Creating Custom SOPs: Tailoring Processes to Your Business Needs

Last Updated on July 10, 2024 by Owen McGab Enaohwo

Do you need your business operations to be more consistent? Adding a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) makes processes clearer and meet deadlines easier. You can deliver better products to your customers, making them trust your business more. 

We’ll cover SOP formats, key elements to add, and proven approaches to writing SOPs. We’ll also feature successful real-life examples to help you manage your SOPs.

What Is A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?

SOPs are step-by-step instructions for a specific task. They use a standard format and structure, making tasks easy to understand and follow. This consistency helps employees meet the organization’s quality standards and regulatory requirements.

Organizations operate in different industries and have many departments. The SOP format may change depending on its purpose. Despite the differences, there are elements that every SOP must have. They are:

  • Title: The title should be concise and descriptive, clearly indicating the procedure.
  • Objective: Explain why employees should perform it and describe the desired outcome.
  • Scope: Set clear boundaries for the task/procedure to perform. Explain the inclusions and limitations.
  • Definitions: Explain the task/procedure’s abbreviations, acronyms, or technical terms.
  • Responsibilities: Outline the roles and responsibilities to establish accountability and smoother execution.
  • Resources: List equipment, materials, and tools necessary to complete the task/procedure.
  • Procedure: Present the detailed instructions in a clear, sequential manner. Use concise language and add visual elements to enhance comprehension.
  • References: Provide relevant documents, safety guidelines, or regulations to support the procedure. These provide more context for performing the task/procedure right and risk-free.
  • Approval & Revision History: Record all modifications or updates made to the SOP. Specify the revision date, the person responsible for the change, and who approved it.

A business management software is a perfect solution to help manage these processes more easily. 

When Should You Prioritize Creating Custom Standard Operating Procedures?

The best time to create custom SOPs is when your organization introduces a new task or process. Starting from scratch lets you personalize the SOP to fit the new task’s unique needs.

Add as much detail as possible because this SOP will be a training tool for onboarding new employees or team members. The more they understand the written instructions, the better they can perform the task. You can also create a custom SOP for the following purposes:

  • Addressing complex processes
  • Continuous improvement efforts
  • Unique organizational requirements and needs
  • High-risk activities (where errors could have serious consequences)

Best Practice: When To Use A Custom Standard Operating Procedure Template?

SOP templates are convenient tools for documenting internal processes common across different industries. It features a predefined layout, sections, fields, and instructions. These elements make them easy to navigate and personalize.

The most common use cases for SOP templates are:

  • HR employee onboarding process
  • IT operations (System maintenance & troubleshooting)
  • Regulatory compliance (data handling & financial reporting)
  • Safety procedures (emergency response plans and hazard identification protocols)
  • Routine and repetitive internal processes (data entry & maintaining employee records)

4 Steps In Creating Effective Standard Operating Procedures

As you consider these steps to create a clear and quality-focused SOP for your workflow, pay close attention to specific action items and skills you need to be familiar with.

Step 1: Identify The Process

Taking a closer look into your workflow is the first step. It helps you determine the areas that need standardization. When doing so, pay close attention to your team or department’s daily tasks and processes. Observe and identify if they are:

  • Repetitive: All routine processes need a standard set of steps to follow to make sure employees will do them the same way every time.
  • Error-prone: When your process always ends with an error, an SOP can help team members spot and fix the issue before it becomes a problem.
  • Critical operations: SOP documents include contingency plans and safety protocols, perfect for processes that slow down your operation’s efficiency.

Let’s consider a specific example in the eCommerce industry – Amazon, where product prices often change because of demand, trends, and different seasons. Sometimes, it’s hard for sellers to always set the best price for each season. By automating the process using a repricing tool like Aura adjusts prices, you can keep up with these changes and stay competitive. Making this tool part of your standard procedures helps you manage pricing smoothly and keeps it right on track with the market.

Some processes are also subject to regulatory requirements. Creating SOPs for these processes helps to avoid legal issues.

Best Practice: Use Process Map To Identify Processes

A process map is a planning tool that outlines every process step using flowcharts. It shows how a process works (from beginning to end), who handles each task, and other essential process characteristics. Process maps often use 4 flowchart symbols to represent different process elements.

Creating SOPs: Process Maps
  • Rectangle: Action or step
  • Oval: Beginning or end of the process
  • Arrows: Direction flow or connecting to another section
  • Diamond: Holds a decision (often containing a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer)

When creating a process map, brainstorm with all employees involved to make sure it is accurate and covers all potential pain points. Along the way you might conclude to use an automation tool to make processes more efficient. 

When considering this with your team, provide them with a resource to help them gauge what works best with your processes. For example, a SaaS company’s sales team will conclude that it’s best to use a SaaS subscription management tool. So point them to resources like this subscription management list that outlines important functional features. Make them go over the tool and ask for their suggestions about the best tool to do the job.

Step 2: Define The Objectives

Objectives give the new SOP a clear direction. Most organizations define their objectives to improve or meet:

  • Company goals
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Safety (personnel & operations)
  • Compliance with regulatory standards

How do you define SOP objectives? Two popular methods to use are SMART criteria and SWOT analysis. Together, they consider all factors involving the process to make your objectives easier to reach.

A. SMART Criteria

How to Set SMART Goals for Your Business in 2024 (Free Template)

SMART criteria’s logical structure provides focus and clarity to your objectives. Here’s how it works:

  • Specific: It answers the 5 “W” questions—who, what, where, when, and why.
  • Measurable: Focuses on how to check the process’ progress. It often uses KPIs, data points, benchmarks, and other measurement units.
  • Achievable: Determine whether the available resources, time, and other assets are enough to do the process. It also assesses the team member’s skills and knowledge to know if more training is needed.
  • Relevant: It examines the context of your set objective. The result must be suitable to your current business operations (environment, needs, etc.). It should also align with your organization’s resource allocation priorities.
  • Time-bound: Set deadlines and milestones to prevent procrastination. It also lets you allot enough time and resources to perform the objective.

B. SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analysis | Definition, Examples, Process, and Uses

SWOT analysis helps you identify their objectives based on:

  • Strengths: List all internal and external factors contributing to the process’s success. These could include skills, knowledge, technology, and resources.
  • Weaknesses: Identify inefficiencies in the process’ current practices.
  • Opportunities: Explore industry trends, technological advancements, and other opportunities that can improve your process.
  • Threats: Monitor any risks that could potentially harm your process. You may consider economic downturns, changing market dynamics, or technological threats.

They assess each objective and look for potential impacts and risks. Considering the findings, you can develop action plans and strategies based on market research, product development, and marketing initiatives targeting your intended audience. Here’s how it works:

Step 3: Collect Information About The Process

When your collected data is reliable and fits its purpose, you can use it to set standards and make better decisions. When you write standard operating procedures, the data becomes your guide. It helps you understand the process objectively. Here are effective data collection methods you can use.

Creating SOPs: Data Collection Methods

Primary data collection involves gathering data firsthand from l sources. Since these data are current, they are accurate and relevant to the process you document. But it can be time-consuming and expensive.

The secondary data collection is the opposite, collecting existing or past data. It lets you review existing documentation and established practices about the process to identify inconsistencies and gaps.

You can also address outdated procedures and update them in the new SOP. The only downside of this method is you can’t verify the data accuracy and source integrity.

Step 4: Pick A Standard Operating Procedure Format

Create standard operating procedures that encourage communication and collaboration among team members. When choosing a format, consider the following factors:

  • Process type and complexity
  • Organization’s industry, size, and needs
  • Audience learning style and prior knowledge levels

You can choose from several SOP formats, each with its purpose and benefits. Here are its popular options.

I. Text-Based SOP

This is the traditional and most common SOP format. As the name describes, it outlines the procedures using written text. It’s easy to create, edit, distribute, and update. Its direct approach makes it the go-to SOP format for routine operations. Here’s a cleaning and disinfecting SOP to give you an idea of how to write it.

Creating SOPs: Text-Based SOP Format Sample

You can add a narrative-style format to your text-based SOP. It provides more context and background information for each step. You can even thoroughly explain why the step is necessary and how it contributes to the process.

Documenting safety procedures is ideal for the narrative-style SOP format. Consider this pharmaceutical ingredients manufacturer for example. They deal with various active pharmaceutical ingredients that carry health and hazard risks. This SOP format helps them explain the dangers and detailed steps for proper handling and storage. It can also include best practices to maintain a safe working environment.

Here’s a sample SOP that they can use to protect the laboratory personnel from these risks.

Creating SOPs: Narrative-Style SOP Format Sample

The SOP document states who qualifies for the task, where to conduct it, and the person to contact. It uses clear, concise language to make sure everyone understands and follows it. They also list down all the chemicals and proper protective equipment to use. As you browse the SOP document, you will find the proper ways to:

  • Transporting chemicals, including spill kit and safety data sheets
  • Ventilation and storage requirements
  • Safety measures for spill and accident procedures
  • Detailed steps on the precise handling process

They also use bullet points to break down complex processes and make them digestible.

II. Hierarchical SOP

Hierarchical SOPs are a step-by-step guide that breaks down large processes. You can divide these processes into smaller sections, turning them into multi-step procedures. If an action is too complex, you can further break it into sub-steps.

You can customize hierarchical SOPs based on roles. This customization makes it an excellent option for cross-functional collaboration. Every employee and department can immediately identify which tasks are relevant to them. That’s precisely what Quantimetrix Corporation delivers for their personnel hiring and training SOP.

Creating SOPs: Hierarchical SOP

Unlike text-based SOP, the hierarchical format offers a clear visual representation. Here are some effective SOP visual elements you can add:

  • Decision trees: Display decisions (root node), courses of action (branches), and their possible outcomes (leaf node)
Creating SOPs: Decision Tree Sample
  • Flowchart format: Provide a more comprehensive look at your data flows, decision-making processes, and workflows
Creating SOPs: Flowchart Sample

III. Checklist SOP

A checklist SOP is ideal for processes with a precise sequence of steps. It often starts with the prerequisites or preparatory steps. These steps are mandatory, which means the employee can only move on to the next task after completing it.

You can list all the process criteria, items, and tasks to check how important and urgent they are. Also, consider the cause-and-effect relationships between steps. It will help you create a logical sequence flow.

Its neat structure makes it the popular format for writing new software or application SOP. Software and application deployment processes often involve many complicated steps. The checklist format helps break down these details into manageable tasks. Here’s a sample software deployment SOP for your reference.

Creating SOPs: Checklist SOP Format Sample (Software Deployment)

The complex processes extend to the software/application’s usage. Checklist SOPs also serve as a structured guide to teach the audience how to use the software/application. Let’s say you’re writing standard operating procedures for a service-based app like Google Flights. Consider including a prerequisite section after your objective. This can be a list of tools the audience needs to use the application.

Here’s a sample checklist SOP for booking air tickets on Google Flights. It outlines step-by-step instructions to ensure a smooth booking experience for all users.

Creating SOPs: Narrative-Style & Checklist SOP Format Sample  (Google Flights)
Best Practice: Add Visuals

Videos and screenshots are the best visual aids to use. They can showcase the actual interface of the application and emphasize important details. For the screenshots, add annotations to provide more context. Label texts, arrows, or shapes are a few visual elements you can add. Here’s a sample of Google Flights’ screenshots with proper annotations.

Creating SOPs: Checklist SOP Format Sample - Annotations

Conclusion

Whether you’re adding new processes or polishing existing ones, document them properly. This article can guide you in creating comprehensive and accurate SOPs.

Creating SOPs involves different methods; each comes with its benefits and considerations. Pick the best method that suits the process needs and requirements. Assign individuals who understand the SOP writing process. They can streamline processes in a practical and easy-to-follow manner.

Ready to streamline your business operations? SweetProcess can help document your processes. Visit our website and start your free 14-day trial now.

FAQs

Creating custom SOPs is an indispensable guide for organizations. We’ll address common SOP creation questions to provide a better understanding.

1. Who should take part in creating SOPs?

Make sure to get all your employees who will be carrying out the procedures on board. Their direct involvement helps things run smoothly and provides feedback for continuous improvement. Managers, QAs, and subject matter experts often collaborate to create SOPs.

2. What tools/software can you use to create custom SOPs?

You can use Microsoft Word and Google Docs to create SOPs. You can also use specialized SOP software to automate tasks and have teams collaborate in real-time. Process Street, SweetProcess, and Tallify are the best options.

3. How often should you review & revise your custom SOPs?

Review and revise your SOPs at least once a year. It’s enough time to keep the SOPs accurate, compliant, and relevant. But you can always update whenever there are significant changes in your process.

4. Is using a free SOP template worth it?

A free SOP template is a good starting point for startups and small businesses. Although it provides a basic structure, you can change it to fit your organization’s needs. Pick one with an organized structure that is easily accessible and shareable.

Author Bio:
Burkhard Berger is the founder of Novum™. He helps innovative B2B companies implement modern SEO strategies to scale their organic traffic to 1,000,000+ visitors per month. Curious about what your true traffic potential is?

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