Everything you need to know about Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs, are documents that describe how certain processes should be executed.

SOPs are quite popular, especially in (highly) regulated environments like manufacturing. But what can they do for your business? 

What are Standard Operating Procedures? 

A Standard Operating Procedure is a procedure usually written, specific to your operation, that describes the activities necessary to complete certain tasks.

You may create an SOP  because of (industry) regulations, laws, or even just your own standards for running your business. SOPs are typically in the how-to format. 

The purpose of an SOP is to define and share best practices and guard quality standards throughout the organization. 

This brings us to an important point: SOPs are typically quite rigid.

They describe how things must be done.

Although that makes sense in regulated environments, in most small businesses and especially in companies with a less formal approach, that rigid and traditional approach to sharing knowledge isn’t always a great fit. 

In knowledge-intensive environments, like software companies, you don’t want to be too prescriptive.

Instead, you want to empower your employees to share their knowledge so that other employees feel inspired, not managed. Therefore, we believe that Playbooks are a better way to organize and share know-how and experience. 

Just like an SOP, a Playbook contains how-to content but it is less formal and less rigid.

A playbook, in our opinion, doesn’t prescribe and dictate how work must be done, rather it describes how things can be done.

Playbooks are a good alternative in non-regulated environments, where teams want to share know-how but need to encourage innovation. 

SOP examples

As stated earlier, we think SOPs are a great fit if a certain process needs to be followed really strictly. Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of new SOPs in healthcare. In those environments, strict and rigid SOPs are a vital tool to ensure error-free processes. 

The Advantages of Standard Operating Procedures

Standard Operating Procedures are a great instrument to enforce a specific way of doing things.
An SOP eliminates or minimizes human error and can dramatically increase productivity. 

An SOP can be very useful to give your team clarity on how to do certain things. Your team doesn’t need to know everything from memory, they can refer back to the SOPs for guidance. 

SOPs also make it easier to instruct people at scale. There’s no (or less) need to have a 1:1 with each (new) team member so sharing an SOP can eliminate a lot of work during the onboarding process. 

SOPs can also be a very good addition to training. No matter how great your training process is, people will forget some of the training content. Handing out SOPs after training can be a great way to increase the learning impact.

The Disadvantages of Standard Operating Procedures

SOPs tend to be fairly rigid, which can dissuade employees from taking the initiative. Plus, having SOPs for everything may kill the creativity of your employees.
If they simply have to follow the script, what challenges them to come up with ideas to improve the way they work? 

SOPs are usually very boring since they are typically written in static tools like Google Docs or Microsoft Word.
The text-heavy SOPs are not very appealing so people often delay reading or even ignore the documents. 

The Alternative: Actionable Playbooks

By now, you probably have an idea about whether your company needs to focus on SOPs or the alternative: playbooks. 

If you think playbooks fit your needs better than SOPs, here are some tips to get started. 

Provide guidance, not control

Most businesses want their team members to take initiative and ownership.

You don’t want to micromanage your employees through their day, you just want to work on the same mission.

With playbooks, you provide your team with the guidance they need to achieve their goals.

Write your playbooks in a way that makes your team feel empowered and inspired, rather than tightly managed. Employees thrive when they feel trusted and respected. 

Encourage continuous improvement

There’s a reason behind the unparalleled safety level in aviation: systems.

For pilots, everything is a system, whether you call it a checklist, manual, or playbook — every repetitive task is very well-defined to execute each step in the best way possible.
They don’t ‘trial-and-error’ their way to a destination, nor do they randomly experiment with new ideas.

To drive innovation, they first follow the proven systems and start from there to gradually improve the checklists and playbooks.

Playbookify offers you a platform to build and continuously optimize your playbooks so that you can scale with confidence. 

Make your playbooks visually appealing

Who wants to read a 20-page PDF? 

Probably no one, we definitely don’t. 
That’s why we offer organizations the option to create a playbook with appealing images, and embedded videos to retain attention, and include some comic GIFs to keep it fun and memorable. 

In Playbookify, you build your own playbooks to scale your business with confidence.
No more rigid SOPs. Instead, you have playbooks that guide your team through their repetitive tasks while making sure they have some fun!