Guidelines to Developing a Standard Operating Procedures Manual

By Roselyn Onalaja | 5 min read
24th August 2017
Guidelines to Developing a Standard Operating Procedures Manual

A standard operating procedures manual is a written document that lists the instructions, step-by-step, on how to complete a job task or how to handle a specific situation when it arises in the workplace. The thought process behind a standard operating procedures manual is that consistent results will occur as long as everyone follows the steps.  This manual may include tasks for the entire company, or separate manuals may exist for each department.  The critical concern of an operations manual is its use. 

A standard Operating Procedure (SOP) manual should as a matter of fact carry an introduction that establishes and enforces the organization's brand position relative to its strategic objectives.

The following questions must be answered to enable a successful development and implementation of a standard operating procedure manual:

What is the usefulness of the Operating Manual?

The operating manual provides a handy reference to common everyday business practices, daily activities, or routine tasks. New employees will find an operations manual especially helpful in getting up and running as fast as possible. It reduces work interruption and also serves to train staff.

For Whom is the Operating Manual Written?

The operating manual must be targeted towards all members of staff in the organization. The employee and anyone who works for the organization should be able to pick it up and read on how to do what needs to be done on a daily, operational basis.

What Resources are Available?

To document an operating system, there are resources that must be made available—people, time and materials.  It is strongly recommended that you use employees for the development of the manual. 

Are all Employees required in the process of Developing the Manual?

It is important to note that employees must to a large extent be involved in making suggestions and contributing their ideas to the project. This practice encourages staff to be committed to its implementation.

How would the Document be controlled?

The company needs to agree on the process of reviewing, updating and communicating changes on the manual, as well as who reviews and approves.

How should the SOP be written?

SOPs should be written in a concise, step-by-step, easy-to-read format. The information presented should be unambiguous and not complicated; use a flow chart to illustrate the process being described.

WRITING THE OPERATING MANUAL

Step 1 - Determine the Project Goal: Ask yourself, what is the objective for writing this SOP?  Are you merely documenting an existing process so it can be executed uniformly?  Are you trying to optimize the performance of an existing process?  Do you have a new piece of equipment whose use needs to be documented?  Once this is determined, use this objective to drive all aspects of the SOP creation. 

Step 2 - Pre-Project Evaluation: Evaluate and review all existing materials, processes, procedures or documents necessary for the task.

Step 3 - Map-Out your Core-Processes: Carry out a process map of your top-level processes. Most companies' processes are streamlined into Primary or Essential Process - processes that provide value directly to the customer, Support Processes - processes that support the primary process; these have no direct contact with the customer, Management Process - processes that co-ordinate the primary and support processes; this takes on the responsibility for measuring, monitoring and controlling.

Step 4 - Define your Core Processes:  Define each core business process and its activities. Think top level once again. For example, in the sales process, how are your orders converted into a shipped product? Orders are received, entered, picked, packed, shipped, and invoiced.

Step 5 - Document your Processes/Procedure: Document each operation from start to finish in other to have a procedure. Let's take the sales process. How do your sales orders arrive, who takes them, how often, under what criteria, who touches the order next, what do they do, and so on?? Just follow the sales order through your system and define each step. You are well on your way to writing standard operating procedures and your SOP manual is gradually building.

Step 6 - Implement your Records: Determine the required records, forms, and management metrics. Do you have a standard order form, confirmation checklist, pick sheet, or invoice? We need to know what forms are used, where they are located, and who maintains them in case we run out and have to get more; identify core metrics for each activity, the transaction volume, and timing.

Step 7 - Draft your SOP: With all the information gathered in the previous steps, draft an initial version of the SOP. Ensure to fill in your acronyms, run a spelling and grammar check; check the document to ensure correctness of the header and footer.

An SOP usually has the following:

  • Purpose - The purpose statement describes the rationale and intent of the document.
  • Scope - The scope statement identifies who and what the SOP governs.  It is also important to note those items which are out of scope to provide 100% clarity. Be sure to keep your purpose and scope separate and distinct.
  • Responsibilities - List all the actors required to complete the process defined in the SOP.  If you find yourself with a large list of actors, consider narrowing the scope of your SOP and create smaller, related SOPs or work instructions.
  • References -  List all documents related to the SOP as clearly as possibly.  This could include governing policies, work instructions, forms, standards or other documents.  If you are referencing internal documents, include the document number and revision.  If your references are external, include the URL.
  • Assumptions/Precautions/Warning - List any assumptions made in the drafting or execution of the procedures as well as any precautions or warnings to the user.
  • Materials & Equipment - List any of the materials the user will need to complete the procedure as well as any equipment needed.

Step 8 - Review your draft SOP: Do a review of the draft and allow other members of staff, especially those who are process owners or users in the particular process, to read and critique it. The feedback provided would form a basis for necessary corrections and updating.

Step 9 - Perform a dry run of the SOP: After your reviews are complete, perform a dry run of the activity the SOP governs.  Try to simulate as close to a real world scenario as possible.  This will facilitate the identification of any gaps in your SOP which will require updates to capture the full process.

Verify that your SOP is a manageable size.  If it becomes too large, consider splitting it into two supporting SOPs or create separate work instructions and forms to support it.  One way to ensure your SOP is sized properly is to think about it from a training standpoint.  Ask yourself: Will my trainees need to train on this entire document or just portions?  If a large portion of your trainees are only training to a section of the document, that may be a good time to split that portion of the document off into a separate SOP.

If there are major changes to your SOP as a result of the dry run, consider conducting another set of reviews prior to sending the document out for approval.

Step 10 - Compile and Combine into SOP Manual for Approval: After making necessary corrections from the draft, you can now put together your manual, ensuring all comments and changes have been effected. If the document is rejected, make the appropriate changes and be sure to get all approvals again.  If people had previously approved, they will need to approve again.

Step 11 - Distribution of final SOP Manual: This involves making copies for distribution to employees in the organization for the purpose of implementation. This should be followed up with regular sensitization and training.

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