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Standard Operating Procedures: Best Practices & Guidelines

Gloria

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have many benefits. They drive productivity and prevent errors on the shop floor. They are critical to document key safety measures. They facilitate knowledge transfer and make training new team members a lot easier. But for SOPs to work, they need to be clear and easy to follow. In this article, we will share SOP writing guidelines and best practices. 

3 January 2022

General Standard Operating Procedure Best Practices

Standard operating procedures (SOP) provide guidelines for your frontline team members to complete a given process. SOPs are often used to ensure that operations run smoothly: with cohesion, performance uniformity, and in compliance with safety measures and regulations. 

Before you get started with the actual development of your SOP, consider the following best practices: 

1. Get your team on board.
One of the biggest challenges in SOPs is the lack of team adoption. SOPs can often be perceived as restrictive. That’s why it’s very important that you involve your team in the creation of the SOP. Talk to your key stakeholders to gather input and ideas, and understand their perspectives. Make sure you share a draft of the SOP with them early on. 

2. Aim for practicality.
Standard operating procedures need to be designed with practicality in mind. Your team must be able to put them into practice. That’s why it’s important to talk to your team and understand if the SOP reflects their workflow and perspectives. 

3. Review and maintain. 
Another common mistake is not reviewing and properly maintaining SOPs. Procedures can change from time to time. You may also identify ways to improve them. When this happens, make sure you update your SOP. 

4. Mind the S in SOP.
Standard operating procedures should be, well, standard. There is no room for deviations and ambiguity in SOPs. The terminology and wording you use is very important to ensure consistency in your SOP.

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SOP Writing Guidelines.

Speaking of wording, let’s get into writing guidelines.

1. Keep things simple

  • Break down each procedure into individual instructions. 
  • Break down individual instructions into individual steps. 
  • Limit each step to a single action. Use one verb per sentence. 

2. Avoid jargon and stick to your terms

  • In SOPs, jargon should be kept to a minimum. Use plain, literal language.
  • Stick to a term once you use it. For example, if you refer to “sterilized bottles” in the first step, use “sterilized bottles” (and not just “bottles”) in follow-up steps. 

3. Use active voice and action-oriented language

  • Start sentences with a verb whenever possible. 
  • Always use active voice instead of passive voice. Active voice: Use the lever to lift the object. Passive voice: The object should be lifted with the lever. 

4. Keep a good flow in instructions and don’t leave critical info for later

  • Don’t add unnecessary actions where they are not needed, and don’t forget any actions required to complete a task. 
  • If you need to provide a warning or troubleshooting info, do it when you’re explaining the relevant step, and not before or after. 


 

SOP Visuals. 

Visuals are extremely important in SOPs. Follow these tips:

  • Make your visuals as clear as possible: show the action clearly. 

SOP visual 4

  • Use simple, animated GIFs or short videos when you want to show someone how to do something. Static pictures work best for simple actions like “press a button.” 
SOP visual 2
  • Show context and detail where it’s needed. For example, if you need to show how to attach a lock to something, show the lock close up. Or if you want to highlight the tools needed, make sure to clearly show them in the visuals. 
SOP visual 3

That’s it! Now on to standardizing your own procedures

When in doubt, check out our SOP Template for Smarter (and Easier) Work.

Also check out our other articles on SOPs: Standard Operating Procedures: 5 Reasons Why You Need Them and What is a Standard Operating Procedure?

Gloria

Gloria crafts content about how the world’s top companies are rethinking how to write digital work instructions. Check out the rest of her articles to learn how innovative work instruction software can improve manufacturing processes.

3 January 2022