How do I format Standard Operating Procedures?

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Answered by: Elise, An Expert in the Policies and Procedures Category
Bella sat down at her desk with a “gar-upmph!” She carried a disheveled look on her face and was rummaging through a grocery sack of emails that contain the latest and greatest policy updates you have sent out.

She had good intentions. She was planning on creating a binder of all the memos you’ve sent so she can keep all the changes right-side-up in her head. Unfortunately your emails come at her faster than her organizing skills can keep up! And oops! Now she just entered the loan request 209 into the system and it created a duplicate entry! Dang! Where did that March 21st memo run off to?

Our employees- as well meaning as they may be, may try to stay organized, but in this day and age with changes coming at us at every curve, it is hard for anyone to keep up. It may be time for some good old-fashioned Standard Operating Procedures.

Standard Operating Procedures or SOPs as they are known are intended to keep the latest and greatest ever-changing procedure at your finger tips. SOPs are easy to create. All you need is an outline of your procedures, a tracking system and a go-to template.

So let’s start!

First, outline all the major topics that fall under your operating procedures. Let’s say you manage a loan processing center. Major operating procedures may be: Data Entry, Password Use and Time Calculation.

Next, determine the specific procedures that fall under your main entries. For example, you may have a specific workaround for entering loan request 209 into the system so it doesn’t create duplicates and force your inflow to be off-kilter. Title this procedure “Loan Request 209 Work-Around.” This procedure will be a subtopic under your Data Entry. Continue brainstorming. You will end up with an outline that looks something like this:

1. Data Entry

a. Loan Request 209 Work Around

b. Updating Panel 3 in System X

2. Security

a. Creating a Password

b. Resetting a Password Every 90 Days

3. Time Tracking

a.Definitions of “On-The-Clock”

b.Working Through Lunch

This outline is now the base for your tracking system. This is an important part! You want to make sure you know and your team knows what procedure they should follow.

To create an update tracking system, open Excel and create the following headers in Row 1: Procedure Number, Category, Title, Version ID, Effective Date, Date Reviewed.

• The Procedure Number is a unique identifier given to each procedure. The owner of the SOPs is required to create procedure numbers. This can be as easy as having your procedure numbers read 001, 002, 003. Or you may want to create some lettering and number system like DE001, TT001, etc. depending on how many categories and procedures you have.

• The Category is your major topic (Data Entry, Security and Time Tracking).

• The Title is your subtopic (Loan Request 209 Work Around, Password Creation, etc.).

• The Version ID is the number of the last update you sent on that specific procedure. So if you have updated the procedure on how to create a password 3 times, then your Version ID on your latest update would be 3.

• The Effective Date is the date the latest procedure was put into place.

• The Date Reviewed is the last time the owner of the procedure reviewed it. Procedures should be reviewed once a year to ensure effectiveness.

Lastly, your SOPs need a standard format. The SOP format should be as simple as possible. This allows for ease of writing and ease of understanding. No need making things complicated! There are two pieces to the SOP format: the header format and the body format.

The header format gives the owner of the SOPs the information to log and track the procedures. The header titles should read as below, be bolded and be followed by a colon so that the writer of the SOP knows where to fill in the information.



Procedure Number:

Version ID:

Effective Date:

The body format notifies the writer of the specific information that is required for each SOP. The body titles should read as below, be bolded and be followed by a colon so that the writer of the SOP knows where to fill in the information.





Safety Requirements:

Now this is final say so on format. Listen closely, because this is key! If you don’t do this, all of your hard work on your SOPs will have gone for naught. You must have a way to ensure that old procedures are removed from your employee SOP binders and new ones are inserted. Here’s how you do it.

All SOPs must also be printed (or saved) separately from other SOPS. That way when the procedure is changed the old procedure can be pulled from the manual and the new procedure can be inserted- without any effect to the procedure that came before or after it.

So as easy as you can say “pull and replace” you have a new system for Standard Operating Procedures. Now instead of Bella digging through memos with a “gar-umph!” you can hear her calmly sigh, “ahhh” as she reads through your latest and greatest, pulling out the old and replacing with the new .

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