What is SOP?

Know it All about Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

Part 1: What is SOP?

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) also known as Standing Operating Procedure.It is a step-by-step guide containing instructions on how specific routine operations/tasks should be completed. SOP helps organizations reduce miscommunication, which is essential ensuring it achieves efficiency, uniformity of performance and quality output.

It is similar to a Process flowchart. However, a process flowchart explains general steps to complete a task, while SOP explains more about a specific process or one of those steps.

For example, a process flowchart for enrolment of new employees may contain the following processes/steps: {Application >Application review> Interview > Appointment > Training> Start working}. An SOP, therefore, take one of those processes and explain further, for example, the Training process it explains {Where, how, when is it done, what it includes, how long will it take, etc.}.

Part 2: Advantages and Disadvantages of SOP

To ensure that a given task is sufficiently completed, clear and detailed instructions must be given. This, therefore, proofs the importance and reason why you should use SOP. And just like any other project management tool, SOP has its advantages and disadvantages, and we are going to address them here:


  1. SOP help facilitates quality control and assurance for routine jobs, process evaluations and even process management.
  2. SOP’s provide consistency
  3. SOP improves accountability by outlining each person’s responsibilities within an organization.
  4. Addresses safety concerns while reducing miscommunication between employees
  5. It helps an organization track and measures its proficiency
  6. Helps audit business processes’ effectiveness acting as a checklist
  7. Helps in analyzing all steps and reduces unproductive or redundant steps that are or may slow down production.
  8. When recreating operational systems in new settings, SOP serves as a reference document.


  1. SOP is rigid and does discourage improvisation
  2. SOP doesn’t outline everything, or it does not cover all scenarios, and sometimes it may lead to process failure or delays.

Part 3: SOP Used in What Fields or Areas

SOP documents are multipurpose tools used in different fields or areas to help create consistency in routine jobs. Some of the field where SOPs are applicable include:

  1. Medical field: Fore example, showing a procedure in which, a nurse should follow while attending to a patient.
  2. Business field: This document applicable in various ways when it comes to business processes management. For example, an SOP can be used to explain the training process of new employees.
  3. Manufacturing field: Well, just like in other fields, an SOP is used in the manufacturing field to provide a list of detailed instructions regarding a specific product manufacturing.
  4. Education Field: Besides being ideal for business and other fields, this document also can be used in the educational field. For example, you can use it to provide detailed instructions to students on what to do and how to do it to complete a specific practical or task successfully. This is ideal in practical lessons that need precise and careful procedures to be followed.

Part 4: Types of SOP

Standard operating procedures are categorized into three main types, which are based on format. Therefore, the three main formats include – the Step-by-Step Format, Flowchart Format and Hierarchical Format. And even though each organization can create an SOP document in a format that works best for them, they still choose to work with one of these formats.

So, how does each format look like?

1. Step-by-Step Format

If the process in question is quite straightforward and can be completed without any or minimal/minor fails, then the step-by-step format is the ideal type of SOP to go with. In cases like these, it may be better to create a chronological list showing list instructions to take when completing a process.

2. Flowchart Format

Flowchart format is useful when dealing with a project with multiple processes and outcomes from one action. With it, you can visually illustrate action to be taken at certain points throughout the process. Furthermore, you can also show which ream is tasked to complete a particular activity and where to proceed after that.

3. Hierarchical Format

The hierarchical format is what I call an upgrade of the Step-by-Step Format. Both formats are similar in overall design; however, hierarchical format gives more details to steps listed in the other format.

For example: A step-by-step SOP will give you steps 1, 2, 3, 4… while hierarchical SOP will have steps 1a, 1b, 1c; 2a, 2b, 2c; 3a, 3b, 4

So, why this format? Well, to sufficiently complete a given task, sometimes you or your employees may need further instructions on the steps to be taken. Therefore, this format enables them to understand what’s needed and expected from them even better.

Part 5: Elements of SOP

For your SOP to be clear and effective, it should contain the following four elements:

  • The Purpose: First of all, ask yourself this “What problems* should my SOP solve?” By answering this, you are defining and outlining the purpose of your SOP document. Ensure you have a concise description of the problems.
  • Procedure: Secondly, how will you like the tasks to be completed? So, since you have already defined the tasks to be completed, now create a guideline for how to complete those tasks. Ensure they are listed in sequential order to be easily understandable.
  • Scope: Besides defining the purpose and procedures of your SOP, it is also important to mind the applicability of your SOP. So, is it applicable?
  • Responsibilities: After ensuring all the above elements are well set, now define responsivities and duties. So, outline who does what as well as who to communicate with in case of any problem.

Part 6: Tips for Making an Awesome SOP

To ensure a given task is efficiently and successfully completed, you will need to create a professional SOP. Here are some of the essential tips to help you with that:

  • Be concise. The main thing that makes the SOP document effective is its understandability. So, to make an untestable SOP document ensure that brief as possible while conveying important information only.
  • Start with action commands. Expression via writing is another key concept of creating an effective SOP. Therefore, at the beginning of every task statement, use a verb to clarify that this is to be done.
  • Ensure it is scannable. His is an important tip when listing detailed instructions. This makes workflow seamless by helping people responsible to clearly understand and differentiate one step from another.


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  • Part 7: A Example of SOP

    The nursing process flowchart below visually shows simple and detailed instructions on what a nurse is expected to do and how to care for the umbilical cord patient. One of the noticeable things about this flowchart is that it features three categories. These categories give further/more information on things needed and the environment. It not only shows step-by-step instructions but also gives more detailed information on the entire process.

    nursing process flowchart

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