Did you ever wonder why the food you get from a chain restaurant in one city is exactly the same as in any other city? One of the biggest reasons is that these types of companies use a tool called standard operating procedure, or SOP.
SOPs are used across all industries, and many organizations use dozens of them to ensure consistently high-quality work across the entire team. SOPs can consist of a simple bulleted list of action items, but effective employee onboarding and training benefits from the introduction of visual elements.
Let’s look at the basics of SOPs, why your organization needs them and why using Venngage templates can help engage your team, making your training and development efforts stronger.
Click to jump ahead:
- What is SOP?
- What is SOP format?
- What are the different types of SOP?
- How to write an SOP
- Why you should use visuals in SOP
- Standard operating procedure FAQ
What is SOP?
SOP stands for “standard operating procedure,” a set of step-by-step instructions for completing a task. If you’ve ever put together IKEA furniture, you’ve encountered a version of a standard operating procedure in the form of the instruction manual.
When they’re used across an organization for many different types of tasks, SOPs help ensure consistency and quality in job performance. Companies use SOPs both for new hires and for training existing team members on new equipment, procedures or tasks.
Possible SOPs include:
- Call center escalation matrix
- Publishing checklist
- Claims process
- Maintenance checklist
- Performance review
- Disaster preparedness
- HR checklist
- Safety procedure
Here’s an example of a standard operating procedure for a vegan supermarket. This SOP can be used for new employees working here: it shows store hours, opening and closing procedures, store policies like returns and exchanges or promotions and sales, etc.
What is SOP format?
There is no single format for SOPs, and in most organizations, team members will need access to several SOPs, as they will certainly be performing more than one single task.
But the most effective SOP formats include checklists, presentations, handouts and infographics — we’re going to explore some SOP examples in these formats in a minute.
Check out: 15+ Standard Operating Procedure Checklists for Better Workflow and Smoother Training
Different types of SOP + examples and templates
Because the purpose of standard operating procedures depends on the task at hand, there are many types of SOP. But their goals are all the same: create consistently high-quality work that can be repeated over time.
Let’s look at a few examples of SOP formats that you can use in your organization.
Understanding the flow of problems is important in a customer service context, so organizations that use call center technologies or big customer service departments would benefit from SOPs designed like this one pager escalation matrix.
SOP documents that help team members navigate tricky situations are particularly helpful in training new workers or getting veterans up to speed on a new process or system.
Standard work instructions
At their most crucial SOPs help people understand exactly how to do their jobs. Sometimes, guidance is broad, but often, tasks need to be explained in detail. Process explanations and standard work instructions can be useful for just about any job in your organization.
Processes that need to be replicated are the most natural fit for creating standard operating procedure documentation for your entire team, and when the topic is something financial or legal, it’s useful to create physical documentation that people have to sign.
In addition to explaining procedures, good SOPs eventually become routine. That’s important in tasks that happen annually, which might be more difficult for people to remember. Expectations are clear for both the employee and their manager although the document itself is quite short.
Standard work instruction documents can also be extremely detailed, which is important for many jobs. In this example, customer-facing team members must understand exactly the process they are to follow, as ensuring a consistent customer experience is critical for any organization.
Just about every organization in the world has meetings, and nobody wants to hear the dreaded, “This could have been an email” refrain. Set clear, actionable and effective agendas for all meetings by following this SOP sample.
Read more: Work Instruction vs SOP: Which is Better?
Manuals and documentation
New team members typically get a massive download of information in their first period with a company. This can be overwhelming and less-than-effective thanks to data overload.
Consider including in your onboarding documentation SOPs like manuals for tasks the employee will need to understand.
This example covers equipment necessary for the new team member to do their job, but it could apply to other aspects of employee manuals or handbooks. Signature pages reinforce accountability as it helps ensure team members have actually read the document they signed.
Providing guidance about how much time each task should take gives new team members something to shoot for. While they may take longer for each task in the beginning, as this example shows, a target window should always be included.
Checklists are incredibly versatile and useful SOP tools because everyone understands at a glance what their purpose is. Create checklist SOPs for many jobs across your organization and you’ll soon see team members master each task.
This checklist was designed to help streamline and track progress on an audit, but consider a color-coded approach like this to explain jobs with many steps that will take a number of days or even weeks to complete.
If you want to see more SOP checklist examples, check out our blog post on 15+ SOP checklists for enhanced productivity and smoother training.
While detail is sometimes useful, it’s not always necessary. By creating a broad process illustration, you can help your team members understand the shape of the task at hand but give them enough freedom to manage it themselves.
A process SOP like this would be ideal for a sales team, of course. You can also customize it to use for any other role where a project will go through many phases and there’s a specific order to those phases. The goal is that while employees learn the process and why the steps take place in that order.
How to write an SOP
To write an actionable, easy-to-follow standard operating procedure, you need to follow these eight simple steps:
Step 1: Identify the procedure and collect data
To start off, you should know which procedure, process or activity you’re creating the SOP for. Involve the expert or the employee responsible for performing the task to define the procedure and provide information on what tasks they need to complete in this procedure.
You can also start outlining the goal for your SOP. Here’s an example:
Step 2: Identify the target audience
Sometimes you can use one SOP for everyone in the company — sometimes you can’t. Depending on who the SOP’s target user is, there’ll be details you need to add or to leave out.
Factors to consider include:
- Familiarity with the organization and procedures
- Familiarity with industry terminologies
- Knowledge level
- Experience level
- Language and comprehension skills
- Roles and responsibilities
Step 3: Define SOP scope
As you’ve known who you’re writing the SOP for, you know what kind of information should be included in the document.
“Task creep” happens when steps from one process overlap with another and create routine redundancies.
It’s important to determine at the beginning what’s going to be covered and what’s not within the SOP.
Step 4: Choose a format
As mentioned above, there’s no single format for an SOP. Depending on the task at hand, you can create an SOP checklist, a presentation, a handout, an infographic, etc.
Step 5: Write your SOP
Now as you’ve known what should be included in the SOP, how it should be written and who you’re writing it for — time to start developing your SOP!
Regardless of the format you choose, there are some basics that should be covered regardless of the department, style, format or job function. Your SOP should always include:
- Procedure name
- Procedure summary
- Document ID number
- Most recent revision date
- Description of most recent change (if applicable)
- Reviews and approval
Ensuring your SOP document includes all of these areas helps provide accountability as well as version control so you can make sure outdated procedures are not being used in your organization.
You should also include visuals in your SOP — we’re going to touch on why and how in a moment.
Step 7: Review, test and edit
Once you’ve drafted the SOP, send it to the team members for review. If you can, ask a member from a different department — or whoever’s closest to the target user — to test out the SOP to see if they can perform the task as instructed. You should also ask for their feedback regarding ease of execution, language clarity, etc.
After being accepted and reviewed by all stakeholders, the SOP should be ready to be implemented.
Step 8: Implement and review
Reviewed and approved SOPs should now be accessible to relevant employees. You should still monitor to see if your employees/colleagues find the SOPs easy to follow, if there’s anything missing, etc.
Why you should use visuals in your standard operating procedures
Think of when you need to build a chair or a desk you buy from IKEA. Would you prefer instructions with detailed visuals explaining each step, or would you prefer them text-only?
The same thing applies to standard operating procedures. If you’re considering writing an SOP yourself, make sure you include lots of visuals.
This doesn’t extend to just instruction manuals. As you can see from the many SOP examples above, including visual assets and data visualizations in your SOP makes it easier for people to understand and remember the information, which means there’s a higher chance of them properly following the given instruction.
Here’s an example of an SOP that makes really good use of visuals:
For more SOP checklist templates like this, check out our blog on 15+ Standard Operating Procedure Checklists for Better Workflow and Smoother Training.
Our users have seen an increase in people’s buy-in and understanding of procedures that are generally hard to take in, by using more visuals with instructions.
Arun Raman, Change and Learning Consultant at BaptistCare, saw an increase to 70% in uptake (action taken) rates when using infographics in BaptistCare’s Internal MMS.
Here’s what he said about using visuals (infographics) in workplace training materials:
If you want to learn more, check out this case study:
Standard operating procedure FAQ
Do you have more questions about creating a standard operating procedure? We have answers.
How long should SOP be?
It sounds glib, but SOPs should be as long as they need to be. While it’s important not to overwhelm team members — especially new hires — worrying too much about SOP length could mean you leave out or shortchange certain tasks.
What is the role of standard operating procedures?
Standard operating procedure documents ensure consistently high-quality work performance and results across an organization. They are used both for new hires and for training existing team members on new equipment, procedures or tasks.
Why are standard operating procedures used in business?
Training and staff development are the primary reasons to use standard operating procedures in business. Effective SOPs become a go-to resource for team members to reinforce their training, and they ensure all necessary steps to complete a task are done every single time.
In summary: Make your standard operating procedure documentation more engaging with visuals
Using Venngage for Training and Development can inject life into otherwise boring corporate communications like SOP documents and forms. Keep your team engaged by creating polished SOP documents for new hires and existing employees. It’s free to get started—no design experience required.