12 Tips for Creating Effective SOPs

SOPs are a lantern on a dark night, a clearing in the fog, a bridge across a river, a map in unknown territory. You get it, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are guides into the unknown. They are a tool to help get business done faster.

SOPs are a necessity for businesses that have to deal with compliance, industry regulations, or state/federal laws to operate, but are they necessary if those situations don’t apply to you?

Yes! SOPs will add loads of value to all businesses. If you will perform an activity more than twice, you should create an SOP.

Creating consistency in activities performed by multiple employees, fostering continuous improvement, and identifying process holes and training gaps are only a few of the benefits companies receive from having effective SOPs in place. One of the most powerful reasons to adopt SOPs and become an expert at creating them is that it will free up the brain power of your teammates to focus on what they were hired to do.

Account executives weren’t hired to fill out expense reports, your marketing manager wasn’t hired to find promo vendors, your customer service rep wasn’t hired to set up shipments. SOPs give employees instructions on how to do their job, allowing them the space to really add value.

Use the following 12 tips to start creating effective SOPs for your organization that people will actually follow.

Understand the process

Make sure you understand the process you are documenting. Consult an SME (subject matter expert) if that is not you. This will save you time in the long run after execution if you missed a step.

Leave little room for interpretation

We want everyone doing the same thing for a specific process to improve overall efficiency, that is the point of an SOP. The process you create should not be up for interpretation or raise a lot of questions. Walk the line of simple but thorough — clear and succinct.

Have a trigger

Why would someone use this process? Start this off by making it clear when this should be used and what triggers that action.

Define the RACI

Ownership can be the most complicated part of an SOP, and the part that will cause it to fail if it isn’t clear. Define the RACI and nip those questions in the bud.

Who is Responsible for the steps? Who is Accountable for ensuring the overall process is done and done right? Who should be Consulted about the process or have information to guide the process? Who should be Informed that it has been completed?

Include a “Why” summary

If we understand why something needs to be done, and done a certain way, we are more likely to follow all the steps. We are also more likely to retain the process and repeat the steps the next time we do that activity. Including a “Why” summary can feed buy-in and help processes stick.

Use visuals and videos as much as you can

Not everyone loves lists and words. Using visuals and videos will give instructions in ways that will appeal to all types of learners. A digestible SOP is an effective SOP. And who doesn’t love a good flow chart?

Tools:

Video: Use loom.com to easily create videos that can be embedded into an SOP.

Loom: For every 10 seconds of video you record it is equivalent to 81 seconds of typing. No more super long emails that take forever to write. Simply click Loom to record and start saving time.

Visual flow charts: Use lucidchart.com to create flow charts, mind maps, and much more (they have free version!)

Include both a quick guide and detailed steps

If your SOP will have more than 5 steps, start out by listing a quick guide of the steps in addition to the detailed steps. If someone will be using this process often, the quick guide can be a good reference, while a new employee may need those details when they are first going through this.

Create templates or other tools

Build out applicable templates or tools that can be used to simplify your process. For example, you can make a project management template that includes all of the steps required to implement a program for your marketing team, or email templates to be sent within the process, or a spreadsheet that can be populated to do calculations for monthly reports. All of these examples can make long processes more streamlined.

Tools:

Asana: Make project plans with lists of tasks and sections that can be copied and used as templates.

Trello: Lists, cards and boards can all be copied and used as templates for repeatable processes.

Have someone check your work

The SOP will be consumed by more than just you — presumably. Have someone else read through it to ensure it makes sense to others.

Roll it out

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise? If you create an SOP and don’t tell anyone, does it exist? Arguably the most important step to all SOP creation is to roll it out to the stakeholders. That will be people using it, people receiving the result of it, people managing the people using it, etc.

Some rollouts can be as simple as letting the team know it exists, where to find it, and when to use it, while others are going to be more complicated and may require additional training. Assess what is appropriate for your SOP and execute on that plan to ensure the SOP is effective.

Have a plan for maintenance

Processes change. If you are using SOPs well, you are improving the process continually. Ensure that updating process is simple and that there is a maintenance plan. Out-of-date SOPs discourage people from using them or looking at others. Choose a cadence (quarterly, annually, etc.) that makes sense for your SOP to review it regularly and ensure its continued accuracy.

Establish an SOP for creating SOPs

No one should have to ask how to write an SOP — there’s an SOP for that! Create easy-to-copy templates that anyone creating an SOP can use — making both writing SOPs and using SOPs a breeze for anyone across the organization.

Imagine the efficiencies you’ll see in your workplace and the value your team will be adding if all SOPs, regardless of author, are using these tips.

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About the Author

Chelsey Lewis

Chelsey Lewis

An executive assistant and writer, Chelsey Lewis has extensive experience in business operations, customer success, leadership, and training, primarily in the SaaS industry. She has her BA in Strategic Communications from the University of Minnesota and now resides in Northern Montana. If she isn't coordinating chaos, she can be found on her family farm or hiking in Glacier National Park.