The key difference between a successful organization and a not-so-successful one could lie in the way they document and share their organizational knowledge. When documenting your existing procedures, you need to make sure your team members are all on the same page in order to bring consistency to your processes and meet all critical dependencies. This is where SOP documentation can play a vital role in the success of an organization.
In this blog, we’ll explore the significance of SOPs and how they can be used to overcome business obstacles.
What is an SOP document?
A standard operating procedure (SOP) refers to a written document that contains step-by-step instructions on how to perform certain processes. When there are no documented processes, employees tend to do things their own way, resulting in process inconsistency and leaving a lot of room for error.
SOPs bring standardization to complex tasks so that they remain consistent and error-free across the organization. For instance, regulatory demands are so complex in today’s world where security is the utmost priority. Meeting these demands consistently without SOP documentation is extremely difficult.
What are the goals of establishing SOPs?
The main goal of SOP documentation is to ensure organizational consistency in all processes and outcomes. By ensuring consistent outcomes, organizations can boost efficiency, adhere to regulatory demands, resolve issues, increase profits and more.
Organizations also establish SOPs for the following reasons:
- Business continuity: Businesses cannot afford to stop for any reason. The easy availability of standardized information ensures business continuity even if an employee departs or goes on vacation.
- Employee onboarding/offboarding: Standardized processes are vital when onboarding or offboarding an employee. SOPs can help establish them and bring more reliability to the process.
- Compliance adherence: Compliance regulations demand that critical processes are documented and periodically reviewed. This provides additional security to the company and prevents compliance penalties.
- Knowledge retention: When employees leave an organization, they take the acquired knowledge along with them. With standardized SOPs, you can retain this knowledge and ensure proper knowledge management.
- Higher quality: When people work on complicated tasks without knowing how to work, it leads to inconsistency and errors. With SOPs, information is readily available on how to perform tasks. This reduces errors in the process and improves quality.
Why are SOPs important?
An organization should be prepared to deal with all kinds of eventualities. They cannot do so without writing down their institutional knowledge. Companies should define everything including what they are doing, how they are doing it, who is supposed to be working on what, etc. Without documenting their critical processes, companies cannot grow their business in the desired way.
Here’s a list of consequences that are bound to happen without SOPs:
- Halt in operations: Although employees may come and go, your institutional knowledge should not change along with changes in your workforce. Without documentation, a company’s operations risk coming to a stop when key employees leave.
- Irrecoverable losses: From natural disasters to cyberattacks, tragedies may strike a business at any moment. SOPs have disaster recovery plans, standardized guidelines, business continuity information, etc., to ensure quick recovery from a disaster. Companies that don’t document any of these items will find it extremely difficult to recover.
- Lack of growth: Organizations innovate by documenting their growth at every step. Without documentation, they have to spend all their time and resources reinventing the wheel. Ultimately, this will compromise their growth.
What are the three types of SOP formats?
While there are no hard and fast rules preventing you from developing your own internal SOP document, there are three types of SOP documents that can make life easy for you. Most organizations choose one of the following types:
As the name implies, a step-by-step SOP breaks down a task or a process into a list of different steps with detailed instructions for each step. The steps detailed in the SOP should be simple and clear enough for anyone to follow.
The hierarchical SOP is similar to the step-by-step format but more detailed. It uses a top-down approach and breaks down complicated tasks into a list of steps. However, each step contains many more additional details as required by the task. In a step-by-step SOP, you can list out steps as 1, 2, 3, etc. In the hierarchical model, the steps contain additional steps, such as 1a, 1b, 1c, etc., depending on the complexity of the task.
This is mainly used for complicated tasks where detailed instructions are required to complete them successfully.
When your process needs a visual representation, it is better to use the flowchart SOP. The format is usually adopted when there are multiple outcomes in a process. You can assign conditional logic to illustrate different outcomes and organize your procedures accordingly.
What should an SOP document contain?
Considering the main goal of SOP documentation is to ensure consistency, it is important to develop a specific format with all the key elements. However, there are no rigid rules on what format to use and an organization may adjust these elements as per their requirements.
Proper SOP documentation should likely address each of the following in one way or another.
It is always better to start your SOP document with a title page. This should contain the following information about the document:
- Title of the task or process
- An identification number for your SOP
- Date of creation and revision
- Division or branch of the organization applicable to the SOP
- Name of the creator with approval signatures from relevant stakeholders
Table of contents
This can be skipped if your document is only a few pages long. For long documents, you must include a table of contents to locate relevant information easily.
Before you go about describing the entire process, you must include some preliminary information that covers the scope and purpose of your SOP. You can convey it by including the following details:
- Purpose & goal: There must be a reason behind creating an SOP document. By defining the purpose and goal of the document, you are providing a high-level overview of the process you are discussing in the document.
- Roles and responsibilities: This section provides straightforward information about all the stakeholders involved in the process. You can also use this section to define the specific roles of the individuals involved.
- Related documents: In this section, you define the documents related to the SOP for some additional information. This directs users to the right documentation if they need more information about a specific process or task.
- Resources: The successful completion of any task or process requires a variety of tools, technology and resources. By documenting this information, you can swiftly gather the materials required and get to work right away.
- Safety information: The SOP document should also include all the cautionary information about the use of resources and the steps involved in a process. All safety information must be provided clearly in simple language. You also need to mention who to contact if additional safety information is required.
Once you have documented all the preliminary information, you must outline the procedures involved in completing the process. This is probably the most important part of your SOP document since it provides vital information on the actual steps to be followed in completing a task. You can use sequential steps to describe the procedures with additional sub-steps when required.
Since this is the critical part of your SOP documentation, you need to make it as clear and detailed as possible. Some SOP documents even include diagrams and decision trees to illustrate the procedures clearly. The end user who reads the document must be able to grasp it quickly without much back and forth in clearing doubts.
This section concerns how your team members are performing with respect to the SOP document. You can do this on a case-by-case basis and see if your employees are adhering to the procedures mentioned in the SOP document. If you see any issues in the way things are done, you must rectify the issues and make the necessary adjustments going forward.
References and definitions
There should also be a section with references to all the source documents from which information is collected for this SOP document. Additionally, you can also create a glossary section with definitions of all important terms.
Finally, it is better to include a revision history with information about all the revisions made to the SOP document. This should include details such as who has made the revision, when it was made, why was it made, etc. You can see the different versions of the SOP document here and revert to an older version if required.
What are the benefits of SOP documentation?
SOPs can benefit any organization irrespective of its size. It helps companies stay organized, saves time and ensures the easy accomplishment of key tasks. Let’s look at some of the major benefits of SOP documentation.
Promotes consistency and reduces errors
The most important benefit of SOP documentation is its ability to ensure consistency in the process and minimize human errors. Since the processes are clearly outlined in a step-by-step manner, it removes guesswork from your tasks. As a result, all task outcomes remain consistent and error-free.
Aids in onboarding and employee training
SOP documents are also developed for training and onboarding new employees. This helps ensure that all your new hires get the same level of training for the same amount of time.
In organizations where employees work in hazardous situations, SOPs can be created to establish workplace guidelines on employee safety. Organizations can also use similar best practices to follow cybersecurity hygiene and meet compliance demands.
Preserves organizational knowledge
A report by Bridge Group has estimated that the average tenure of an employee in an organization has fallen to 1.8 years in 2021. If you have created SOPs and documented all key processes, you don’t have to worry about losing your institutional knowledge when an employee leaves.
Companies that fail to adhere to relevant compliance laws often end up paying huge fines and penalties. This can be avoided by creating SOPs with the exact procedures to be followed.
Who is responsible for writing SOPs?
Depending on the industry you operate in and the department for which the SOP is being created, there may be different people responsible for creating the SOPs. For instance, process engineers take up the role of SOP creation in manufacturing companies. Similarly, for SOP documentation concerning cybersecurity, IT managers or security consultants may do the writing tasks.
Irrespective of who writes the SOP document, it is better to get inputs from stakeholders in different areas. Also, the SOP document must be reviewed by all concerned stakeholders once the creation process is done.
What are SOP templates?
Organizations can use SOP templates to standardize their procedures. When you have standardized templates across the whole organization, you can get started with your SOPs quickly without worrying about fonts, margins, outlines and other trivial things. You can either create your own SOP templates or use the common ones available online.
SOP documentation with IT Glue
IT Glue is a robust documentation platform with powerful features. IT Glue enables documentation of SOPs alongside your key IT infrastructure information, including passwords, assets, licenses, etc., so everything is contextual and a click away. You can also have access to a library of pre-built SOP templates, many of which are based on ITIL and industry best practices. With these out-of-the-box templates, you can start documenting right away.
IT Glue’s SOC 2-compliant documentation platform features an immutable audit trail, multifactor authentication and next-generation password management engine. You can also integrate these features with your SOP documentation.
To learn more about how IT Glue can help with your SOP documentation, request a demo.