The 3 Main Formats for Standard Operating Procedures

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


  • Simple to follow
  • Logical to follow


  • 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

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