A standard operating procedures manual is a written document that lists the instructions, step-by-step, on how to complete a job task or how to handle a specific situation when it arises in the workplace.
Before developing a standard operating procedures manual, it is important to understand the difference between a policy, core process, and procedure.
POLICY: The set of basic principles and associated guidelines, formulated and enforced by the leadership of an organization, to direct and limit its actions in pursuit of long-term goals.
Example: targeted residents must receive the course catalog five weeks before classes start.
CORE PROCESS: Sequence of interdependent and linked procedures, which at every stage consume one or more resources (employee time, energy, machines, money) to convert inputs into outputs. These outputs then serve as inputs for the next stage until a known goal or end result is reached.
Example: Marketing Team will prepare the course catalog for mailing and street distribution and Operations Team will coordinate mailing and street distribution.
PROCEDURE: A fixed, step-by-step sequence of activities or course of action (with definite start and end points) that must be followed in the same order to correctly perform a task.
Examples: 1) The Marketing Team has course catalog developed/printed and selects mailing list and street distribution locations. 2) The Operations Team coordinates with printer to print and mail catalog, as well as with street distribution contractor to street distribute course catalog.
The following are eight steps to follow when building a standard operating procedure manual:
Step 1. Create an outline of all of the standard operating procedures you want to include. Since a manual is a group of specific standard operating procedures, make a list of each task you need to cover in the manual. The outline will acts as your guide to ensure you do not leave any of the tasks out as you start to write the manual.
Step 2. Write an introduction that speaks directly to the people who will use the manual. Include a brief description of what the manual includes, what readers can expect to gain by using the manual and the best way to use the manual (i.e., read it from beginning to end or use it as a reference to look up procedures as the need arises).
Step 3. List the first task. To complete an entire manual, you need to start with one task at a time: begin with the first standard operating procedure on your outline. Outline the steps involved in completing the task, then go back and write out the details for each step. Make sure each step is clear and concise, but provide enough detail that anyone can follow the instructions.
Step 4. Give the standard operating procedure to someone else to read. Have an employee or someone you know read through and follows the instructions. They can provide valuable feedback if there are steps they could not complete or did not understand.
Step 5. Refine the standard operating procedure based on the feedback. You may need to rewrite, edit or add to the instructions, usually a combination of all three.
Step 6. Write the next standard operating procedure, repeating Steps 3 to 5 for each.
Step 7. Compile all of the standard operating procedures into a binder or bound manual or electronic file/manual. Include a cover sheet with the name of the manual, a table of contents, the introduction and the standard operating procedures in the order of the table of contents.
Step 8. Make copies and distribute to employees. Encourage regular feedback, and update when necessary.
The standard operating procedures can then be linked and become a core process – catalog production and distribution.