Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are a popular way of providing consistent guidance to employees within an organisation. Ideally, if you grab someone off the street, that person should be able to complete the task without anything but an SOP and the tools required. A key starting point of any SOP portfolio is the creation of an SOP template for consistency. You do not need any fancy software or skills; you just need to balance the required elements and what you want the template to look like.
Open a new word processing document. Save the file with the name that you would like to use for your SOP template and the date for version control. For example: "YourCompanyName_SOP_Template_19-01-2012".
Insert a table into the header. The number of rows and columns in this table is up to you; keep in mind you will need, at a minimum, a cell for the SOP number, title and approval or effective date of the document. You can also use a cell for the page number and the company logo or name if you like. The nice thing about the table in the header is that it will repeat throughout the document as you add pages.
Insert a large table on the first page of the document. This table will contain your SOP number and title at the top, followed by cells for signatures of key personnel, such as the author of the document and approving officials, with their names, titles and dates signed. Type headings for each cell, such as "SOP Title" for the top cell, "SOP Author" for the next cell and "QA Approval" for the appropriate number of cells.
Create sections for the introduction, responsibilities, materials and equipment (if applicable) and procedure. Other sections might include glossaries of abbreviations, terms or products. Since this is a template, you might want to include a sentence or two describing what is expected for each section if you plan on having multiple SOP authors.
Format your sections. One of the most common ways of presenting SOP sections is to start a lettering, numbering or combination system for each section. You can also use bullets and dashes. Remember though, it is easier when referring to or revising SOPs to point to a section by the letter/number. Show what the sequencing format should look like for each subsequent line in a section, such as "A, B, C"; "1, 2, 3"; or "A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3."
Insert another two tables at the end of the template. One of the tables should be for listing external references or for appendices and forms that you can attach to the SOP for version changes. The other table can be for documenting the version history of the SOP and any reasons for changes. These tables can continue using the numbering/lettering format that the rest of the template uses.
Save the document as a read-only template file. This will help keep your template from being accidentally overwritten by forcing the user to save the document under a different name if altered.
Keep a back-up copy of your template.
Tips and warnings
- Keep a back-up copy of your template.