I’m missing my children terribly. It’s really difficult to even find the words to express my feelings. And after trying all sorts of different ways to deal with my longing for them, eventually tonight I just started working again. Early start to the New Year, why not.

So inspired by my brother’s blog posts with all his 10 of the best lists, I have decided that I need to produce a 10 of the best list too! So I’ve been munching and crunching and pondering and then I got it! 10 of the best tips for writing SOPs baby!

And of course I’m personally motivated to blog about this because I managed the SOP matrix at the pharma company that I consulted for. Badly written SOPs wastes everyone’s time. It wasted my time as the person who supports the writer, the SOP reviewer’s time and the time of the end user- the reader who is supposed to ultimately make use the SOP. Wasted time costs money!

A well planned and written SOP should be the tool one can use at 2am when no one else is around. Interestingly though, not so long ago someone countered this statement I made, by saying that ‘someone cannot perform a task if they not signed off as competent’. On paper yes. I don’t really feel the need to counter his counter…..all I’ll sheepishly add is in a perfect world yes, and we do stay in a perfect world…. don’t we? Of course we do.

So here goes:

#1: The most common misunderstanding I came across – A SOP is a process, not a policy. If you can’t flowchart it, then it does not belong in a document entitled SOP.

#2: The person who performs the work/task being detailed in the SOP, must draft the SOP. The most useless SOPs I’ve come across were written by a person in the company who wrote that SOP just for the sake of getting the SOP in place (usually to pass an audit!). It’s an absolute waste of time and resources to have a valueless SOP. I promise you, it will confuse someone along the line. It only degrades your quality system – does not improve it. Ironic really, it’s just not “quality”.

#3: Train, and train, and re-train and re-fresher train your people to write SOPs. That’s an investment worth gold. Training an organisations’ employees is empowering them – this includes SOP writing. There is nothing difficult or complicated about writing SOPs, yet many people are ‘put off’ by it. I can only assume it’s because they haven’t been properly trained. Writing a good SOP that can repeatedly be used to train others to do a different task, makes work easier for the writer of that SOP in the long run. An additional advantage, is the organisation becomes less dependent on tacit knowledge.

#4: Use plain language. Write for the end user, and remember that nine times out of ten, that end user person is a trainee.

#5: Use active language. An SOP is written to describe an action! It is perfectly ok, no…. it is a requirement that it sounds like an instruction. The procedural steps are not mere suggestions. The SOP is written to describe a set of actions that must be performed.

#6: Embrace white space. This tip is influenced by my editing experience. Some white space in an instructional or informative text makes the text easier to digest.

#7: Standardise all the SOPs in your organisation. Readers in your organisation will get used to the standard format and will find it really beneficial. Your SOPs will be easier to understand for end users. This is very important. Variation is the enemy of quality – do not let variation creep in with your SOPs.

#8: Keep it simple. If you can get away with a simple flowchart with responsibilities and timelines, then do that. Use tables if you can, bullet points and numbered lists. Of course you do all of this while being mindful of your standardised format and other regulatory requirements your organisation might have.

#9: Test drive every SOP before it becomes active. Strange but true, there are simple steps that the writer forgets about because it’s second nature to that person. It’s a very good idea to get someone who is unfamiliar with the procedure to read it for logical and understanding, and with the person who wrote the SOP, perform the function. Doing this save you from having to revise a recently activated SOP due to a simple oversight.

#10: Jason, you are the King of 10 of the best lists, because I can sincerely seriously could only come up with 9 above!