure, he might have stayed employed. Unfortunately, the company decided George wasn’t “Penske material.”

Of course, George Costanza isn’t real, and the situation was played for laughs. But the use of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) does make onboarding new employees quicker. It also keeps current employees working at their most effective. And that results in a more efficient workplace with less wasted time and a better bottom line.

What are standard operating procedures?

SOPs are instructions for functions the organization does routinely or repetitively. Traditionally, they’ve taken the form of formal documents, however, now they’re more likely to be written into an app or hosted online. They reveal step-by-step processes for each separate task. Some companies have thousands of SOPs. For example, ProcedureFlow client Wyndham Hotels and Resorts have mapped more than two thousand SOPs for their call centers. SOPs keep company-specific, crucial information at the employee’s fingertips.

What is the purpose of a standard operating procedure?

SOPs create consistency, predictability, and save time. They remove the guesswork from a task. There’s no room for interpretation, so everyone follows the same procedure for the same duty, every time.

SOPs also ensure that organizations comply with regulations. When everyone sticks to the SOP, management can be sure that the company is complying, because the rules are written into it.

Many industries implement SOPs as a matter of course. They include municipalities, healthcare, food service, call centers, education, oil and gas, and utility companies. Any organization that needs continuity of service or production should have SOPs.

What are the benefits of standard operating procedures?

Reduced miscommunication: As a company grows and onboards new employees, questions inevitably arise about how to do the job. By directing a new hire to the company’s SOPs, a colleague or manager is assured that they’re passing on complete and accurate information.

Similarly, when an employee works with a new client, they offer a consistent level of service. SOPs improve quality and the “human” element of forgetting details is eliminated. The SOP will have been crafted with thoroughness and care, thus ensuring that everyone’s functioning in the same job, in the same manner.

Improved efficiency: In addition to consistency and standardizing work, SOPs minimize errors and wasted time. Managers’ expectations are also made crystal clear. SOPs guarantee work is being done the right way. Passing a task from one employee to another becomes a seamless process.

Streamlined workflows: SOPs also provide a method for tracking and measuring proficiency as well as increasing accountability. They take emotion out of problem-solving and focus on the solution. And they’re updated as needed to reflect improved methods and new processes.

What are the five components of an effective SOP?

SOPs should contain some form of the following five components:

  1. Purpose: The SOP should define the purpose of the work and clearly outline its objectives.
  2. Procedures An SOP not only defines tasks but also provides step-by-step guidelines for how to complete those tasks.
  3. Scope: The scope defines the use and applicability of the SOP.
  4. Responsibilities: The SOP should outline who performs the tasks and who to contact if problems arise. It also outlines the person in charge of its implementation, review, and updates.
  5. Accountability Measures: Outlining the responsibilities of each person within an organization ensures accountability for assigned projects.
person handing out paper at the office

What are the barriers to developing and maintaining standard operating procedures?

Getting started: For a busy organization, a large but necessary task such as creating SOPs can appear to be an impossible luxury. Choosing the right partner makes it possible. With ProcedureFlow, a cloud-based knowledge management solution, the organization’s processes, and information are converted into an accessible, easy-to-use knowledge base to be used by employees. Each task is translated simply to a colorful hyperlinked flow chart that’s accessible and intuitive to use.

Managerial and organizational barriers: Conflicting management styles, especially between departments, can get in the way. Lack of a clear mission or vision can contribute to this barrier. A consensus must be reached about the format and contents. Clear maintenance and follow-up plan must also be created and adhered to.

Personal barriers: A lack of buy-in from influential team members and employees may seem like a tall hurdle to jump. Some people simply don’t like change, and they must be shown the benefits they’ll experience, including ease of use and an improved workflow.

Updating and accessibility: SOPs must be kept current for users to have confidence in them. And they need to be easily accessible to everyone who needs them. ProcedureFlow addresses these challenges by creating a single source of truth (SSOT) for the information. ProcedureFlow’s solution also enables employees to suggest updates as needed, and managers to easily approve the changes.

What details go into a standard operating procedure?

An SOP should have a title, the writer or approving manager’s name, the most recent modification date, what department it pertains to, its purpose, any materials involved, and the step-by-step procedure.

SOPs must be well-written and complete for them to be effective. They must be detailed enough so that no steps are missed, but also clear and concise. You’ve done it right if it makes sense to someone who’s not in the organization. The SOP should not need further explanation.

Consider this standard operating procedure for making coffee:

  1. Fill coffee pot with cold water to fill line.
  2. Pour water into the coffeemaker’s water reservoir.
  3. Place coffee pot on coffeemaker burner.
  4. Open a coffee pouch, found in the top cupboard, and pour contents into the paper filter.
  5. Place paper filter in the coffeemaker filter holder.
  6. Press the ON button.
  7. Wait for the coffeemaker to finish brewing.
  8. Enjoy a delicious cup of coffee!

What is a standard operating procedure example?

SOP formats are customized to any industry’s needs. Smaller organizations may choose to use documents because there’s little risk of someone removing them from where they’re needed. Some manufacturing plants have SOPs printed on signs posted at the machinery where they’ll be used.

However, when multiple employees require hundreds or thousands of SOPs, and need to access them simultaneously, they turn to a software solution such as ProcedureFlow’s cloud-based visual and logical, hyperlinked flowcharts. Here’s a sample of a ProcedureFlow SOP for a large call center client. Simple shapes and colors make it easy and fun to follow.

Video of user navigating through ProcedureFlow

From fast-food giants to couriers, medical laboratories to airlines, SOPs standardize products and services. They create predictability and control quality. Standard operating systems reduce training time and hold employees accountable. They make sure the hamburger you order in one city tastes the same as the one you order from the same chain somewhere else. And they likely could have made Penske material out of George Costanza.

Learn more about how ProcedureFlow can help simplify your standard operating procedures today by booking a demo.

Written by Lisa Brandt

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