What is an Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?

How long have humans needed to organize around vital goals? Since Ug told Lug, "Don't worry! When the mastodon charges, we'll be right behind you!" Lug asked for that in writing on the cave wall, and history's first standard operating procedure was published. Standard operating procedures are commonly referred to by their acronym "SOP."

Simply put, a standard operating procedure is a written description of a process. The process is commonly performed and critical to an enterprise's operation, quality, safety, or security. Standard operating procedures guide users to follow the same best-practice rules. They codify who does what and how decisions are made. As a result, standard operating procedures provide consistency, reduce errors, support communication, and help enterprises move ahead.

SOPs can be broadly categorized by purpose. For example, methodic SOPs describe testing systems or investigation methods. Other purposes include definition of safety precautions, analytical methods, and quality assurance. In regulated industries, standard operating procedures can provide important evidence of compliance.

Writing a standard operating procedure should be a team effort. The people who perform a process day-to-day are the real experts on it. What is more, they are likely to brainstorm improvements. Many times, I have talked through SOPs with users who have said something like, "Here's how we've always done things … but now that I think about it, we can make it better."

Involving the people who will use it helps to define the process and uncover improvements while you write an SOP. The collaboration also helps with future buy-in. No discussion of SOPs is complete without hammering home the point that they must be used. That's why we want collaborative, currant, and accurate SOPs that actually make people's jobs easier.

You might find a young start-up that's laser-focused on survival winging process management without SOPs, but it is rare. Standard operating procedures are ubiquitous and have, themselves, become standardized over time. You can expect to find something like the following sections in most:

  • and RECORDS

There are plenty of standard operating procedure templates online. I will talk more about templates in later blogs.

While standard operating procedure layout may be stable, automation is revolutionizing SOP management. SOPs are going nextgen. It's about time, because SOP management has hardly changed between the days of Lug and a now. As Keeni Space co-founders can tell you, some companies still use paper SOPs to guide rocket launches. That is almost like drawing on a cave wall, except paper's easier to carry around.

I'll tell you more about automated standard operating procedures in future blogs. Before that, I want to cover SOP basics in more detail. I will show you how to write a standard operating procedure, and how to use templates and checklists. Then, we will look at standard operating procedure examples before delving into automation.

If you have questions, I would be happy to hear from you.