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Planning is key to a successful SOP development and implementation project.

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Development:
An Overview

Knowing how to develop standard operating procedures is critical for organizations of every size, from small manufacturers to sprawling government agencies.

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are among the most important documents in an organization’s resource base. Thoughtful and detailed SOPs help maximize adherence, which improves efficiency, safety, and productivity, and can lead to a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace.

SOPs break processes down into clear steps with detailed instructions. This helps ensure that employees complete routine activities in the same way each time, to:

  • Minimize safety risks
  • Drive consistency
  • Meet regulatory and corporate governance requirements
  • Assist employees with troubleshooting and problem-solving
  • Standardize performance and reduce errors
  • Increase efficiency, productivity, and profitability
  • Preserve “tribal knowledge” in anticipation of employee turnover

Identify the Employees Who Will Define the SOPs

Your internal or external technical writers likely will need to work with your subject matter experts (SMEs) and other stakeholders to gather content for and approve the SOPs. They also will need these individuals to provide insight into the roles and ability levels of the target audience, that is, those who will be performing the various procedures. These generally include:

  • Staff members currently performing the tasks
  • Supervisors responsible for quality assurance and standards
  • Department heads, executive officers, and other stakeholders

Determine Who Will Create Your SOP Documents

Often the people who perform the procedures are not the best candidates for documenting them. We recommend having technical writers – on your staff or from a firm – handle the SOP development for several reasons. More than just echoing verbal and written content from your SMEs, technical writers are trained experts at:

  • Asking the right questions of your SMEs and minimizing their time commitment
  • Communicating the information in the best way, according to the target audience of each SOP
  • Determining the amount of content appropriate for each SOP and when and where to split SOPs into multiple documents
  • Making the development and maintenance process efficient by identifying any content that can be reused, that is, the content that appears in multiple SOPs
  • Revising drafts of the SOPs according to your SMEs’ draft review feedback

Plan Your SOP Development Project

A typical organization may use hundreds of processes spread across multiple departments. Look across your organization and work with the identified employees — likely supervisors and department heads at this stage — to decide which processes need SOPs.

Generate a high-level list of processes and their associated SOPs to ascertain the scope of your SOP development project. Once you have a handle on the scope, you can decide whether to produce the work in-house or if it makes more sense to subcontract to a firm that specializes in content development, management, and delivery, such as Contiem, who has decades of experience developing this type of content.

Prioritize SOP development according to where your organization is most vulnerable in terms of process inconsistencies, documenting SOPs for the highest risk areas first. Alternately, you can prioritize developing SOPs that will have the highest return on investment, or SOPs that are most likely to yield early successes to build project visibility and momentum.

Consider These Important Factors Before Developing SOPs

Proper planning with experienced technical writers will support a smooth development process and is critical for creating a scalable system. Contiem technical writers ask the right questions to understand each client’s situation and make the best recommendations, covering:


Your technical writers should have a clear idea of why you are implementing an SOP and its objectives. For example, some SOPs are required by government agencies, such as the federal mandates in place for the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Others, in areas such as accounting and project management, may be in place to support the smooth operation of your business.


Consider whether a new SOP overlaps in any way with other existing SOPs. In some cases, it may be possible to combine multiple procedures into a single document. In other cases, you may need to split a process into multiple SOPs to make the tasks more manageable. You may also want to add references and links that explain how some SOPs are interrelated. Contiem specializes in driving down our clients’ ongoing costs by reusing content “chunks” wherever possible.


Deciding how your SOPs will be maintained and implementing a system appropriate for the complexity of your set of SOPs is an important part of minimizing the ongoing cost and effort of supporting your SOPs. With a Component Content Management System (CCMS) such as RSuite, for example, common segments of SOP content can be updated in one place, yet affect all SOP documents in which that common content appears. The expected frequency of updates should be a factor in the choice of management system and process.


Before and during the SOP development process, consider how your SOPs will be organized and accessed by which end users. Making each document easily accessible is key to maximizing your SOP investment and encouraging your team to comply. Determine how and where the SOPs need to be accessed, such as the office, the factory floor, or a remote location without reliable internet access. To cover all possibilities, documentation portals with smart delivery systems like Congility are popular.

Develop the SOPs

For a successful SOP development project, technical writers will need to choose the best way to communicate the information. Contiem technical writers will:

Know the Audience
Understanding the target audience is critical to meeting the person typically performing the procedure where they are. Trained technical writers are skilled in technical communication concepts in order to provide the right amount of information using the appropriate terminology.

Select the Format
Along with knowing the audience, trained technical writers are skilled in technical communication concepts in order to provide the right information in the right way. An SOP document may incorporate multiple design elements, including:

Review the SOP Drafts

The SOPs always should be reviewed with their SMEs and tested with those performing the procedure, if possible. The reviewers will be able to identify any information gaps and confirm — or make suggestions to improve — their ease of use.

Publish the SOPs

Finally, the technical writers will follow the established process for managing the SOPs, working with IT if necessary to get them into the final distribution platform. Like the SOPs themselves, this can take many forms and is largely dependent on the needs and size of the organization. The process ideally will include a notification system to let the affected staff know when an SOP has been revised or a new SOP has been published, a feature of Congility.

About Contiem

Contiem has been the trusted content partner of choice for companies and organizations such as American Express, the U.S. Federal Government, The Home Depot, Cisco Systems, UnitedHealthcare, eBay, Facebook, and many more.

When you engage Contiem, we take the time to listen and develop an in-depth understanding of your immediate needs and longer-term challenges. Then, leveraging the capabilities that make us unique, we will provide a best-in-class, client-focused solution designed to achieve your business goals.

Experienced in a host of authoring software and with a wide variety of industries, we specialize in delivering a blend of services for documenting products and processes, training development, translation and localization, and content management.

Whether you need a complete training program to augment a new product or service, or you require job aids for internal learning, Contiem has the experience and skills to deliver the results you are looking for.