A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a set of step-by-step instructions compiled by an organization to help workers carry out routine operations. SOPs aim to achieve efficiency, quality output and uniformity of performance, while reducing miscommunication and failure to comply with industry regulations.
The military (e.g. in the U.S. and UK) sometimes uses the term standing (rather than standard) operating procedure because a military SOP refers to a unit's unique procedures, which are not necessarily standard to another unit. The word "standard" can imply that only one (standard) procedure is to be used across all units.
The term can also be used facetiously to refer to practices that are unconstructive, yet the norm. In the Philippines, for instance, "SOP" is the term for pervasive corruption within the government and its institutions.
Clinical research and practice
In clinical research, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) defines SOPs as "detailed, written instructions to achieve uniformity of the performance of a specific function". SOPs usually get applied in pharmaceutical processing and for related clinical studies. There the focus is always set on repeated application of unchanged processes and procedures and its documentation, hence supporting the segregation of origins, causes and effects. Further application is with triage, when limited resources get used according to an assessment on ranking, urgence and staffing possibilities. Study director is mainly responsible for SOPs. The Quality Assurance Unit are individuals who are responsible for monitoring whether the study report and tests are meeting the SOP. SOPs can also provide employees with a reference to common business practices, activities, or tasks. New employees use a SOP to answer questions without having to interrupt supervisors to ask how an operation is performed. The international quality standard ISO 9001 essentially requires the determination of processes (documented as standard operating procedures) used in any manufacturing process that could affect the quality of the product.
Health safety and environment
Procedures are extensively employed to assist with working safely. They are sometimes called safe work methods statements (SWMS, pronounced as 'Swims'). They are usually preceded by various methods of analyzing tasks or jobs to be performed in a workplace, including an approach called job safety analysis, in which hazards are identified and their control methods described. Procedures must be suited to the literacy levels of the user, and as part of this, the readability of procedures is important.
- Work method statement
- Safe work procedure
- Checklist – Aide-memoire to ensure consistency and completeness in carrying out a task
- Code of conduct – set of rules outlining the responsibilities of, or proper practices for, an individual, party or organization
- Operations research – Discipline concerning the application of advanced analytical methods
- Quality control – Project management process making sure produced products are good
- Rules of engagement
- Bureaucracy – Administrative system governing any large institution
- "McMurdo Station Medical Standard Operating Procedures as of 2006/06" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016.
- Guidance on the Documentation Requirements of ISO 9001:2008 Archived October 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
- Taylor, G.A. (2012) Readability of OHS documents - A comparison of surface characteristics of OHS text between some languages, Safety Science, 50(7), 1627-1635.