5 Common Mistakes People Make When Creating SOPs

Writing and maintaining Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for your small business has many benefits. Having a repository for your well-earned bank of knowledge can increase effectiveness and productivity and make delegating vital operational tasks easier. SOPs also create a clear, replicable standard for your business, improving quality and customer satisfaction. 

Writing SOPs probably isn’t your favorite task, so we’re here to help you create them efficiently so you can get back to running your business. In this video, ProcessDriven CEO Layla Pomper outlines five of the most common mistakes people make when creating SOPs and how to correct them. 

Let’s dive in! 

Five SOP Mistakes and How to Fix Them

1. Including too many variations (timestamp 01:25). A good rule of thumb when creating SOPs is to have one for each process variation. However, a problem arises when you try to account for too many possibilities. 

In the video, Layla uses the example of documenting driving directions from point A to point B. Most of the time, you can take a direct route, but there’s a slight chance it could be blocked by construction, a traffic jam, or other obstacle. So, it makes sense to provide directions for a detour. What doesn’t make sense is creating an SOP for every possible shortcut, detour, and route. Not only would it take a lot of extra time and effort and create very long and confusing SOPS, but the chance of both your primary and secondary routes being unavailable is very, very small. 

You should only create SOPs for the most likely contingencies, like one for creating an invoice and another for canceling an invoice. Or one SOP on creating a product invoice and one on creating a service invoice (assuming the steps are different). 

2. Not making SOPs skim-friendly (timestamp 03:15). We know people skim content rather than reading every word, so using headers, bullets, and sections will help your team quickly find the information they need. Great SOPs are ones that people use. When faced with too much detail or long, intimidating text, people skip reading and rely on memory. Or worse, guess!

This is one reason you don’t want to rely solely on video SOPs. Imagine that you’re completing payroll and not sure about the submission process. The video SOP details the entire payroll process and is 30 minutes long. Will you watch it? Probably not. You may make your best guess as to the next steps and potentially make an error, such as using the wrong account. Now, not only must you expend extra time and energy to correct the mistake, but people are upset that their paychecks are late. 

Instead, your payroll SOP might have sections for gathering timecards, calculating taxes, gaining approvals, submissions, and distributing checks. Now it’s easy to jump directly to the details you need for each step in the process.

3. Focusing on easy creation rather than the ease of retrieval (timestamp 05:00). Our goal is to create an SOP once and have people consistently refer to it. While it may take twenty minutes to write an SOP and another 30 to 60 minutes over the course of a year to add refinements and updates, ideally, your team will reference that SOP many, many times over, possibly every week. So, when it comes to formatting and even storage, prioritize accessibility. 

❌ Don’t keep SOPs in a hard-to-reach operational binder.

❌ Don’t rely solely on video or screenshots.

✔️ Do create digital SOPs where teams can easily access them.

✔️ Do use a mix of video, images, and text when appropriate.

Just remember, SOPs are seldom static. They can and should be updated as processes evolve. Relying solely on video means reshooting that video every time an SOP requires updating. If editing SOPs is too time-consuming, they’ll quickly become outdated and ignored, defeating the purpose entirely! 

4. Typing everything (timestamp 07:15). Just because we said not to rely entirely on video and images doesn’t mean you must type every word of your SOPs. Many digital tools can alleviate the burden of typing your SOPs. These are especially valuable if you’re not a fast typist. 

Try dictation features in your favorite word processing software, or leverage ChatGPT to create a first draft of your SOP, then go in and fine-tune the details. This can be a huge time saver. It’s worth noting that while GPT is excellent for outlines, first drafts, and brainstorming, it’s not the most succinct writer. Its content can be clunky, overly wordy, and occasionally unclear. Make sure you edit the results to suit your company’s tone and ensure the steps are simple and accurate. 

You can also use an application like Loom to capture video and provide instant transcription, which you can, you guessed it, feed to ChatGPT for a formatted first draft. Automation and AI are here to help. Don’t be shy about finding the best ways to use them for your business! 

5. Duplicating data entry (timestamp 09:15). Duplicating information by including it in multiple SOPs adds more work when it’s time to update them. You don’t want to go back into ten or twenty SOPs to update one minor change when your process evolves. 

For example, if you’re creating SOPs on how to post content for each social media channel that includes your desired posting time, when that schedule changes, you’ll need to update each SOP. Instead, you might create a master schedule for all your social media posts and then link to it in each SOP so that there’s one place for everyone to refer to and one document to update. 

We hope you found these five common SOP mistakes helpful. If you’d like to further up your SOP game, we’ve included free templates and additional video resources below. Be sure to visit the ProcessDriven YouTube channel and let us know what you think in the comments!  

Until next time, enjoy the process! 

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