Once you’ve decided on key areas where your company needs standard operating procedures, it’s time to write them. While this seems simple enough, once you start writing, you’ll see that these procedures can be quite complex. A bit of planning beforehand makes writing your SOPs much easier.
Linear vs. Parallel Tasks
All of the tasks that your SOPs outline should be divided into two categories: linear and parallel tasks. Linear tasks are those that need to be followed in order; first, you do Step A and then Step B, and so on. An example would be negotiating with a client and then invoicing them for the job. Negotiations need to be finished before you can submit an invoice.
Parallel tasks, on the other hand, are those that can be done simultaneously. An example of two parallel tasks would be editing a book while the graphics are being created. They can be done at the same time independently of each other.
Grouping by Skillset
Take all of your tasks and put them into categories by skillset, not by employee position or title. The tasks that are currently being handled by one person may in the future be handled by many people, and vice versa. For example, if you have a content writer who also edits your webinars, these are two different skillsets, even though right now they are handled by one person. Create skillsets that are as narrowly defined as possible.
Start by breaking down each task into the smallest steps possible. Describe each step in as much detail as possible using simple words. Read back over your steps and imagine you know nothing about the company, or ask someone else to read over what you’ve written and check for how easily it can be understood.
Here is a basic template for writing SOPs:
• Introduction and Overview. What is the task? What is its goal? What access or tools are required to complete the task?
• Procedure. Detailed steps to complete the process.
• Administrative Information. Who is responsible for reviewing and updating this SOP? When was it last reviewed and updated?
It’s a good idea to add a Frequently Asked Questions section as well in case the SOP hasn’t explained every question on the reader’s mind.
It’s often a good idea to add another format to the text. A few good formats include:
• Graphic Images. Graphic images always help to explain the text more clearly by providing an illustration.
• Flowcharts. Flowcharts are especially good for complex tasks that require many decisions or troubleshooting.
• Hierarchy Steps. Hierarchy steps help employee by establishing priority. The conditions at the bottom of the hierarchy must be met first before they can move up toward the top.
Your SOPs should also be organized using a visual index system. For example, use different colored folders for different task categories or departments.
An Ongoing Process
SOPs need to be reviewed periodically. They should be reviewed at least once a year, but more often is better. After you implement your SOPs, weaknesses will emerge that you can improve. You should also seek feedback from employees for making improvements. A system for reviewing and updating SOPs needs to be put in place.
Outsourcing SOP Creation
It’s often difficult to write out detailed instructions for a task that you know extremely well. It may be a good idea to outsource some of your SOP creation. Ask someone to observe your work processes and write the steps for you. You can then review and make any necessary changes.