All successful companies have one thing in common. They document and follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) to keep daily operations running consistently, safely, on time, according to quality measures, and in compliance with government regulations. An SOP documents how, when, where and why a job is done and who does it. An SOP manual houses all the SOPs for a division, department or group within a company. An SOP manual is a valuable reference for existing employees and an effective training tool for new hires. Manual organisation and writing style will vary widely across companies, but there are some common considerations when creating SOP manuals for your workplace.
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Identify the manual's intended audience. For this example, it might be the SOPs for the company's warehouse. Identify the warehouse division's day-to-day jobs and limit the scope of the manual to the warehouse's role within the overall company.
Get input from anyone who has a vested interest in the SOPs, e.g., workers, supervisors and safety advisers. Enlisting subject-matter experts will help you write more accurate procedures and help with how the manual is received and used in the long run. A team approach to creating the manual "promotes buy-in from potential users of the SOP," says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "Guidance for Preparing Standard Operating Procedures."
Organise procedures in the manual in a way that best suits the audience and material. For the warehouse example, in addition to a Table of Contents and Appendices, sections in the manual might include Safety and Training, Shipping, Receiving and Operating Equipment.
Format the procedures in each manual section in a way that's easy to read and follow. Some procedures might be easily covered in a few short steps, while others require longer steps and flowcharts. Penn State University's "Standard Operating Procedures: A Writing Guide" gives examples of when to use simple steps versus hierarchical steps versus graphics. (See Resources.)
Write a purpose statement for each procedure, clearly indicating who does the job, when, where and why. List hazards that might, for example, cause equipment damage or personal injury. List any government regulations or industry standards that must be adhered to.
Write chronological procedure steps in a clear, concise format. Use active verbs to start each step. Include enough detail that a new trainee or someone with limited job experience could successfully and safely complete the job without supervision.
Identify any special equipment, qualifications or additional documentation required to do the job. For the warehouse example, if a job requires a worker to wear a hard hat, have forklift certification and use a inventory checklist, state this in the procedure. Include examples of forms or checklists in the procedure or in the manual's appendix.
Test the procedures before publishing the manual, suggests the Texas A&M College of Engineering's "Guide to Writing Standard Operating Procedures." Ask a subject-matter expert to review the procedures for accuracy and a trainee to review for any gaps in information. Rework procedures that don't pass the test.
Train workers how to use the SOP manual. Explain the manual layout and how to find information throughout. Ask workers to take ownership in the manual and report procedure changes as they arise.
Create a document control system. When a procedure is revised, record the revision dates and details to ensure a historical record is in place for each procedure. Ensure copies of manuals are available in the areas where procedures are done, advises Duke University's "Guidelines for Writing Standard Operating Procedures."
Review the procedures' effectiveness after a period of time. If, for example, equipment, processes or government regulations change, update manual content to reflect the new information. Listen to feedback on the manual's usability and incorporate improvements.
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- Texas A&M College of Engineering: Guide to Writing Standard Operating Procedures
- Duke University Medical Centre: Guidelines for Writing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)
- University of Minnesota: Bio Basic Facts Sheet: Writing Standard Operating Procedures
- U.S. Fire Administration: Developing Effective Standard Operating Procedures
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Guidance for Preparing Standard Operating Procedures