After the coding and testing phases are finished, specific documentation is needed on how to operate the system. This documentation is important because the developers who write the code will be assigned to new projects after turnover and implementation of the system. Consider the following situations where System (Standard Operating) Procedure Documentation is needed.
- Mainframe environment: The actual running of the system is assigned to computer operators. How will they know when to start a job, cancel a job, or what to do if a job stops in the middle of an automated process?
- Distributed network of mid-range servers: Operation of the servers is the responsibility of the administrators. How will they know which servers in a cluster belong to the specific application, what to do if there is a failure, or when to start a backup procedure?
Since the original developers are no longer available to answer questions or troubleshoot problems, how does the computer operator or administrator know what to do? They can’t rely on helpdesk staff because these people are usually devoted to assisting the end-user customer. Therefore, this documentation is vital. Typically, it is written by technical writers with input from the original developers.
Tips for Writing System Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Documentation
SOP documentation is a set of instructions on how to run the system. The writing must be clear, concise, and accurate. The following tips should be used when writing this documentation.
- Include a title page with application name, name of department that owns the application, software version number, original publication date, revision date, and any document number or identifier.
- Decide on the procedures that need to be written for the document.
- Include a table of contents.
- Include an overview that describes the document and its intended audience. In addition, this section can include emergency contact names, phone numbers, and email addresses.
- Define application-related terms in a glossary and put it in the beginning of the document.
- Use an easy-to-read format with plenty of white space between procedures. The sections should be numbered in an outline format.
- Use a standard font of a reasonable size, at least 12 points for text.
- Use consistent headers and sub-headers of the same style throughout the entire document.
- Use simple-to-understand language. Do not write excessively long sentences.
- Use numbered lists for step-by-step procedures.
- Use bullet point lists for other information that is not a step-by-step procedure.
- Use tables wherever possible for information that fits in this format.
- Format the document to include headers, footers, and page numbers.
- Add an appendix for necessary forms, such as checklists or daily logs.
- Select a knowledgeable group of people to review the document and make revisions, based on their comments, before releasing the final version.
- After the documentation is finished, create multiple copies in various formats so it can be viewed on different platforms, such as a PC, tablet, e-reader, or mobile device. For example, the formats can be Adobe PDF for a PC, HTML for web browsers and EPUB for tablets.
- For easy distribution, store the finished document in a centralized repository that is available to the people who need it.
The final aspect of SOP documentation concerns the future revisions. Apply a version control ID to the original document and save it in a secure repository. As the original document will be the source for future revisions, it should not be publicly available for accidental change or deletion.
System Standard Operating Procedure Templates and Standard Operating Procedure Samples are often used to promote consistency and professionalism within an organization.