If you want to maximise the consistency of your business operations then a SOP checklist is a great place to start. An SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) checklist helps to break down complex processes that are part of your business activity into easy-to-understand steps. This is vital for ensuring compliance and precision across your teams.
This article will explain how you can use a Standard Operating Procedure checklist to boost your business. We highlight the purpose and benefits of an SOP checklist and provide a helpful structure you can follow. We also include some advice on how to create standard operating procedures as well as how you can review and update an SOP.
- The purpose of standard operating procedures
- Creating an SOP checklist
- Template for standard operating procedure checklist
- Formatting and structure of an SOP checklist
- Reviewing an SOP checklist
The purpose of standard operating procedures
You may be wondering, ‘What is an SOP?’ Aside from being an acronym for Standard Operating Procedure, an SOP document serves as an official record of how processes within your organisation are to be completed. They provide details about the responsibilities and actions to be taken when completing a complex business process.
The main purpose of an SOP checklist is to ensure that all procedures and tasks in your business follow a standardised set of steps. (Learn how to write an SOP here.) By breaking down complex operations into smaller more manageable steps, your actions as a business will be much more consistent. SOPs are also a crucial element in making sure that your work retains its quality and complies with industry regulations.
Creating an SOP checklist
Before you start writing an SOP checklist, there are a few things you need to consider. Firstly, you need to determine the processes in your organisation that require an SOP.
You also need to gather input from stakeholders and your team to make sure that you are targeting the right processes and including the necessary steps. Then you’ll need to break down the process into smaller tasks and ensure that the critical steps are highlighted.
Identify key processes
Before you can start creating an SOP checklist, you first need to identify the processes that require a Standard Operating Procedure document. Complex processes involving various steps and stakeholders are ideal candidates for an SOP as this will ensure consistency.
Likewise, processes that are repeated regularly as part of your business operations should have a robust SOP that will streamline workflows and maintain standards.
There are a variety of processes within a business that can benefit from a robust SOP checklist. Some examples include:
- Inventory management
- Customer service procedures
- Financial reporting
- Health & safety protocols
- Quality control
- Employee onboarding
- Standard property appearance
A Standard Operating Procedure should be used by all those within your organisation to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Because of this, it is very important that you create an SOP collaboratively with feedback from your team members and stakeholders. This also fosters a greater sense of communication across your business which will improve your quality of service.
When gathering input from your team you should speak to those who are directly involved in the execution of the task as well as those who have specific expertise. They will be the most informed when it comes to identifying necessary steps and key responsibilities. You can also ask them to attempt the process while using your SOP checklist, as this will aid in establishing areas for improvement.
You can also gather insight from relevant stakeholders to ensure that your SOP has broader coverage. They can ensure that the SOP covers crucial details, bridging the gap between theoretical procedures and the practical execution of actions.
Break down the steps
The hardest part of writing an SOP is breaking down complex processes into smaller steps. Before you do this you must ensure that you have a good understanding of the process you are attempting to document. You can then begin by identifying the starting point of the procedure, such as a specific scenario or action which initiates the process.
Then, list the major steps that make up the process. These are the high-level actions that are required for successful completion. Keep these broad to start with as you will be breaking these down further.
Once you have the major steps established, you can determine the smaller, more detailed tasks that make up these actions. This is where you can start providing more information and convey exactly what needs to be done. Make sure that these smaller steps are specific and sequential, as this will make them much easier to follow.
Now that you have a working checklist for your SOP, you need to make sure that the critical steps are prioritised. You can do this by making these steps stand out in the document or utilising a scheme to indicate their importance, such as colours or numbers. This will ensure that the key aspects of the process are not skipped over and can enhance the user experience.
Template for a standard operating procedure checklist
To help you create your SOP checklist, we’ve included a helpful Standard Operating Procedure template that you can use as a starting point. This Standard Operating Procedure template should function as a guide only, your own processes may require additional steps or considerations. Fortunately, you can find a variety of other SOP templates online as well as examples of SOP documents.
Procedure title - Name the procedure and provide details about what its purpose is.
Date - By including the date that the SOP was created you can establish if it has become obsolete and set a time to review the procedure.
Department - Provide details about who the SOP applies to and who will be using it.
Purpose statement - Your purpose statement should be brief but informative. It needs to give reasoning for the process. This is where you should answer questions like why, what and how.
Regulation standards - This is only applicable if the process is subject to certain regulations. However, this must be clearly stated to ensure compliance.
Responsibilities - Here you should outline the specific responsibilities of those involved in executing the process. This ensures that your team is held accountable and understands what is expected of them while executing the task.
Goals and objectives - To help those using the SOP, include some objectives to provide more context about the process. Outline the goals of the SOP, what is it aiming to achieve and what problems is it going to solve.
Terminology - This section of the SOP document should be used to define any jargon or acronyms that will be used throughout the procedure. This will improve the users' understanding and is helpful when onboarding new hires as it gives them context for the information outlined. Make sure that your definitions are simple and concise, they should inform the reader not confuse them.
Instructions - The main bulk of your SOP should include step-by-step instructions for the procedure. Make sure every step is well described and use action verbs to ensure accurate comprehension. You may also want to include work instructions for specific tasks within the procedure that provide more clarity.
Equipment - If specific tools, software or equipment is required for the successful completion of the procedure, make sure to include these. You should also detail how the equipment is to be used in the tasks and list any relevant standards for their use.
Health & safety - If the tasks require specialist equipment or have associated risks, make sure that these are clearly stated. You should detail any necessary safety equipment or training needed to execute the tasks and point out any potential hazards. Make sure these stand out in the SOP document to avoid any safety mishaps.
Contingencies - To make your SOP checklist even more efficient, you can include contingencies that can be put in place should an obstacle arise. This can be as simple as stating ‘If x occurs, do y’ or you can offer specific instructions for troubleshooting.
Fail points - Finally, you should highlight any steps or aspects of the task that could go wrong. This is where you should detail anything that could interfere with the successful completion of the procedure. By having a concise list of fail points, users will be able to review their work and will know which steps of the process require more attention.
Formatting and structure of an SOP checklist
Now that you have a good understanding of what a standard operating procedure should look like, we are going to expand on how you can format and structure your SOP to make it more effective. A dynamic and visually appealing SOP is more likely to engage the user and result in the successful completion of the outlined process.
Clear and concise language
One of the most important things to consider when making an SOP is the language you use. Long-winded descriptions with sophisticated words may look more professional, but they can hinder the execution of the tasks outlined in the SOP. The best way to avoid this is by keeping each item on the checklist clear and concise.
Even if you’re an expert on the task you’re explaining, try to pretend that the person following your steps has no prior knowledge of the process. Simplifying the language and terms used while writing SOPs will avoid any ambiguity in the instructions. This will reduce the chances of misinterpretation which could impact your operations and business.
Organising the steps of the process in a logical sequence ensures that the task can be completed without errors or obstacles. Be sure to consult with those who are immediately involved in the execution of the task to establish the correct sequence for its completion. They will know the most efficient way to complete a series of tasks, which will make the SOP much more comprehensive.
By formatting your Standard Operating Procedure as a checklist, you make the steps much easier to follow and the work will flow smoothly. Likewise, a checklist format is a great way to inspire your team, as finishing each step will provide a sense of accomplishment when they are executing tasks. This will help them feel more engaged with their work and will make the procedure more habitual.
Use of visual aids
A great way to ensure those using your SOP have a clear understanding of their required tasks is to use visual aids alongside instructions. This can take the form of diagrams or flowcharts and will give more context about how the process should be completed. Using imagery can simplify complex processes and make explaining the necessary steps much easier.
Visual aids in an SOP can enhance the users' understanding and also make the document easier to consume. They will break up the checklist and provide a helpful reference for executing tasks. One of the best ways to include visual aids is by using Standard Operating Procedure software which will make the document more dynamic and personal to your brand.
Reviewing an SOP checklist
Once you’ve created an SOP document you may think the job is done, but SOPs require consistent updates. No matter what industry you work in, there are always going to be innovations and improvements which will change the way you conduct processes within your organisation. To keep up with this changing nature of business, you should regularly audit and adapt your SOP checklist to ensure it is still relevant and effective.
Auditing a SOP checklist
Regularly auditing your Standard Operating Procedure checklist is vital to keeping it efficient and productive. You may come across new software which could vastly improve the time required for task completion or expansions within your business could result in a change of responsibility across your teams.
We suggest that you review any existing SOPs at least once a year and update them accordingly. A good way to do this is by asking for regular feedback from team members that use the SOP more often as well as new starters who may have unique insight. This can help you refine your SOP checklist and cut out unnecessary steps, further enhancing the consistency and usefulness of your Standard Operating Procedure.
This article has covered everything you need to know about Standard Operating Procedure Checklists, from their creation to reviewing them. Overall, it is clear that a checklist is a great way to streamline your workflows and improve the efficiency of your business processes. Plus, a checklist is much more adaptable and suitable for a variety of different procedures, making it ideal for new starters as well as stakeholders.
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