Best Practices

QVALON's Complete Guide to Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

May 06, 2022 14 min read

Qvalon Blog article content

By: Jul Domingo

Ever wonder how retail companies like Nike and Starbucks maintain high standards of quality?

There’s no magic formula—it all boils down to quality control, the cornerstone of a standard operation procedure (SOP).

Any multi-location business should have an SOP because consumers crave consistency. Moreover, SOPs can help reduce costs and increase profitability while avoiding fallible and clumsy mistakes.

A well-developed culture of quality can save up to millions of US dollars per year. 

QVALON's Complete Guide to Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

In this blog post, we will discus:

  • What is an SOP and what is it for?
  • Benefits of applying SOPs.
  • Types of SOP format.
  • What is a Standard Operating Procedure Template and what does it contain?
  • Which industries should use an SOP template.
  • Why your company needs a Standard Operating Procedure Template.
  • How to create a standard operating procedure template.
  • Optimize your SOP management with QVALON.

What is an SOP and what is it for?

A Standard Operating Procedure outlines the day-to-day operations of an organization, providing detailed instructions that employees should follow to complete repetitive tasks with the same level of precision.

Let's look at Nike. This famous shoe brand has more than 500 factories, a thousand retail stores, and more than 1M workers around the world.

These numbers give rise to a great margin for error. And yet, the world-famous shoe company can still produce high-quality footwear and athletic wear with SOP's help.

SOP doesn't only help production, it also improves other business operations, such as employee performance. It also benefits the following departments:

Departments who has benefits from SOP

Production/Operations Department

  • Production process

  • Equipment maintenance

  • Inspection procedures

  • Training new employees

Finance Department

  • Accounts receivable control

  • Billing and collections process

  • Accounts payable process

  • Cash flow management

  • Expense approval request

  • Reimbursement procedures

Marketing and Sales Department

  • External communications approval

  • Preparation of quotations

  • Order request and delivery process

  • Warranty, guarantee, refund/exchange policies

  • Acknowledgment/resolution of complaints

  • Customer feedback and suggestions

Hiring and Recruitment Department

  • Job descriptions and employee manual

  • Background screening

  • Orientation and training

  • Corrective and disciplinary actions

  • Performance appraisals

  • Promotions and termination

Benefits of using SOPs

The SOP's primary function is to guarantee product quality and safety. If not, problems can arise. For instance, the pharmaceutical industry reported 40% of drug shortages resulted from quality concerns because of incorrect SOPs.

Your employees need centralized operating procedures to prevent the same thing from happening. The standards are not only for your company's benefits but also for the safety, exceptional experience, and satisfaction of the customers. These are some additional benefits of strictly following and planning your SOPs:

Increased efficiency and productivity

According to UCI, the average employee gets interrupted every three minutes and needs 23 minutes to regain focus. As a result, there is a greater workload, more stress, and more frustration.

An SOP protects employees from these stressful delays and interruptions. It outlines the process and how to go about it efficiently. Managers can also use it to check compliance and fix potential issues that hinder employee efficiency and productivity.

Easy employee transfer process

Having a clear SOP enables onboarding employees to understand their roles and responsibilities. Highly effective onboarding increases employee commitment and retention by 18 times. They learn to adjust to the role in case of urgent task delegation.

Meanwhile, managers can use the job description outlined in the SOP to find the right candidate. It can also help save time for extra instructions. By laying out all these details, everyone gains flexibility at work.

Discover how QVALON helped German grocery retail chain Billa, part of REWE Group, streamline its employee onboarding process and improve store operations quality by 8% here.

Consistent business operation

Retail companies with multiple business locations benefit from consistent operations. About 76% of customers reported they expected to have consistent interactions across departments and were more likely to switch brands if they didn’t receive it.

SOPs create a dynamic workplace for everyone, regardless of role and department. They serve as a roadmap for all clerks that directs the day-to-day tasks, enabling them to achieve the level of consistency needed to reinforce your brand.

Ensures compliance with the law

Every business industry has a separate regulatory body that it must obey. Most of the legal requirements revolve around health and safety. The company can’t legally start operating unless you prepare and submit SOPs.

Having a standard operating procedure in place prevents unintended noncompliance. Companies with multiple subsidiaries will find it easier to monitor.

Types of SOP format

An SOP is a complete guide to completing a task. Its format, however, is its presentation. It’s a question of making the procedures more understandable to the users. You can use graphical or visual formats to simplify complex procedures. 

Below are some of the SOP formats you can use:

  • Checklists

The checklist format lists roles, responsibilities, and other job functions. It serves as a task reminder, preventing omission. Bullets are appropriate here because the sequence is unimportant. All you need is to break down the tasks into smaller tasks. The QVALON platform offers customizable checklists you can browse through.

  • Step-by-Step Checklists

The step-by-step format is almost the same as a regular checklist, except it’s procedural in nature. It requires consecutive steps to follow for the completion of the task. There are two ways to format this SOP: a bulleted or a numbered list.

  • Hierarchical SOP

Using a hierarchical format is ideal for more complex SOPs that require branches of information. It covers larger outlines without boring the readers with a lengthy document. Some procedures are more comprehensible when presented with extra layers. For example, instead of listing Step 2 after Step 1, you can use Steps 1.1, 1.2, 1.3.

  • Flowchart Format

This visual format gives the most efficient explanation for complex workflow and procedures. It's best for tasks with several points of decision. List down all the relevant steps required to accomplish the process and plot them on your flowchart.

 

Tip: Visualizing the whole thing before you begin drafting is crucial.

 

Difference between SOP format and SOP template

The SOP format represents how procedures should be presented. It differs from an SOP template in that the latter is the entire document itself. With a template, you won't have to recreate the SOP each time you need a new one. Let's discuss this in more detail.

What is a Standard Operating Procedure Template and what does it contain?

An SOP template is a formal document with a title page and table of contents, followed by the procedures. Also included are the date and authorized signatories.

In any case, more information is necessary to provide as much detail as possible and maximize its impact. To meet this goal, Standard Operating Procedure templates should have the following basic elements:

  • Purpose and outcome. It lays out what circumstances lead to the requirement of a certain SOP and explains its purpose and outcome after all procedures are completed.

  • Scope and limitations. A brief narrative that outlines the context and areas covered by the SOP, along with a statement of where the procedures do not apply.

  • Roles and responsibilities. The section summarizes the roles and responsibilities each employee is required to perform. Including information on who to contact for problems, emergencies, etc.

  • Implemented procedures. This is the core of a standard operating procedure. It describes how employees should perform specific tasks using instructions or visual aids. 

  • References and resources. Listed here are all memos, references, tools, and systems related to this SOP, both internal and external. It is a pre-start checklist to ensure the availability of needed stuff before proceeding. 

Example of a Standard Operating Procedure

For more ideas on drafting your own SOP, it helps to see a more comprehensive example:



Example

Purpose and Outcome

This warehouse inventory management aims to secure the delivery and receipt of goods. Its purpose is to maintain good storage conditions while ensuring safety and security.

Scope and Limitation

The SOP covers the responsibility of warehouse managers and staff. It includes any tangible or intangible goods under the custody of the warehouse. It doesn't include all inventories in transit and out for delivery.

Roles and Responsibilities

The warehouse manager should be responsible to oversee all warehouse transactions. His duty includes planning for storage, managing incoming shipments, and distributing listed tasks to warehouse staff.

Implemented procedures.

*This part will include a list of all tasks enumerated by the warehouse manager: safety measures, inventory count, equipment maintenance, etc. It can be divided into daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. The SOP writers may use any of the SOP formats mentioned above.*

References and Resources

This SOP follows the company's rules and regulations. The procedures are in conjunction with the following internal documents:

  • IM012022 Internal Policy for Inventory Management
  • Supplier's and Customer's Agreement

Why your company needs a Standard Operating Procedure Template

An SOP template that contains all components mentioned in the previous section allows retailers to gain several benefits, such as:

  • Quick access to old standard procedures. A compilation of SOPs allows management to easily gather data for decision making. When they find holes in the operation, they can quickly refer to the old SOP and fix it.

  • Instant guide for developing new SOPs for unfamiliar business situations. Pre-designed templates make a good reference for SOP writers. Having a constant format to follow saves a lot of time for research.

  • Efficient drafting without leaving any important details. The framework already provides the necessary components to create the SOP. An SOP template makes it less likely for SOP writers to omit something.

  • Easier distribution of information to employees. An SOP allows easier dissemination of tasks and responsibilities among employees. SOPs provide an overview of job functions when training new employees.

  • Accessible report when queries or conflicts arise. SOPs are a company document that can be used together with internal policies. Managers can formally address the conflicts and queries by observing any deviation from the SOP.

  • Convenience for continuous review and updates. The template makes a convenient groundwork for any needed plans, changes, and updates. It’s very handy, especially since SOPs need periodic reviews.

Which industries should use SOP template 

Any industry should have a standard operating procedure (SOP), but here are some of the industries that commonly use SOP templates:

SOP format is unique to each industry, but the essence and the benefits don't differ at all since it focuses on repetitive business operations.

How to create a standard operating procedure template

There's no identical SOP template because operation varies among departments. As an example, the finance team's procedures are not relevant to the production team.

However, while the templates may differ, the process of creating them is similar. Here are some basic steps to help you create an SOP template:

6 steps to create a standard operating procedure

  • Step 1: Collect data. Enumerate all the activities needed for the specific operation and identify successful processes as well as areas for improvement. The efficiency and effectiveness of your template will depend on the collected data.

  • Step 2: Choose a format. Enhance the quality of your template by using SOP formats. Formats aren’t for aesthetic purposes alone. The right one can simplify complicated procedures.

  • Step 3: Involve employees. Employee feedback highlights firsthand experiences that might otherwise be overlooked by managers. Discuss the information you have so far and ask for their opinions.

  • Step 4: Establish boundaries. Name the branch, department, and locations involved in the SOP. This may help you avoid future conflicts in task involvement.

  • Step 5: Define target users. The SOP should be understandable to those who will read it. If it’s intended for new employees, including definitions of terms to make it easier for them to understand.

  • Step 6: Design your SOP. Now comes the fun part: time to put everything together. Draft a title page, include a table of contents, and then lay down the procedures. Present all the information you gathered in a single document.

Once you’ve created your SOP, distribute the SOP to the users and the top management. Get their feedback on anything from grammar to clarity, and keep editing until it aligns with the ideal operation setup.

Provide employee training during implementation. Review SOP at least every six months to keep it relevant and up-to-date and make amendments if necessary.

Optimize your SOP management with QVALON

Standard operating procedures are merely plans. Achieving the desired outcome will be difficult without proper management and inspection. Besides revamping the operation, it’s important to upgrade your management system as well.

You can use automation tools to streamline any tedious tasks. Here are some QVALON features to partner with your SOP for a successful implementation:

  • Task Management. You'll get real-time updates from assigning to reporting of tasks. You can also schedule staff assignments ahead of time with deadline reminders, giving you a consolidated view of all operations across departments.

  • Collaboration Tools. With this tool, you'll be able to call staff directly for a quick virtual meeting through video calls. Checking the performance of employees is as simple as tapping a button.

  • Inspections and Audit. This feature allows for virtual inspections anytime, anywhere. You’ll get access to templates, checklist builders, and assessment options, so you can prepare, implement, and assess your SOPs.

The purpose of standard operating procedures (SOPs) is to improve consistency without causing difficulties for employees. But its implementation can be particularly challenging. Get the assistance you need from QVALON by taking advantage of our free trial offer.