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Keys to a more effective standard operating procedure (SOP) creation process

Orbis | March 26, 2021

Many organizations develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to ensure consistency in their processes, improve product quality, and prevent health and safety issues.

At its core, an SOP is a written set of step-by-step instructions for employees, detailing how they should complete specific tasks or processes. It works as a safeguard against the natural variation in behavior that can occur when people assume they’re free to use their best judgment. While in other situations that could seem like an empowering environment, in a manufacturing operation, it can lead to inconsistent outcomes that can in turn affect quality, customer satisfaction, profitability, and other critical measures.

Fortunately, when you have a solid SOPs creation process in place, you not only avoid those types of impacts, but you also simplify employee training by making sure that all employees receive the same information and instructions. Most importantly, you gain greater control and consistency — increasing customer satisfaction and gaining an edge over competitors whose controls are less rigorous.

4 Ways to Maximize Your SOP Investment

Creating user-friendly SOP documentation requires more than just sound writing. Use these tips to make sure your SOPs are truly providing value.

  1. Identify where your company is most vulnerable in terms of process inconsistencies, and start documenting SOPs for the highest risk areas first. Alternately, you can prioritize developing SOPs that will have the highest return on investment, or SOPs that are most likely to yield early successes to build project visibility and momentum. Based on these considerations, decide which SOPs to create first. Work with your internal or outsourced documentation team to create a SOP creation process and schedule that details when each step of the SOP writing process will be completed.
  2. Choose capable quality control experts and technical writers to write your SOPs, keeping in mind that your engineers might not be the people best qualified for the task. The written procedures should be clear, concise, and designed to pass usability testing. For the greatest impact, precision and timeliness matter — so consider outsourcing the work to a technical writing and documentation partner with knowledge of your industry. They should have a process for scheduling and conducting interviews with SMEs, and managing the drafting and review process as well.
  3. Determine how and when employees will access the SOPs after they’re developed, and make sure your SOPs are easy to find. Some of the most effective solutions for doing so are content management systems and collaboration platforms, such as a Wiki.
  4. Make sure to address the whole lifecycle of an SOP. For example, once an SOP is finalized, don’t just post it and hope for the best. Train your employees on it, verify that it’s being followed, evaluate it periodically for accuracy and relevance, and update or retire it as your needs change.

A complex challenge, but one that’s worth the effort

When you consider the many strategic and operational benefits that a complete and accurate SOPs creation process can provide across your organization, it’s worth the effort and resources — even if your internal team lacks the specialized skills or bandwidth. What’s more, you probably have a lot of great material to work with already — some of it in the form of existing SOPs, informal best practices that could be standardized and shared more widely, and others.