How To Write The Best SOPs With Examples [+ Free Template]

Download Now: Free SOP Template
Kayla Carmicheal
Kayla Carmicheal



When you equip your team with SOPs, you transform routine tasks into seamless performances. Your employees have clear instructions to better perform routine functions, leading to enhanced communication, reduced errors, and flawless task execution.

group of people writing a standard operating procedure in an office conference room

But how do you create solid SOPs that gets the job done, and then some? Read on as we explain the basics of SOPs and guide you through the writing process. Plus, discover our top picks for templates and software tools for creating and executing SOPs.

Download Now: Free SOP Template

What should an SOP include?

Every effective SOP has certain crucial components — each necessary to make it effective and easy to follow.

Let's discuss them in detail.

1. Title

The SOP should start with a clear, descriptive title that immediately tells the users what it's about.

2. Purpose and scope

This section briefly explains why the SOP exists, who the SOP is for, and what it covers.

Be specific about the tasks and processes it addresses. Think: What goal does it achieve? Is it for a certain department or the entire organization? This helps employees understand its importance and relevance to their work.

3. Roles and responsibilities

This information is placed near the top of the document for identification purposes, including any relevant ID numbers, department names, and necessary signatures.

You should also list the roles involved in the procedure and what each role is responsible for. This clarifies who needs to do what and helps avoid any confusion or conflict regarding responsibilities.

4. Definitions

If necessary, include definitions of jargon that the reader should know before they begin.

5. Materials and equipment

Include a list of any tools, equipment, or materials needed to complete the task. This way, users will have everything they need before starting, minimizing delays.

6. Procedure

The format of the procedure section will vary depending on the complexity of the process.

You may need to add sub-steps if the user must decide between two or more steps at a given point. Make sure each step is easy to follow:

  • Start with an action verb and be precise.
  • Include any necessary details or sub-steps.
  • Continue in logical order until the process is complete.

7. Visual aids

Use images, diagrams, or screenshots to illustrate the steps. Visual aids can make complex processes easier to understand and follow.

Like this:

Visual SOP showing how to manage job listings

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8. Safety and compliance

Highlight any safety precautions or regulatory requirements. Make sure employees are aware of any hazards, along with what needs to be done to handle them safely.

9. Troubleshooting

Provide solutions for common problems that might arise during the procedure. This section can save time and reduce frustration by helping employees quickly resolve issues.

10. Approval and revision

Include a section for approvals, noting who has reviewed and approved the SOP. Also, add a revision history to track updates and changes over time. This ensures the SOP remains current and accurate.

11. Contact information

Offer contact details for someone who can answer questions or provide further guidance. This ensures employees know where to turn if they need help.

Simplify SOP creation with a standard operating procedure template

A standard operating procedure template gives you a clear, organized format to follow. This makes the process of creating SOPs faster.

HubSpot's Free SOP Template, for instance, outlines tasks and processes for your team. It includes sections like purpose, scope, procedures, and responsibilities. You can customize it with your company logo and add charts or diagrams in the appendix.

This user-friendly template makes sure your SOPs are comprehensive and easy to understand.Screenshot 2024-06-13 at 12-50-26 PM

                             Get Your Free SOP Template Here

Step 1: Identify and prioritize processes and objectives

To start, understand why you‘re creating an SOP and what it will accomplish. Evaluate if it’s necessary to achieve your goal by asking:

  • How can the SOP improve efficiency and teamwork? Consider current bottlenecks and how clear, well-documented steps could streamline operations.
  • What will customer service look like with everyone following the SOP? Reflect on the potential improvements in customer satisfaction when your team follows the standardized procedures.
  • How will the SOP boost the company’s bottom line? Think about how consistent processes can lead to cost savings, better resource allocation, and increased productivity.

Identify workflow issues and list departments that would benefit from SOPs, such as finance, legal, HR, customer service, and IT. Then, within each department, pinpoint critical tasks to be performed accurately to avoid issues.

For instance:

  • Finance: Budgeting, financial reporting, payroll
  • Legal: Contract review, compliance audits
  • HR: Recruitment, onboarding, evaluations
  • Customer service: Inquiry responses, complaint handling
  • IT: Software installation, network maintenance

Document each process with its name, department, purpose, and key steps. For example, in Public Relations, the process of writing press releases should include steps like researching the event, drafting the release, reviewing it, getting approval, and distributing it.

This ensures your SOPs are comprehensive and targeted at improving critical areas.

We also recommend holding brainstorming sessions with team members to capture all relevant tasks and finalize SOP objectives.

Step 2: Define the end-user

Next, identify who will be using the SOP.

While various individuals might be involved in its creation, the actual content will be followed by a select group or department. For example, if you’re defining an SOP for handling customer service requests, your customer service reps would be the primary users.

Tailor the SOP to be useful to these individuals by remaining laser-focused on their actual duties. Ensure the steps align with their day-to-day responsibilities and use simple language and terminology to avoid confusion.

While clarifying terms that might be unfamiliar is recommended, avoid over-explaining well-known processes.

Step 3: Determine the stakeholders and creators

Definition of a stakeholder

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Assemble and involve key individuals who will engage with or be affected by the SOP. Create a list of all possible stakeholders, along with their respective roles, including:

  • C-level executives: Focus on creating lean operations and achieving high-level business goals.
  • Management leaders: Develop best practices and create plans for SOP implementation.
  • Ground-level employees: Judge the feasibility of the SOP in terms of logistics and resource consumption.

Don’t forget your customers. While SOPs mainly address internal processes, these operations can significantly impact the customer experience. Keep your audience in mind and design an SOP that streamlines internal processes and enhances client satisfaction.

Step 4: Determine the scope and format

Consider who will use the SOP, the necessary equipment or materials, and any other relevant factors affecting the task or process.

Then, select the most suitable format for your SOP. Depending on the procedures being documented, choose the most effective format to communicate the desired information.

Here are some common options:

  • Step-by-step written list: Ideal for simple, straightforward tasks.
  • Hierarchical list: Useful for complex procedures with many steps and decision points.
  • Flowchart: Great for processes with multiple outcomes.
  • Simple checklist: Perfect for tasks that need to be repeated consistently.
  • Video: Effective for visual learners and demonstrations.
  • Interactive course: Engaging and comprehensive for detailed training.

The best course of action is to choose the simplest format necessary for the circumstance at hand. For straightforward tasks, a step-by-step list is enough. For more complex processes, a flowchart may be needed.

Step 5: Gather information

To create a comprehensive SOP, you need relevant information and insights.

Here's how to go about it: Start by researching the task or process, looking for industry guidelines, best practices, and any pertinent policies or procedures. You can also consult subject matter experts to gather input from individuals with expertise in the task or process.

Review existing policies and procedures to incorporate relevant information from current documents. If possible, observe the task or process being performed to understand the steps involved and identify any challenges or issues.

Step 6: Outline and write the SOP

Once you have your objectives, stakeholders, and format, plan the document as a whole and create a detailed outline.

Here’s a breakdown of the essential components:

Title page

Include the title of the SOP, its unique identification number, the creation/edit date, the department responsible for implementation, and the names and titles of the creators.

Table of contents

If the document is lengthy (two pages or more), add a table of contents to help users find information easily.

Preparatory information

Add additional headers providing specific information so your team can follow the upcoming SOP. This includes ‘Purpose,’ ‘Roles and responsibilities,’ and ‘Materials and equipment,’ as discussed before. We also recommend laying out the necessary safety precautions or regulatory requirements.

Methodology and procedures

This is the core of the SOP. Write detailed, step-by-step instructions using the chosen format. Be as detailed as necessary to eliminate ambiguity and ensure clarity. Use diagrams, illustrations, or other visual aids to supplement the text.

Quality control and assurance

Include documentation that allows team members to assess their performance, such as anecdotes illustrating best practices, rubrics or performance measurement tools, and samples of past performance evaluations.

References and glossary

Provide explanations for terms, acronyms, and references to other documents or resources for further information. This allows you to maintain a singular focus within the current SOP document and the end-user to explore topics in more detail if needed.

Step 7: Proofread, test, and revise

An SOP, like any good document, requires multiple drafts and revisions.

Start by carefully proofreading for grammatical and technical errors. Create a test group to implement the SOP in a controlled environment, gather feedback, and revise accordingly. Repeat this process until the SOP is flawless.

Step 8: Implement and regularly update

Your SOPs should be updated at least once a year to reflect your organization's needs and provide employees with the most current information. Establish a regular review schedule to ensure continuous improvement.

Below are some tips to keep SOPs relevant and effective.

  • Regularly review and update: Set up regular intervals to assess the SOP’s effectiveness and make necessary updates.
  • Encourage feedback: Create a culture where team members feel comfortable providing feedback on the SOP’s practicality and effectiveness.
  • Adapt to changes: Stay responsive to external factors like legislative changes, technological advancements, and shifts in consumer needs.

SOP examples

Step-by-step SOP

Step-by-step standard SOPs are detailed guides that outline the exact sequence of actions needed to complete a task. Each step is listed in order, making it easy to follow and ensuring consistency and accuracy in performing the task.

SOP outlining the steps for onboarding new employees

SOP flowcharts

An SOP flowchart maps out the steps of a specific process in a clear, logical sequence. It helps users quickly understand the flow of tasks and decision points, making the procedure easier to follow.

Flowchart demonstrating how to write a blog post

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SOP checklist

An SOP checklist is a simple list of tasks that need to be completed as part of a standard operating procedure. It ensures that every step is followed correctly and nothing is overlooked, making processes consistent and efficient.

A checklist outlining the necessary steps to report software bugs

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Benefits of standard operating procedures in business

Still wondering whether SOPs are a worthy cause? Check out their potential benefits for your business.

  • Consistency: SOPs ensure that tasks are done the same way every time, which keeps quality high and errors low. With everyone on the same page, your products or services consistently hit the mark.
  • Efficiency: Clear instructions help both new hires and seasoned employees complete tasks quickly and accurately. This boost in efficiency has a twofold effect on business operations: one, it saves time, and two, it cuts costs.
  • Compliance: In regulated industries, SOPs help ensure tasks are done in compliance with laws and regulations, reducing the risk of legal issues and fines.
  • Safety: SOPs outline the right way to perform tasks, which helps prevent accidents and ensures everyone stays safe. This is especially important in fields like manufacturing, healthcare, and construction.
  • Accountability: SOPs clearly define who is responsible for each task, making it easier to hold people accountable and ensuring tasks are completed correctly and on time.
  • Customer satisfaction: Happy customers are the best customers. SOPs help deliver consistent, high-quality products and services, giving customers the great experience they expect every time. This consistency fosters repeat business and positive word-of-mouth.

Write SOPs that rock

SOPs are fundamental to making internal processes run smoothly. They save time, help familiarize new employees with your processes, and keep experienced employees up-to-speed when your processes change. It's worth putting in the time to make them clear, readable, and actionable.

For more free inspiration, check out HubSpot’s easy-to-use template.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2021 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Topics: iPaas

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