Standard operating procedures: Expert Perspectives & Strategies

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Standard operating procedures meaning

standard operating procedure (SOP) is a set of instructions that outlines the steps required to complete tasks in compliance with industry regulations, provincial laws, or internal standards for operating a business. Any document that provides instructions on how to perform a task can be classified as a procedure. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are also essential components of business success, providing employees with clear guidelines for executing tasks and ensuring quality control, efficiency, and compliance. 

In this article, we explore expert commentary, unique angles, and innovative strategies to help you master the process of creating effective standard operating procedures while also incorporating the latest industry developments to drive organizational success.

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Standard operating procedures format

You can divide the best standard operating procedures into three distinct formats: sequential, hierarchical, and flowcharts. Depending on the complexity of a business process, some varieties are better adapted than others. Let’s examine the list of standard operating procedures in depth.

Step-by-Step SOP

First on the list of standard operating procedures format is the step-by-step SOP, which is optimal for less complex procedures. This format divides a procedure into a numbered list with detailed instructions for each step.

The following is an example of a step-by-step SOP for processing credit card payments over the phone:

Accept the client’s order, Request personal and credit card details verify the total price, including taxes and shipping, and enter the payment details into the virtual terminal. Provide the customer with a receipt, Configure a delivery confirmation, and save transaction information. 

Detailed standard operating procedures should be easy to understand and follow without direct supervision for a new employee.

Hierarchical SOP

The second in the list of standard operating procedures format is Hierarchical SOP. When it comes to deconstructing business procedures, a hierarchical standard operating procedure format takes a bottom-up approach.

It addresses the following issues:


Specifies the boundaries of an SOP, including what is covered and what is not covered by it. This explains the “why” of a procedure.


Describe a process in detail, including the procedures needed to finish it and the people whose responsibilities it involves. This is the “what” and “who” of a process.


Gives more advice on how to meet high standards. The “how” of a process is presented here.


A record-keeping system is established to guarantee compliance with corporate rules as well as industry laws.

The hierarchical standard operating procedure format is best suited for complicated procedures that require a significant number of stages, such as the onboarding of new customers and the maintenance of equipment.

Flowchart SOP

The third in the list of standard operating procedure formats is a flowchart standard operating procedure format. A flowchart in standard operating procedure format is a schematic that graphically lays out a procedure from the beginning to the end. A hierarchical standard operating procedure format is a strategy that works from the top down to dissect business operations.

For procedures that include several situations, a flowchart in the standard operating procedure (SOPformat could be the best option. 

Consider, for instance, a workflow for the approval of invoices as an example. It would not be the most efficient use of their time to have a senior executive look through each one, and doing so may potentially cause a backlog of work. 

The flowchart helps you create conditional logic. In the preceding illustration, we have a regulation that stipulates that invoices are only sent to a senior executive for evaluation if their total amount is more than $10,000. The presence of situations of this sort enables you to develop more effective processes.

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The crucial aspect of creating SOPs

The development of standard operating procedures, often known as SOPs, is an essential step in the process of streamlining an organization’s operations to make them more efficient and effective. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages that your organization may get from the development of standard operating procedure documentation.

Establishing a Clear and Consistent Structure

A cornerstone of crafting excellent SOPs is developing a clear, consistent structure for each document. By using a uniform format and language, employees can easily understand and follow the procedures, reducing the likelihood of errors and fostering an environment of consistency and efficiency.

Visual tools

Visual aids, such as flowcharts, diagrams, and illustrations, can significantly enhance the clarity and effectiveness of SOPs. These visual elements enable employees to comprehend complex workflows and process hierarchies more efficiently, leading to better adherence to established protocols and overall quality control.

Tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

One innovative strategy is to adopt a metrics-driven approach to developing and refining your SOPs. By consistently tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) related to your processes, you can identify areas of inefficiency, bottlenecks, and potential risks, allowing you to continually improve your procedures and mitigate risk proactively.

Ensuring compliance with industry regulations

Another crucial aspect of creating SOPs is ensuring compliance with industry regulations and best practices. Keeping up-to-date with evolving standards, certifications, and legal requirements to ensure that your procedures remain relevant, safe, and compliant can have a substantial impact on your organization’s reputation and credibility.

Improving Accessibility and Remote Work Capabilities

With the rapid advancements in technology and industry innovations, staying informed about the latest trends and developments in process documentation is essential. For example, digital document management systems have revolutionized the way organizations create, store, and share SOPs. By leveraging such platforms, you can streamline document management, version control, and collaboration among employees, resulting in improved efficiency and a more agile workforce.

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How to write an effective Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

There is no formal guideline that will instruct you on how to develop a standard operating procedure (SOP). However, there are certain actions that you can take that will assist you in organizing your ideas and planning the most efficient way to standardize your operations. These steps may be found in the following sentence:

Determine the parameters of the study.

Before beginning work on any standard operating procedure (SOP) document, explicitly identify the scope of the document. Your SOP must be straightforward and able to tackle a certain issue. For instance, the paper with the heading “Employee onboarding.” Its purpose is immediately apparent just from reading the title. The document’s coverage of this title should be limited to just the most important facts.

Collect the necessary data.

After the scope has been determined, the following stage is to gather as much data as is practical. The majority of the time, a document containing standard operating procedures is crafted to simplify ongoing work. Once you have all of the data, it will be simple to organize it in a structured fashion. This will ensure that you are aware of precisely how that is done at the moment.

Choose the format

Determine which format will work best for the subject matter. The vast majority of situations will either involve recording the procedure in a document (such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word) or using a checklist.

Finalize the draft

At this point, you have everything you need to finish the initial draft of the SOP.

Review with stakeholders

To ensure success with that particular SOP, it is essential to get support from all of the relevant stakeholders. If we continue with the same scenario, “Employee onboarding,” we can find that other teams and departments are participating in the process, such as your recruitment team, your HR team, your IT assets team, and your facilities team.


After obtaining consent from all of the parties involved in the specific SOP document, you will be able to publish it in a consolidated internal knowledge base that is open to everyone once they have given their permission. 


It is necessary to aggressively promote the content of the standard operating procedure document to all of the stakeholders. It is not always sufficient to generate the SOP document and put it in a single repository. One of the most significant difficulties associated with SOP is that the SOP papers are frequently ignored, which defeats the system’s primary goal.

Review and Amend

This is rather typical. Most businesses adopt a “don’t fix what ain’t broke” mentality and do not review their procedures after defining them. However, most of the time, there are several advantages to be had by streamlining the procedure. 

Analyze usage metrics

You must first establish the appropriate measurements. Something that cannot be measured cannot be improved. You must continually monitor how the public SOP papers have been modified. Imagine putting so much time and work into creating an SOP document, only to discover after three or six months that no one is utilizing it.

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Benefits of Hiring Technical Writers for Crafting SOPs

The decision to hire technical writers to craft SOPs is another crucial factor to consider. Experienced technical writers possess the necessary skills and knowledge to develop accurate, concise, and user-friendly process documentation, ensuring that your SOPs are both effective and compliant with industry standards.

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In conclusion,

Writing exceptional standard operating procedures involves balancing multiple factors, including clarity, consistency, compliance, and the incorporation of visual aids. By staying informed about the latest industry innovations and adopting a metrics-driven approach to continuous improvement, you can elevate your SOPs to new heights. By doing so you’ll pave the way for increased efficiency, quality control, and overall organizational success.

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Advocate Rahul Dev is a Patent Attorney & International Business Lawyer practicing Technology, Intellectual Property & Corporate Laws. He is reachable at rd (at) patentbusinesslawyer (dot) com & @rdpatentlawyer on Twitter.

Quoted in and contributed to 50+ national & international publications (Bloomberg, FirstPost, SwissInfo, Outlook Money, Yahoo News, Times of India, Economic Times, Business Standard, Quartz, Global Legal Post, International Bar Association, LawAsia, BioSpectrum Asia, Digital News Asia, e27, Leaders Speak, Entrepreneur India, VCCircle, AutoTech).

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