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SOPs -- Why Not Just the Steps?

This question comes up a lot in our Zavanta implementation sessions: Why not just list the steps for how to do a task? 

Clearly, the actions (steps) are the major part of any SOP, but not the only information that makes a good SOP.  If you adopt a “just the steps” approach you are missing a lot of important information.

Here’s what’s wrong with a “Just the Steps” approach:
  1. There is no context. A title and a list of steps provides no context to your end user, which gives it little value as a training tool. There is also no connection between one SOP and another, so it is hard to see the relationships and the bigger picture.
  2. There is a lot of important, missing information. For example: Why perform this task?  Studies show that people will be more apt to perform a task and do it correctly if they understand why its important. 
  3. Most SOP writers make common mistakes such as confusing Pre-Knowledge with Actions, leaving out Warnings and Precautions, omitting Troubleshooting information or Common Problems to look out for.  
  4. There is no sense of who does something. This is important both in terms of training people for a specific job, but also helpful for employees in other roles that may have questions.
  5. There is no list of materials needed to complete the task. In some cases, the steps are easy to remember, its all the other information that you need to have in place or on hand that can be harder to remember. There is nothing more frustrating than starting a task and then in midstream realizing you don't have everything you need. 
One of the key features of Zavanta software is that is presents information back to end users in the order they need to see it in order to successfully complete the task, and do it correctly, with minimal supervision. 

While writing "steps only" may save time on the front end, thoroughly documented SOPs are easier to read and easier to follow which creates a more actionable, scalable system. Fewer questions, fewer errors, misunderstandings.  You save time in the long run.