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Management And Training

Standard Operating Procedures: A Writing Guide

September 19, 2010
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Quality, well-managed cleaning organizations require a commitment from all staff to provide consistently clean results.

Organization leaders can drive that commitment and the best results by developing and implementing well-written standard operating procedures (SOPs).

SOPs are an integral part of a quality system and are required by ISSA''s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) for certification.

SOPs provide workers direction, improve communication, reduce training time and increase cleaning consistency.

Yet, many cleaning organizations lack written SOPs.

This writing guide is designed to provide both a better understanding of SOPs as well as a framework for getting started.

What Are SOPs?

Standard operating procedures are written and documented instructions that define all processes included in an organization.

SOPs provide employees with the information needed to perform their jobs properly and help ensure consistency in the quality of performance.

Why Do Organizations Need SOPs?

SOPs facilitate consistent implementation of processes and procedures so even when there are changes in personnel, organizations avoid inconsistencies and safety risks.

An organization''s SOP manual is an important training document and provides workers with increased confidence, motivation and a sense of achievement.

The manual also serves as a tool for quality management.

Writing SOPs: Where To Begin

SOPs should be written in a step-by-step, easy-to-read format by subject-matter experts who know the processes and the structure of the organization.

The process descriptions and steps should not be overly lengthy or wordy; instead, they should be simple and short.

Illustrations, diagrams and charts are helpful when it''s necessary to visually demonstrate processes as they are described.

It may be helpful to include additional experts to help gather information and to review, test and approve draft SOPs.

General SOP Format

An organization''s SOPs should be written in a format that is tailored to the organization type and its unique requirements.

The following is a general format that could work for various cleaning organizations:

  • Title page: The title page of an organization''s SOPs should include the name of the document, the organization''s name, publication date and revision dates. The title page may also include the name of the department following the SOPs — such as facility maintenance or custodial operations, etc. — as well as the author''s name.

  • Table of contents: A list of contents along with page numbers allows for quick reference to processes.

  • Chapter pages: Chapter pages can help divide content by area or task type. Chapter pages serve as mini title pages introducing each section and indicate dates for the most recent revisions.

  • Chapter content: Each chapter should first briefly describe the purpose of the work or process, including any regulatory information or standards that are appropriate to the process. Next, step-by-step instructions follow in logical order, along with diagrams and illustrations as needed. Steps should include products and equipment needed, possible obstacles, personnel qualifications and safety considerations. For lengthy process descriptions, a flow chart might be necessary to describe processes that often include interferences or variances.

Review And Approval

Before finalizing and distributing SOPs, organizations must get the documentation reviewed and validated by people with training and experience on the processes.

In addition, it is a good idea to have the SOPs tested by staff who will be asked to comply with them.

By following these steps, the author can identify missing information or needed revisions.

Once SOPs are approved, they should be made readily available to facility management, building occupants and cleaning employees.

Finally, SOPs must remain current, so they should be updated and re-approved at least annually or whenever procedures change.

Though the SOP development process takes time and effort, it can provide significant improvement to a cleaning organization''s operational results and workers'' understanding and job performance.


Dave Frank is a 30-year industry veteran and the president of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences. AICS is the registrar for ISSA''s Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS) certification program.

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