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Writing Standard Operating Procedures

Ten Tips to Keep in Mind, When Writing Standard Operating Procedures


Here are 10 ideas to keep in mind when you write Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). An SOP is a written set of instructions that someone should follow to complete a job safely, with no adverse effect on health or the environment, and in a way that maximizes operational and production requirements.

How much someone knows about an entire process or job affects the way he or she does that job. Incorporate safety, health and environment into the traditional how-to-operate or how-to-do steps. This teaches the person comprehensively so that he or she has a complete picture of the responsibilities for doing a job properly. This knowledge base simplifies follow-up training.

Write an SOP to be as long as necessary for a specific job. All jobs differ in the number of steps required to complete them properly. Short changing someone by providing short and incomplete SOP sets up failure. Write an SOP to satisfy the definition of SOP, not a standard company format that no one has thought about in years.  

1. People tend to ignore long SOPs because they cannot remember more than 6 to 12 steps. If your SOP goes beyond 10 steps, consider these solutions:

    • Break the long SOP into several logical sub-job SOPs,
    • Write an accompanying shortened SOP that lists only the steps but not detailed explanations of those steps, and
    • Make the long-form SOP a training document or manual to supplement the shorter sub-job SOPs mentioned earlier. 

2. Prepare the longer comprehensive training SOP first to get a picture of what training is needed. Then decide how to break it into shorter sub-job SOPs. Writing sub-job SOPs first, and then trying to put them together, may leave out linkage steps that make sub-jobs interdependent.

3.  Write SOPs for people who perform under different interpersonal circumstances.

    • Write some SOPs for people who work alone.
    • Write some SOPs for two or more people who work together as a team.
    • Write some SOPs for people who will supervise other people doing a job.
    • Write some SOPs for people who not familiar with rules generally understood by your employees. For example, you may write for contractors, vendors or suppliers.

4. Consider the work culture within which people work. If you write for people in a culture in which shortcuts are accepted practice, explain the reasons behind certain steps so that SOP users will understand the importance of following all the steps in the proper order.

5. Consider the age, education, knowledge, skill, experience and training, and work culture of the individuals who will be performing the SOP steps.

6. Keep in mind that many people do not read all the steps before starting on step one. Many people read one-step, perform it, read the next step, perform it, and so on. To try to get around this habit, forecast future effects and steps at certain points in the SOP to tell reader things they should know in advance, such as upcoming steps that require caution, precision, timing, assistance, and personal protective equipment.

7. Once you have completed writing an SOP, have several workers test it and give you feedback. If you did not consult safety, health and environmental experts prior to writing the SOP, have them observe the SOP being tested so they can add comments.

8. Review the effectiveness of SOPs after a few weeks and make necessary changes if in-the-field practice suggests that descriptions should be improved.

    • Review SOPs when processes and equipment are changed.
    • When new equipment is installed, take the opportunity to write a new SOP, incorporating the good from the old, and adding what is necessary to satisfy the new equipment.
  1. May 21st, 2010 at 15:44 | #1

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