Standard Operating Procedures: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:00 Definition
  • 1:00 Benefits
  • 1:42 Examples
  • 2:42 Writing Standard…
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and a PhD in Higher Education Administration.

Standard operation procedures (SOPs) document the steps of key processes to help ensure consistent and quality output. In this lesson, you'll read the definition of SOPs, understand why they are important tools for organizations, and learn some tips for writing SOPs.

Definition of Standard Operating Procedures

Let's say you worked at a pet store and a customer comes over asking if they can return a used dog toy. How do you handle this situation? Perhaps if there were written rules or steps that the company provided you, you would know how to respond. Or, maybe you are a manager who trains employees over and over again how to properly build a counter top. What could save you time in the future? You could write down exactly which steps to follow and make them accessible to each new employee. These are called standard operating procedures.

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are written instructions intended to document how to perform a routine activity. Many companies rely on standard operating procedures to help ensure consistency and quality in their products. Standard operating procedures are also useful tools to communicate important corporate policies, government regulations, and best practices.


Many workplace processes require strict adherence to a set of instructions to ensure the intended outcome occurs. Even the best employees don't have perfect memories, so having a set of written instructions they can refer to when performing the steps of the process ensures everything is done correctly. When new employees are trained, standard operating procedures help keep their training fresh and serve as important reference tools. Copies of standard operating procedures should be available at the actual location where the work is being done. This not only ensures the people that need them can access them, but it also demonstrates the company's efforts to communicate policy and regulation to employees.


Standard operating procedures can benefit any process or task within an organization that management wants done the same way each time. Originally, standard operating procedures were popular in the manufacturing environment, since they are an integral part of quality assurance systems. If a company is making the same thing over and over, customers and managers expect consistency in the product.

For example, a standard operating procedure may specify how much of what ingredients to add in a processed food plant. It can also provide detail on how to build a laptop case, including how much pressure to use when tightening the fasteners. A standard operating procedure could also let workers know how much paint to apply to the front panel of an automobile.

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