The Joy of SOPs – Better Than Pizza, Better than Chocolate, Better THAN SEX! How to Create Effective SOPs


If you look at any type of documentation, crack open Apple, or Microsoft, or whoever, the classic model is it looks more like a textbook. There’s a chapter heading, a lot of text, maybe a table.

By the time you’ve finished reading it, your mind is numb, you’re brain fried, and you’ve just become functionally stupid because the documentation shut your brain down.

One of my friends gave me their SOP for setting up a firewall. It’s not a bad document, but it’s a lot of text, and looking at it my eyes glazed over. My tech’s eyes glazed over too, and I said “this is not a workable format.”

Keep the Recipe Simple
One of my strengths is effective problem solving, so I looked at it and said, “What’s wrong with this format? Why don’t I like it?”

I like simple things. For me, the best SOP on the planet is on the side of a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, or at the back of Ramen Noodles. If you look at the ramen noodles, they say:
Boil water. There’s a picture of the pot with water in it and some steamed rice.

Boil water, open packet, put noodles in, cook for 3-4 minutes, open the spice packet, stir and mix, put it in a bowl, eat. That’s the entire SOP for doing a ramen noodles, we call them recipes.

Use Three Columns
I modeled the recipes after that with a 3-column format. How many step numbers? Step 1, step 2, step 3, step 4.

The middle column is the text, which is what we’re all used to. The right column, the third column, is our secret weapon. It’s a screenshot with highlights, bolding, and circles and arrows telling you what to do.

Look at your screen right now, you’ve got 5, 10, 20, maybe 100 places you can click on. If it’s going to be a screenshot, it’s kind of pointless, so we train our team to highlight what you clicked on.

It’s the three things I have to follow: click here, click here, click here.

Highlight all three things and draw the arrows, click, click, click.

On the text side, tell me in bold what I am supposed to click on. Insert CD, click setup, click next, click next, type in name, click next, type in the license key, click, click, install, done.

Ramen Noodle Stupid
Most people would just write that as 1 or 2 paragraphs; we actually make it simple ramen noodle stupid. Every step should have a text and a screenshot.

If I can’t follow it at 2 o’clock in the morning half drunk, it’s not a good SOP.

That may sound funny, but it’s really not. When sh*t hits the fan and everyone’s panicked, the mental effect is worse than being drunk.

Panic makes you stupid and stressed.

We have survived four major crises in the last year due to SOPs or even proto-SOPs.

Proper documentation saves lives!