Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): Free SOP Template and Writing Guide

An SOP outlines the how, what, who, and where of your task, all in one organized document – or at least, it should! With this free template, alongside a guide on how to write your own great SOP, you and your team will be well on the way to consistency and efficiency.


James Moffatt


March 29, 2024

Consistency is key to continuous success, no matter which business you are in. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), with their ability to streamline processes and ensure compliance, represent one of our best ways to achieve this consistency. A clear SOP removes excuses, and can apply across various industries, being applicable to tasks from onboarding new employees, to making sure you and your team meet stringent industry regulations. You should consider your SOP document to be your businesses' roadmap for efficient and effective operations. However, you can only do so if you create an SOP well, which is what we are here to ensure you do today.

What is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)?

A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a documented process created within your team, that outlines how to perform a task or activity consistently and efficiently to everyone involved. As I said, it is your written map in the form of instructions, allowing you to have a step-by-step, methodical guide to follow for any specific process. SOPs have proven to be vital in standardizing practices, reducing miscommunication and maintaining quality control in the more complex operations. A well written SOP achieves this by keeping it simple and streamlined to promote consistency and a reduction in errors that arise with a lack of clarity or when we overcomplicate things.

However, these documents are not just checklists or one sentence long prompts. Instead, they are (or should be) comprehensive guides detailing every necessary step to complete tasks, including the specification of the roles and responsibilities involved in getting the job done. When SOPs are written in this way, they intertwine to form an overall workflow for a business, connecting the dots between personnel and what they need to work on.

At Bubbles, due to our focus on asynchronous work, we know that keeping tasks clear and organized is key to good collaboration. Our recommendation is that you plan your task out with a well written SOP, using our free template below, and then keep your teammates in the loop asynchronously by using Bubbles to share updates and get feedback. With Bubbles, you are able to easily record your screen, video and audio, without any add-ons and without paying for anything. It becomes incredibly easy to present your work and get your key points across, with features that allow async comments and continued discussion alongside your recording. Learn how to record a bubble, and get your SOP template here:


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How to Write SOPs

We also recognize that you may want to write your own SOP, and be in full control. With that in mind, let's jump into a writing guide to make sure your SOP document is top tier.

Writing SOPs requires a clear understanding of the task at hand and a willingness to be thorough and methodical when it comes to documenting each step of the task in your template. Clearly, you cannot create a detailed checklist without being clued-up on the details yourself, so make sure you are ready before starting your SOP document. To get ready, start by defining the scope of the procedure, and give some thought to the stakeholders who should be involved. Think about what you need to get out of this task, and how you should set-up best for success.

So, while detail and thoroughness are essential, the major key to SOP writing is to write in simple, unambiguous language, making the instructions accessible to all intended users. You are trying to help and streamline your task, not confuse it. Equally, because this is a team task, don't be afraid to rack the brains of teammates or experienced employees here, so that you can all combine to optimize your SOP in your given workplace.

Feedback from teammates will be invaluable here, but if I can also give you a nugget of advice, it would be to first outline the process thoroughly in a draft, before then revising the document for clarity and completeness. Go to your colleagues for feedback at any given moment of this process, but always keep in mind that a well-written SOP not only outlines what needs to be done, but also gives some context into how this task will align with the broader business goals of the company and help achieve compliance. All of this without blabbering on too much - good luck!

What is a Good SOP Format?

There is no right answer here, and what makes a good SOP format depends on what you and your peers need from your SOP. The format can vary depending on multiple things, like the complexity of the task you're about to tackle, and the needs of the organization (time frame, detail, etc). However, three common formats are widely used and are a good starting point:

Simple Format

For your more straightforward tasks, this format lists steps in a linear, chronological order, but keeps things really simple in the process. To not oversimplify, you should include a statement that outlines the purpose of your SOP, and then a little summary so that everyone is aligned. Below that, write your step-by-step instruction list, specifying who is responsible for what. Your 'simple' SOP should be user-friendly and easy to follow, especially for tasks where there is a clear beginning and end.

Hierarchical Format

For your more complex and technical procedures, the hierarchical format goes into more detail and requires more organization. This is important as it can be easy to go off track during complex, long procedures. Here, you should break down tasks into main steps and substeps, but still in a chronological order. If it is particularly long, use a table of contents and a checklist to simplify the task details. This format is useful for procedures that involve different stages or levels of detail.

Flowchart Format

For both simple and complex, and for processes that involve decision-making or multiple possible pathways, a flowchart format is great. The flowchart way can also be more interactive, and is well suited to visual learners. It visually represents the steps of your process or task in a diagram, making it easier for everyone working on it to understand relationships between tasks and dependencies between their work and somebody else's work, for example.

On the note of the visual learner, I must stress that you should not be afraid of incorporating diagrams, or any design preferences you desire, into your SOP document. Writing an SOP is something specific to you, regardless of the chosen format. Our template includes the necessary clear headings and set-up for a logical flow of information, but can also be tailored and edited to your preference, so go ahead and get creative with it!

What Should an SOP Include?

We know by now that an effective SOP should be comprehensive and detailed, but more importantly, easy to understand. We know that there are three common formats, but we also know that you have freedom to design your own SOP. I want to streamline this process as much as I can, and with that in mind, I have created a checklist of our own, with some components to great SOP writing that haven't been considered in your traditional formats. With this, and the details in the last section, you will be set-up for success.

Key components of your personalized SOPs should include:

  • Title Page: It wouldn't be an SOP without the task being titled! However, don't just plainly label. Where relevant, include more details like a document number or version, and the name of the department that your SOP applies to. Also, stick the date on it for organizational purposes.
  • Purpose: Time for some detail - define the aim and objectives of the SOP for you and your colleagues.
  • Scope: Outline the importance of your SOP within your workplace and the extent to which the SOP applies within the organization. Is it subteam specific, or for everyone to know about?
  • Roles and Responsibilities: Similar to the last step, but more specific. Who is responsible for executing and maintaining the SOP? Let it be known at this point.
  • Procedure: The main event! Give your detailed, step-by-step instructions at this stage. By now, we know what they should cover, but remember - thorough but clear.
  • Materials and Equipment: Not always essential, but for some tasks, you will need to list any tools, equipment, or materials that will be necessary to get the job done to the required standard.
  • Documentation and Record Keeping: Probably for your more complex tasks. As we covered, for organizational purposes, you should provide and therefore detail any forms or logs that need to be filled out during the task's process.
  • Safety and Compliance Considerations: Safety first, or in this case, second to last. You should include relevant safety guidelines and compliance requirements, so that everyone is protected.
  • Revision History: It also helps to track changes, so that no one becomes confused. Keep a log that documents any changes that have been made to your SOP document since its inception.

How to Use Your SOP to Grow Your Business

SOPs have tonnes of use cases, and if you're a first timer, you might be surprised at how much they can help your team with even the most everyday of tasks. I'm going to cover a few glaringly obvious SOP use cases later, but before that, we should get an understanding for how implementing SOPs effectively can impact business growth and scalability:

  • Consistency: People love businesses and teams that are reliable. By writing a great SOP, and sticking to your template, you'll boost your chances of delivering your service or product consistently every time. 
  • Efficiency in Training: Training a new employee can be a tall order, and it is easy to forget things, or not go into enough detail. With a clear SOP, perhaps including a checklist, your new employee training becomes more systematic, meaning everyone will save time, but more importantly, you and the fresh face on the team will get more out of the training and be more productive.
  • Reducing Errors: Cutting out ambiguity and confusion will in turn help to cut out basic errors that can culminate into an overall reduction in quality of the team or process. Create accountability and be organized!
  • Streamlining the Operation: Not just an instructional tool, SOPs can also be a tool for feedback and iteration. By creating a layout, you will identify inefficiencies in your flow. With Bubbles, you can show and tell these areas of inefficiency, and make a suggestion to remove them from the process.
  • Business Process Automation: SOPs can create a set-up that allows for automating routine tasks that are often overcomplicated. You'll free up staff by doing this, and let them get on with more strategic work.

SOP Use Cases

I have hinted at a few throughout this article, and generally, you can use an SOP for whatever you see fit. However, for some inspiration, the most common SOP documents generally revolve around tasks such as:

  • Onboarding a new employee.
  • Marketing campaigns.
  • Navigating project management software.
  • The team's standard, everyday workflow for a given task.
  • One-off tasks.
  • Equipment maintenance.
  • Safety procedures and protocol.
  • The performance review process.
  • Customer service and how to interact with customers.
  • Quality control, including monitoring and maintaining a product.

You now know SOPs like the back of your hand. They are not just documents, but they're a reflection of how committed you and your team are to being consistently excellent and efficient. Take your jump to efficiency today by using our free template, and by using async collaboration and communication software like Bubbles to continue your teamwork and workplace optimization.

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