Importance of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

The Cornerstone of Efficiency and Consistency


How many times have we all been here? One individual knows how to go through the entire process (whatever that process may be) and that’s that. The information lives in their head. Sometimes it’s inadvertent and other times it’s intentional. After all, you can’t fire John if he’s the only person that knows how to do this, right?

That’s more on the negative side. Most of the time, it’s just something that people don’t have time to create, or don’t make time to create. They’re busy with other tasks and don’t see the importance of documenting everything.

And then one day, they decide to leave, and the company realizes how much this person actually did. On top of that, nobody else knows how to do their job.

How to Create an SOP?

Creating an SOP isn’t rocket science, but it is rarely done properly. There are too many assumptions that are made and not enough detail is provided. The idea is to record everything. Go for overkill rather than assuming that someone will be able to figure it out.

So where do you begin?

Gather The General Picture

Talk to the individual. Figure out what they do. Most of the time, individuals will not be able to formulate a straightforward SOP. They’re going to start talking about their day. It’s up to you to start picking it apart.

Employee: “I normally come into work and start checking my email. Then, I’ll process orders…”

Me: “Process Orders? What kind of orders are you processing?”

Employee: “The orders that come through the web-portal.”

Me: “Alright, that seems like a good place to start. Let’s look at the web-portal. Besides the grabbing the orders, is there anything else that you do or know how to do in the web-portal?”

Employee: “I just know how to login and process orders.”

Me: “Okay great. Do you know who knows how to navigate the web-portal fully?”

Employee: “That would be Sally.”

Me: “Thanks. I’ll talk to Sally later. For now, let’s go through and record how you process an order.”

Once you record the SOP, talk to the employee again and continue the conversation. What else do they do throughout the day. Each time isolate the task and record the SOP.

In accounts receivable, for example, the A/R representative might state that they process checks. When do they get the checks? Ask them to guide you through the entire process of depositing a check. They may say something like, “I grab the check and add it to Quickbooks for reference and then submit it through the SunTrust portal.” That seems like it’s multiple SOP’s that make up the main SOP.

  • The main SOP is: Depositing a Check
  • The two smaller SOPs are: adding a check to Quickbooks and Depositing a Check through SunTrust.

Creating an SOP

When you fully understand which SOP to create, it’s time to start creating it. Make sure that you write down each step and take a screen shot along with it. Nothing should be left to the imagination.

Employee: “Click the Edit button.”

Me: “What’s the edit button?”

Employee: “It’s this little button in the middle top navigation.”

I’ll record at that point: Click on the edit button at the middle top navigation.”

Me: “Can you put your mouse over it. I’ll need to take a screenshot of that.”

Once the employee puts their mouse over it, I take a screen shot of it.

The process goes on until the SOP is complete. Any time selections need to be made, for example, through a dropdown, I’ll ask the employee to fully elaborate what each of the selection mean. I’ll record each of those explanations.

If there are potentials for errors, I’ll ask what kind of errors occur and break off into small explanations on how to troubleshoot those issues.

Finally, I normally like to do this through some form of video recording, normally through teams. Our entire conversation is recorded and the link to the video is placed within the SOP, just in case someone needs to rewatch it because they can’t figure out a step in the documentation.


SOP’s are easy, but require someone to be able to ask the right questions and record each step. I don’t know how many times I’ve received an SOP that’s missing multiple steps because the user just assumed that “you would know what to do.”

One final note. It will be tempting to optimize an SOP while recording it. Don’t do that. Record the SOPs. Have someone else try to follow it and verify that you’ve recorded everything. Once you can verify that you’ve recorded everything, then you can speak with individuals and try to optimize the process.


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