Procedural Manual Writing

Standard Operating Manual Writing Sub Heading

What Is a Standard Operating Procedure? Sub Heading

A SOP or standard operating procedure, is a set of step-by-step instructions that guides team members in a consistent manner to perform office tasks.  They are particularly useful for complex tasks, infrequent processes or for tasks that must be done with high quality and little variation.  Standard operating procedures include workflows, work instructions, step by step and how to instructions and procedures.  Many companies gather those standard operating procedures into one quality manual.

Why Do We Need Standard Operating Procedures? Sub Heading

The procedure will describe how team members can consistently complete the process in exactly the same way every time for either operational efficiency, safety or regulations.  All departments in an organisation should have SOPs in place – from marketing to sales to business operations to customer service.  They remind you to do those steps you do infrequently that you may not recall, instead of having to retrain again.

What Are Good Practices In Writing Standard Operating Procedures? Sub Heading

To write useful process and procedural manuals you need to gather all the steps involved in the procedure to write the instructions.  It is wise to also get input from subject matter experts on the topics.  Some of the items to consider for procedural manual writing:

  • Itemise the business processes that need to be documented.  Check in with other managers and employees to compare lists and prioritise your list of processes.  When prioritising, consider completing the process first that contain the most risk if the procedures are not followed.  And then consider those with the most financial impact.
  • Be clear who the user of this documentation will be, as that may impact the style of the end documentation.  You may be able to do short procedures for a stable, low staff turnover area but others may need detailed work instructions. In particular, understand your audience’s language level.  Write from the user’s perspective.
  • Choose a template format for your SOPs as this structure will make it easy for users to find the section that they require quickly, and ensures completeness.  There might be a decision that certain processes only need a quick checklist, simple steps or workflow process, whereas others need full documentation.
  • Decide upon an approval or sign-off process for the finished procedures.  This may also include a practice of ensuring input from other on the written drafts.
  • Question and analyse for the most efficient process – just because it is the way it has been done in the past, doesn’t mean that is the most efficient way for the company or going forward.  Be aware that exposing what is actually happening on the front line level can be completely different to what the management team believes is happening.   And ensure that you get into the complete detail of the step-by-step guide.  This is a specialised skill and why companies regularly engage Technical Writers to complete the procedural manuals, as they are experienced at getting the information out of the subject matter expert’s heads.  If you need assistance then contact us.
  • Assemble your brains trust.  Invariably there will be a group of people in the organisation that have most of the knowledge about the procedural steps in their heads, and this is the chance for you to expose that information.  They are your subject matter experts, who may not actually be good at explaining the steps as they are so used to just doing them, so you need to use questioning techniques to gather the full information and formally document it.  
  • Test your SOPs against the actual processes.  Trial them in the actual departments that would use them, ask for feedback and then improve the process.
  • Plan for how you will publish and share your SOPs.  They need to be within easy access, updatable and version controlled.  You may need to consider training around the resources as well.
  • Plan for regular updates and ongoing feedback.  Procedural documents should be updated at least once a year, with clearly defined responsibility as who will ensure that update occurs.