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How to Document Standard Operating Procedures, Based on 2,700 Ops Consultations

Jakub
Jakub "Kuba" Grajcar is the Content Marketing Manager at ZenPilot. His obsessions include interviewing smart people; productivity methods; project management; and playing bass in a progressive metal band.

Are your projects hit-or-miss?

With the right team members and the right conditions, you get great results.

But other times, you miss deadlines and fall short of client expectations.

Or perhaps you're becoming anxious that one day, some of your key team members might move elsewhere (or win the lottery), and their expertise will go with them.

If so, it might be time to look into documenting your Standard Operating Procedures.

Hi, I'm Kuba, coming to you on behalf of ZenPilot—we've done project management consulting for 2,700+ businesses, helping them build healthy, productive teams running a waste-free, self-sufficient operation.

And I'm here to tell you how you can document your Standard Operating Procedures so you get work done the right and best way, every time.

In this article, we'll be focusing on documenting SOPs. For a more complete view of everything you need to do to make SOPs work at your organization, check out our Ultimate Guide to Standard Operating Procedures here.

 

Let's get right into it. Starting with the short version...

How to document Standard Operating Procedures:

  1. Find and compile existing documentation.

  2. Ask team members to record a Loom video of their process.

  3. Alternatively, ask team members to use Tango or Scribe to document their processes.

  4. Carve out dedicated time for documenting SOPs.

  5. Don't forget to create buy-in by communicating the benefits of SOPs.

  6. Use AI to improve the process of writing SOPs.

  7. Create clarity around who updates SOPs and how frequently.

  8. Consider Guru as your SOP platform.

  9. Add a feedback loop to drive improvements.

Of course there's more than that to explore, so let's dive in!

 

Find and compile existing documentation

Before you set out to create entirely new SOPs, consider this:

It's likely your team members have already created some documentation for their own purposes.

This can take various forms.

Maybe it's a pinned Slack message with tips and tricks for a particular process—that you can build out into a full SOP.

Maybe it's a Loom video (that never made its way to you) where a team member explained a process in detail to someone else before they went OOO.

And in some cases, you may even happen upon entire Google Docs with detailed instructions that are basically SOPs in all but name.

Why build from scratch when you can leverage what's there?

So ask around for existing documentation first.

Our Client Coach Hannah shared some advice about this on a recent live stream:

Speaking of videos...

 

Ask team members to record a Loom video of their process.

Let's assume there's a process for which you're sure no previous documentation exist.

What's the quickest way to create an SOP for it?

I'd argue it might be asking the person responsible for the process to record a Loom video.

If they're not particularly charismatic, just ask them to record their screen as they perform a task, adding commentary as needed but not making it a point to address all the possible nuances and edge cases.

When you set the bar reasonably low like that, you can have the beginnings of an SOP in just the time it takes to run a process once (and share the resulting Loom).

It'll still need work—and you might want to turn the transcript into a written SOP later—but it's the first step towards making that process no longer live exclusively in your team members' heads.

If you're using Guru, you can easily embed Loom videos in Guru cards, like so:

More on Guru in a later section, but let's discuss two other tools first...

 

Alternatively, ask team members to use Tango or Scribe to document their processes.

For some processes, an even better alternative to Loom might be using a tool like Tango or Scribe.

With those, when you click Record they start automatically taking screenshots and writing out step-by-step instructions for everything happening on your screen until you stop capturing it.

Check out this Scribe example:

So you could, for example, click all the way through creating a new HubSpot contact from scratch, and Tango/Scribe will then output a tidy web page with ready-to-follow instructions for your team members.

And you can tweak the instructions too, to make them more clear.

In short, if you've never used either Tango or Scribe, you should give them a try.

Though these tools will definitely be a better fit for less creative tasks—perhaps ones that just require you to navigate through one of your more complex tools to do some important data entry.

For more on this, check out this post by our Productivity Professor Jeff Cypher:

 

Carve out dedicated time for documenting SOPs.

Of course, there will be processes that don't lend themselves well to Loom or Tango or Scribe.

Those might include more creative tasks, complex problem-solving, or processes that involve a lot of human interaction.

For these kinds of processes, you should set aside specific time for documentation.

Because working on SOPs never feels urgent enough to just spontaneously land on your daily agenda.

And either way, this is not something you can do in a hurry or on the fly.

You'll want to ensure that every detail is captured accurately and that the steps are easy to follow.

Remember, the goal is to make it so anyone on the team can pick up the SOP and understand how to execute the process without confusion.

This means you might need more than just screenshots or videos—a full SOP may involve detailed descriptions, diagrams, or even flowcharts.

It will take focus to produce such SOPs, but it will be worth it.

To get this done:

  • Schedule regular sessions dedicated solely to documentation.

  • Make sure everyone involved has a clear agenda and knows what they need to document. (Prioritize your processes beforehand to focus on the most important ones first!)

  • Encourage team members to prepare notes or outlines before each session, if they can, to speed up the work.

Batching work like this can create space for some wonderfully efficient, deep work.

ZenPilot co-founders Gray and Andrew leaned on this in the early days to punch way above their weight in terms of output.

Here's a related article you might like, especially if you're in the agency space: How to Document Agency Processes

Gray also spoke about this on the Agency Breakthrough podcast:

 

Don't forget to create buy-in by communicating the benefits of SOPs.

You might think the hard part of documenting your SOPs is untangling your complicated processes and writing them down step by step without missing important info.

And it can be.

But here's the other hard part:

Getting your team on board with documenting SOPs. Giving them the motivation to do it.

If they don't see the value, they won't put in the effort needed to create thorough and useful documents.

How to communicate the benefits of SOPs?

Here, I wrote you an email template for it:

 

---

Subject: Why SOPs Will Be Worth It

 

Hi Team,

 

I know it's another thing on our plates, but I wanted to make a case for investing our time in building out SOPs for our department.

Done right, SOPs can make all our jobs easier.

Here's what we stand to gain by documenting our processes:

 

  1. Fewer interruptions. I'm sure there's a process (or five) that you keep getting questions on. With SOPs, team members will have a set of instructions to follow, so you'll get fewer pings during your day, giving you a better chance to just focus on deep work.

  2. More autonomy. On the flipside, you might be the one asking the questions to your fellow team members. Nothing wrong with that, but—with SOPs it'll be easier for you to handle new tasks on your own. Which not only helps you succeed in your role faster, but it just feels good to be able to stand on your own two feet.

  3. Less time and effort onboarding new team members. When we have new people join us, SOPs will help them learn fast from a validated source. This means fewer meetings for everyone and less extra work when someone new comes aboard.

  4. Happier clients. We all care about our client NPS scores. Good SOPs mean we will all know how to take care of our clients the right way, every time, down to the last detail. When clients get consistent, top-notch service, our reviews are bound to get even better, which can only help us all grow.

  5. We'll get ready to automate the boring stuff away. When we break down down how we do things and write it down, we'll be that much closer towards making them automatic with tools like Zapier or Make. It's the first step towards automating away the tedious tasks that nobody really enjoys doing.

 

Let's use SOPs to make our work smoother and more enjoyable. If you've got questions or ideas about our SOPs, just let me know. We're in this together to make our workplace better.

 

Thanks for your hard work!

---

 

Will one email do all the work of persuading your team members to get onboard with SOPs?

Hardly. It's likely you'll have to repeat the message in meetings, on Slack, maybe even over beer during teambuilding...

...but it will be worth it, because it will grease the wheels of all the work to follow.

 

Use AI to improve the process of writing SOPs.

Can ChatGPT write your SOPs for you?

You know the answer. It will gladly try, but the results aren't likely to be good enough.

However, AI can still play a crucial role to help you write better SOPs, faster.

Especially when you give it some pre-existing data or documents to play around with.

Here's how AI tools can help you document your SOPs:

  • Transcribe video content: I mentioned above that some of your SOPs might come primarily in video form. With AI, you can quickly convert that Loom transcript into a more structured text, and make a lot of headway towards having a full and detailed written SOP.

  • Organize disjointed information: If it happens that you have pre-existing documentation about a process, you can use AI to sort through it and categorize it. You can scan for discrepancies, generate a summary, or even create a checklist from the information.

  • Provide feedback and look for gaps: Once you've got an SOP on your hands which you feel is almost complete, punch it into ChatGPT (or Claude, or another AI you like) to get feedback on it. You could use a prompt like: You are an expert on Standard Operating Procedures. Perform a deep analysis of this SOP and list all the ways it might be improved, all the steps that might have been missed, and other pieces of feedback you may have. Be very exhaustive.

  • Assist with writing: Aside from looking for substantive gaps or steps you may have missed, AI can also help you make the language and phrasing in your SOPs a little clearer. It's like an editor that never runs out of patience... Though you should take some of its suggestions with a grain of salt.

It's worth experimenting with this, especially as AI keeps getting better.

Just keep in mind: no AI in the world will be able to output an SOP that reflects your team's secret sauce and hard-won process lessons.

Use it to assist you, but remember there are stretches of this path you'll have to walk the old-fashioned way.

Related: How to Leverage AI for Process Building

 

Create clarity around who updates SOPs and how frequently.

The first time you write down an SOP is magical. You've finally documented that process, congrats!

But the clock immediately starts ticking until the inevitable moment when the information becomes out of date.

Maybe you switch tools, maybe you make tweaks based on user feedback, maybe you'll move around the order of some of the steps...

Which is why you need a battle plan for how you'll keep your SOPs up to date.

Here's how to keep your SOPs current and relevant:

  • Assign ownership of each SOP to a specific individual or team.

  • Set a schedule for regular reviews and updates—carve out half a day every month or perhaps one full day every two months. This type of work is important but never feels urgent, so make sure you respect the timebox once you set it on your calendars.

  • Ensure changes are communicated effectively to all stakeholders. Try starting a dedicated Slack channel for this, or perhaps create an "SOP Changelog" page in your internal wiki.

You might also consider stealing the tool that we use here at ZenPilot to keep SOPs up to date—more on that in the following section.

 

Consider Guru as your SOP platform.

At ZenPilot, we've grown really fond of Guru to store our SOPs.

Guru has a range of functionalities that make it very clear which SOPs need updating, by whom, and when.

Here are the Guru features that are particularly helpful for SOPs:

  • Guru cards are always clearly labeled as Verified or Unverified—so you know whether the information in the card is up to date and you're free to follow the process within.

  • You can set up Guru cards so they become Unverified at regular intervals, at which point a team member must review them and make sure the information is still valid.

  • To ensure accountability, Guru cards can be assigned to specific team members, so there's no doubt who should update and re-verify them.

  • Guru isn't shy to ring the alarm about Unverified cards. If you're assigned to a card that needs updating and it's Unverified, you'll get daily Slack notifications about it. (If that's too frequent, you can change this in the settings.)

Here's a couple Guru screenshots for you to chew on:

In the screenshot above, note that the card is clearly noted as Verified, you can see who's responsible for it and how long ago it was updated. Also note the use of tags, links to other Guru pages, and references to a Loom video attached to the card. It's all connected!

And here's what that Slack notification about unverified cards looks like. That's not my Slack though, of course. I would never leave 9 cards unverified. Perish the thought.

Guru has also recently introduced an AI feature where you can ask it in plain language for information, and it will scour your whole database and write a relevant answer, citing the cards it sourced the information from.

So the more you document your SOPs, the richer this database will be, and the easier it will be for team members to self-serve answers to key questions about your company processes!

Related: 4 Underrated Tools For Agency Growth

 

Add a feedback loop to drive improvements.

No matter how you set up your process for documenting your SOPs, people will have questions and feedback.

Make sure you create a system that can capture that feedback, so you can keep improving the way you document your processes.

You might want to set up a ClickUp Form that automatically creates tasks based on the feedback received.

Of course, a lighter solution like a dedicated email inbox or Slack channel might work here too.

Just be sure to clearly indicate in all your materials where the "suggestion box" for your SOP documentation process resides.

With a continuous improvement system like that in place, you'll keep upgrading your company's "second brain" of SOP knowledge.

And your team members will be happier that they have a clear way to voice their opinions, too.

Related: The 6 Most Important Steps To Effective Agency Change Management

 

Documenting SOPs is one step towards gold-standard operations.

But if you want to scale your business, win exciting clients, create financial stability for yourself and your employees, and (if that's your wish) make a successful exit...

...you need to do more than just document your Standard Operating Procedures.

You need to holistically bring your business operations to the gold-standard level.

And for that, you need to take care of Three Keys:

  1. Tools

  2. Processes

  3. Habits

Documenting SOPs will go a long way towards dialing in your Processes, but you still need to place the SOPs within a larger work management system so that nothing falls through the cracks in your business.

At ZenPilot, we've helped nearly 3,000 businesses implement such a system.

A system where it becomes crystal clear for managers who's working on what on each given day, who's got free capacity and who's overwhelmed, and who's behind on their deliverables.

A system where individual contributors log in each day with a clear list of tasks, broken down in a way that makes it easy to track time granularly on each one.

A system which makes inefficiencies in your workflows so obvious, you can't help but work on them to limit the waste at your company.

Interested in learning the ropes of that system?

Our Ultimate Guide to ClickUp will be a great starting point, covering the nuances you need to know about to use Clickup the optimal way.

And if you decide you want an Easy Button for implementing this system, contact us here for a free consultation.

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