What are Standard Operating Procedure Templates?

How an SOP is Organized

When I was in college, enrolled in a 300-level economics class, I tried my best to immerse myself in the study of resources and decision-making, wealth and scarcity. In truth, everyone in the class was fixated on when the professor might wash his shirt. Every lecture, when he turned to write on the board (Yes, this was a few years back.), a still-crisp price tag fluttered proudly from his right armpit.

We all made it to the end of the semester without the price tag dematerializing, and it could be there to this day. My point being – no one wants to be that professor, the last to know.

If your organization needs to begin documenting procedures, you should know. The symptoms are way more obvious than snickering in the back row:

  • Surprise – when a process doesn't work the same way it did last month.
  • Frustration – when a process doesn't work as well as it did last month!
  • Embarrassment – when you cannot explain your process to a colleague, boss or potential client.
  • Fear – when the stakes are high enough that a botched process could lead to personal injuries.
  • Dread – when you wonder how you can prove your business is compliant with your industry standard.

Standard Operating Procedure Templates

You know that you need to write standard operating procedures (SOPs), but have not started. Carving out time is always a problem. Maybe that problem is compounded by a dislike of writing, or lack of confidence. I have a solution to help all three issues.

Start with a standard operating procedure template.

Experts on a process are the best people to write a standard operating procedure. Being an expert gets you 80% of the way to success. That last 10% of the success is writing, which comes easier to some people than others.

Even the best writers can benefit from the structure that standard operating procedure templates offer. The last thing any SOP writer needs is to waste time muddling over document structure. That wheel has been invented, and you have valuable information to get down!

SOP Template Variations

SOPs guide activities as diverse as running a frozen yogurt franchise to launching powerful operational rockets. Online SOP templates can help you include the sections that your activity especially needs. For example, a research safety template might need a Disposal and Cleanup section, while a rocket launch template needs Pre and Post Launch sections.

Use your favorite search engine to filter the vast internet down to SOP templates for your industry. You are sure to find an abundance of information. For every industry, the internet offers slightly varied templates.

If you are writing standard operating procedures for compliance, be sure to search for templates to help you meet that standard. You can find lots of advice to help with the granddaddy of compliance, the FDA, including some from the FDA, itself, here. You can also find suggested templates for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), here. If you contract to the Department of Defense (DOD), you probably need to become accredited per FedRAMP. That program offers templates here.

I wanted to include ITAR, but it looked like all the links were to competitors. Can you find ITAR template info?

Industry or compliance-specific templates can help you include the sections and standard operating procedure checklists that you need.

Basic SOP Template Structure

Despite the need to add sections for your industry or compliance goals, basic SOP structure remains fairly consistent. Every SOP should provide certain basic information.

Generally, standard operating procedure templates follow a structure similar to this list:

  • Policy – Use this section to tell about the high-level purpose of the SOP. How does it help you meet your quality mission or particular industry standard?
  • Purpose – Give more information about the purpose your SOP serves. For example, it might be used to support the Policy, while reducing reliance on "expert" staff.
  • Scope – Tell what areas of your company are covered by the SOP. As your library of SOPs grows, you will find yourself grouping them by functional area. Different procedures are needed by HR, production, sales, etc.
  • Responsibilities – List the job roles the SOP impacts and what is required in the role. Sometimes employees have broad job descriptions with many potential/occasional responsibilities. Use this section to define pertinent responsibilities.
  • Definitions – Provide terms and their definitions, especially if the terms are unique to your company or new to your readers.
  • Procedure – This the meat of most standard operating procedures. You will almost always find numbered steps here, to make the procedure clear. You also often find graphics that show readers how the procedure flows and where decisions are made. Another really useful feature to include is standard operating procedure checklists.
  • Effectiveness Criteria – This is the section that I most often see neglected. Some processes, such as clinical trials, have clear standards. If you are working with cell viability, you surely have an outcome/endpoint goal. Even in processes with no industry standard, establishing your own success criteria leads to improved operational consistency.
  • Keep records of results when using an SOP. Analysing the results, comparing them to results from past runs or industry benchmarks can allow you to recognize issues of quality, or insights to improve quality and performance.
  • Revisions – Standard operating procedures are always living documents, a work in progress. I guarantee that if an SOP is integral to your business, you will need to update it. Think of that as a good thing, proof of your continuous improvement. The Revision section documents when and why SOP changes are made.