Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) – A complete guide! – Scope and Purpose

Welcome back to the second in our series of blogs describing the Key elements in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) lifecycle where we will consider what is the purpose of a SOP. Last time we introduced the ‘SOP pie’ to help us describe the main areas involved and a high level view of the lifecycle. This blog will dig further into the first slice of that pie - Scope & Purpose.

The SOP Pie diagram highlighting the scope and purpose of a sop

Before we move on let's just remind ourselves at a high level what a Standard Operating Procedure is:

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are detailed written instructions to achieve uniformity of the performance of a specific function. These can be used to satisfy compliance requirements, mitigate health and safety risk, improve quality or simply to work in a consistent and efficient manner throughout an organisation.

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So moving on to Scope and Purpose of your SOP

When thinking about the Scope and Purpose of a SOP, the first thing to understand is whether this is an update to existing SOP or a totally new SOP.

There is no point in reinventing the wheel when a simple review and refresh may do the job. Then ask yourself some simple questions on Scope:

  • Where is the SOP to be used and where is it not applicable, e.g. area, process, department, stage?
  • Who is the SOP for and aimed at, e.g. Operator, Manager, QA person?
  • Are there any specific limitations or exceptions that need to be called out?

There are similar types of questions on Purpose:

  • Why is the SOP required, e.g. to give guidance to staff, to meet legislation, to remove reliance on ‘expert’ staff.
  • What problem will it solve and what does it need to achieve? E.g. Prevent accidents, Improve efficiency, increase accuracy. etc etc

Once we have a clear answer to those questions, we need to:

No 1 – Write it down!

Every SOP should have within it a Scope section and a Purpose section at the top. These can be one combined section or separate sections, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the information you have gathered in answering those questions and any other information you deem as pertinent to your situation, is documented here. The only extra tip here is to make it clear, ensure all points are covered, but don’t make it into 'War and Peace' otherwise it will just get ignored.

No 2 – Use as the Foundation of the SOP!

This information should be used as the bed rock of your SOP. At each step of creating the SOP you need to check back against these original statements of Purpose and Scope…..If you do find differences it might be that you have wondered ‘off piste’ to an area you shouldn’t be covering, however it could just as easily be that your Scope and Purpose were slightly wrong to begin with and need to be tweaked along the way.

That’s just about it on our Scope and Purpose deep dive. Hopefully that has helped you on your way in the first step of creating SOP. Look out for the next series which will cover the Audience and Author considerations