When it comes to be being successful in business, consistency is one of the driving factors. Companies that can consistently produce quality products that customers depend on will find greater success than those that haphazardly meander through their production processes.

What is a Standard Operating Procedure?

As Arbour Group explains, “A Standard Operating Procedure, or SOP, is a set of step-by-step instructions compiled by an organization to help workers carry out routine operations in a clear and consistent manner. Consistency is particularly important in a regulated environment so as to ensure outcomes that can be relied upon in the long term.”

SOPs are used in several industries, though they differ from company to company. For example, Arbour Group consults with clients in the life sciences field where companies are expected to produce products that meet very specific, predetermined specs throughout their supply chains. This means standard procedures must be put in place to reduce errors and ensure product quality that meets industry requirements.

SOPs are useful for many reasons, but their primary benefits include:

  • Consistency in output. A small business that’s just getting up and running can deal with some inconsistencies here and there. But when it comes to a large, established organization, consistency isn’t something to be taken for granted. A lack can lead to customer attrition and even lawsuits. SOPs establish systems for achieving greater consistency in output.
  • Time and money savings. “When the same task is completed in many different ways, it will always take longer to complete. Having a standard operating procedure in place streamlines the process so employees can accomplish more in less time,” project manager Jamie Johnson writes. And wherever there is time savings, there are also cost savings. SOP’s yield businesses both.
  • Enhanced communication. When there are standards in place for how processes are handled, there’s less internal friction. Employees know what’s expected of them and there’s rarely confusion over who does what or how a particular task is accomplished.
  • Lower risk. When it’s all said and done, SOPs are about reducing business risk. Standard procedures provide a greater sense of control, which benefits all parties involved.

Some businesses are required—either by state governments or regulatory boards – to establish certain SOPs. Other organizations are not. However, even for those that fall into the latter category, there’s significant value in establishing procedures so that some of the benefits above may be realized.

Tips for Writing Standard Operating Procedures

As with most areas of business strategy, there’s some room for interpretation in how you create standard operating procedures. Here are some suggestions to get your wheels turning:

Compile a List of Business Processes

Start by developing a comprehensive list of all the business processes that need to be standardized within your company. It may be helpful to approach this challenge by walking your way through the supply chain from start to finish. Other companies find it easier to take a department by department angle. Feel free use any method you want, so long as you don’t have processes slipping through the cracks.

Choose a Format

When it comes to writing out SOPs, you’ll have to think about formatting. If you’re required by some a board or governing body to develop SOPs, ask if there’s a certain SOP framework they need. ISO 9001 standards are quite common, for example. If you’re doing it on your own, then feel free to find any template that suits your personal preferences.

Involve Multiple Parties

It’s unwise to develop SOPs without the input of the people who will be carrying them out. During the brainstorming process, meet with employees and develop cross-functional teams to help you sort through the details.

Document and Review

Finally, it’s time to write the processes out. Be as detailed as possible, while still be concise and straight to the point. For best results, have your SOPs reviewed by a third party.

Don’t Fall Behind

Standard operating procedures are immensely valuable for businesses that need to promote efficiency and ensure consistency. Whether you’re required to or not, you should consider establishing your own SOPs to save your business money and lower risk. An investment in this area of your business won’t be returned empty-handed.

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Jenna Cyprus is a freelance writer and business consultant who covers business, technology, and entrepreneurship. She's lectured for several universities, and worked with over 100 businesses over the course of the last 15 years. She's a mother of two kids, and loves to go camping, hiking, and skiing with her family.

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