The 3 Main Formats for Standard Operating Procedures

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If you’re just getting into setting up processes then it’s worth knowing the different types of process documentation available to you.

We’ll base the examples on getting into and starting a car, an example that most people are familiar with.

The checklist

This is the most straight forwards approach to an SOP. You can either create a simple checklist or multi-step checklist.

Simple checklist example

  • Unlock the car
  • Open the driver door and take a seat behind wheel
  • Adjust the seat so that you can see adequately
  • Adjust the side & rear view mirrors

Multi-step checklist

  • Unlock the car
    • Use the unlock button on the key
    • If the remote button doesn’t work put key in lock
  • Open the driver door and take a seat behind wheel
    • Adjust the seat so that you can see over the wheel
    • Adjust side and rear view mirrors
    • Ensure that you have all round vision through windows

Pro’s

  • Simple to follow
  • Quick to write
  • Very hard to mis-interpret

Con’s

  • Not a huge scope for detail
  • Doesn’t manage decisions well

Photo/graphical

These are really great for technical or manual processes that could be misinterpreted.

Pro’s

  • Simple to follow
  • Can show lots of detail
  • Good for long processes

Con’s

  • Not great for decisions
  • Takes a little longer to write

Flowchart

These are great for where decisions need to be made but may require some employee training.
Example of a flowchart SOP
Example of a flowchart SOP

Pro’s

  • Simple to follow
  • Logical to follow

Con’s

  • Takes more time/skill to write
  • Not great for details

Bonus format: Hybrid

In none of the above really fit, there’s no reason you can’t mix up your formats. For example, combine a flow chart with a checklist/images.

Screenshot 2015-03-06 10.49.11
You can get carried away with these, the key to remember is that they should be as easy to follow as possible.

Which format to use

Here’s a quick table to help choose the best candidate for your SOP.

SOP Format Many decisions? Over 10 steps?
Checklist No No
Photo/Graphical No Yes
Flowchart/Hybrid Yes Yes