Version 1 / 13min read / Updated Sun 08 May 2022 / 643 views / of verified
Standard Operating Procedures
A standard operating procedure is the approved process to complete a complex and/or recurring task. A procedure consists of a series of detailed steps - carrying out those steps ensures a desired result. Writing down instructions for operating procedures is essential to achieve the desired result easily and repeatedly. Wherever a task exists the unit will attempt to identify and establish a standardised way to complete it which will then be issued and distributed as SOP.
The overall goal for SOPs is to facilitate mission accomplishment both operationally and organisationally.
The units core combat doctrine is derived from US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC); it forms the foundation in which we build from when developing SOP. Specifically, US Army Techniques Publication, Infantry Platoon and Squad (ATP 3-21.8), other sources will be listed in the footer when viewing a SOP.
Published SOP must be best practice, as such just because something may be performed a certain way in the real-world - it does not mean that in adapting any given procedure that it must or will be done identically, procedures must be adapted to the platform environment "gamified". The ultimate determination is at the discretion of the Commanding Officer.
SOPs essentially fall into two categories;
- Operating procedures, i.e. operational tasks ("How to clear a building")
- Organisational policies, i.e. unit management and policy ("What you can and can't do")
The unit maintains hundreds of SOPs across both categories which make up the totality of the approved doctrine, over time SOP must be updated to adapt to new learnings, best practices and to reach the desired outcomes of the units command. This SOP specifically is directed at personnel interested in SOP development. As developers of instructional materials, SOP authors must follow a process that ensures effective instructions as well as effective procedures that align with the doctrine and meet the objectives of the units command.
Stages of development
Before drafting SOP, the need for it must be determined. In the first stage, the SOP author identifies an improvement to make it known as the scope. The author details the proposed scope of changes in the SOP portal by submitting a request known as an ATER (Authorisation to Edit Request).
The ATER is reviewed at command level, if approved the author can proceed to the next stage of development - this prevents wasted resource, by preventing the commencement of drafting until the scope is agreed.
In the second stage, the SOP author is given access to the SOP Portals Editing tools and establishes an optimal process for achieving the objective outlined in the approved scope. This becomes the draft operating procedure. This stage involves research, collaboration and testing. Depending on the scale of the change, units may be formed to complete this task, CSIP (continual SOP improvement programme) teams carry out developmental testing in order to recommend improvements to existing SOPs to command level.
Authors drafting SOPs must ensure alignment with higher-level SOPs to support the goals of unit standardization. Standardization throughout an organization reduces operational turbulence and confusion between units and their personnel.
In drafting the SOP author details, in writing, how to carry out the operating procedure, leaving detailed notes as they revise the draft SOP, once finished the author submits it for command approval and consideration.
The commander’s approval makes a document a SOP. Before a SOP is approved by the commander, the draft procedure will typically be distributed amongst the Chain of Command to solicit feedback before it comes into force. Further revisions may be required before approval is granted. When a SOP is approved by the commander, it is communicated force wide prior to coming into force.
The unit is dedicated to continual improvement and strives to continuously update and improve standard operating procedures across all disciplines. Members of the organisational Chain of Command have access to the SOP portals and are able to contribute changes to SOPs, enlisted personnel can be authorised by the J-6 staff office (training command) and granted the same access in order to facilitate further contributions.
Using the SOP portal
Creating new SOPs
New SOPs can be created using the SOP portal by navigating to an active SOP in the area you'd like to create a SOP in, and selecting the 'New SOP' option. This option is currently only open to Corporals and above.
Once selected, you'll need to provide a proposed name for the new SOP, and the category it belongs to.
After creating your draft SOP, you'll be redirected to the ATER creation screen in the SOP portal, which is covered next.
Authorisation to edit requests
Before you can make edits to a SOP, you need to request authorisation to edit it. This is known as an Authorisation to Edit Request (ATER). An ATER is a detailed summary of the changes you'd like to make to a SOP, the contents of the ATER depends on what the scope of the changes you'd like to make are. Only one ATER can be active for a SOP at any time, so in the case that an ATER exists, you'll not be able to create a new one.
If you're creating a new SOP, your ATER should clearly outline the purpose of the SOP, why it's needed and what it's contents would be. If you're making minor edits to formatting, images and generally non-content changes, you don't need to provide as much information.
If you are making changes to an existing SOP, such as adding or removing procedures, you'll want to outline what and why. The ATER should cover the scope of all your changes that you'd like to make, once you submit your ATER it is sent to command level to be authorised.
If your ATER is authorised, you'll be able to start making draft changes to the SOP, covered next. If your ATER is not authorised, you'll be given a reason and you could submit another ATER taking that feedback into account, if you wish.
Contributing to drafts
Before you can make edits to a SOP, you'll need to check-in, this locks the draft so only you can edit it, and prevents other users from saving over your progress.
Once checked-in, you'll be able to commence editing the draft SOP using the editor. The editor has a number of features to allow formatting, including the ability to toggle the fullscreen editor using Ctrl+Shift+F.
There are a number of functions on this screen, detailed below;
- Checkout Draft - this will allow other editors to check in and contribute to your draft
- Reset Draft - this will remove all changes and revert the draft back to the live version of the SOP
- Cancel Draft & ATER - this will reset the draft and remove the ATER altogether
- Save Draft - this will save the current changes and comments creating a Revision.
Further down in the portal you'll find a box to enter revision change logs, the ability to change the SOP title, a list of users who have contributed to the draft and their changes. Finally the ATER's approved scope is visible on this screen, all changes in the draft should fall within the authorised scope of the ATER.
Once you've made some edits to the draft SOP, more options will be visible;
- Preview Draft - this will show you what the SOP looks like publically, and gives you a link to share to proof readers
- Request Approval - this will submit the Draft SOP for command approval or feedback and will prevent further edits
As seen below, the Preview Draft screen clearly denotes that the SOP is a draft.
Once approval is requested, it's possible to Withdraw the request, to make further changes if required.
Using the SOP manual
Table of contents
"TOCs" or Tables of Content are generated automatically based on a SOPs structure, you'll need to use Headings from the editors Formats->Headings menu to utilise this feature. The structure of a SOP is important for readability, if you have any problems with this feature, use the j6 channel for support.
Suitable SOPs are converted into AudioSOPs on an occasional basis, when a SOPs version changes due to updates, the AudioSOP is automatically unpublished until a new one is issued, if you need to request one use J6 for further support.
Public statistics show the Version number, last updated date and the number of unique views the SOP has received, lastly the number of confirmed reads from the active force is shown.
Writing effective SOP
To help authors get started, below lists sample initial questions for authors to ask themselves. This list is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive.
- What is the objective of the procedure to be established or revised (what will be the end result of the procedure)?
- What is the commander’s guidance about the procedure and its end result?
- What is the instructional purpose of the SOP document (what will its users be able to do)?
- What background knowledge do SOP users have?
- To develop the procedure thoroughly and accurately, what information must be gathered and from what sources?
- What sources are considered authoritative or informative for this procedure?
- If a procedure already existed for achieving the objective, what were its strengths and weaknesses?
- If there is already a consensus for the optimal way to achieve the objective, what is the general statement of that method?
- Whose assistance and what additional resources will be needed to complete the SOP?
- Who must agree on the procedure?
- What major subtopics should the SOP include?
Authors prepare a series of drafts and integrate input from stakeholders into each revision of the document. This helps ensure the final instructions accurately explain the procedure. Early in SOP development, authors identify stakeholders who will review the drafts and provide input. Stakeholders include any person or group with a direct interest or involvement related to the SOP.
In the context of authoring, drafting refers to writing preliminary and developmental versions of a document. Drafting is usually collaborative. The number of drafts needed depends on the complexity of the procedure.
In general, SOPs contain the following;
- Scope (to whom the SOP applies and under what conditions or circumstances).
- Definitions (sometimes needed to explain terms new to readers or to interpret acronyms).
- Detailed instructions for the procedure, explaining
- Who performs exactly what tasks
- When to perform the tasks and under what conditions
- How to perform the tasks
- A reason to perform the tasks
- What the result will be as each task is completed
- Alternating actions to take in likely changes of circumstances.
SOP authors ensure their instructions are easy to read and follow. To write effective instructions, SOP authors
- Focus on the objective.
- Carefully observe and analyze the tasks to be explained.
- Incorporate appropriate media (such as illustrations or videos).
- Limit the use of acronyms and abbreviations and interpret those used.
- The test of good writing is that a reader should have no trouble understanding exactly what to do after reading the instructions one time.
Concise writing expresses the writer's point with the fewest words possible. Concise writing for SOPs avoids—
- Passive sentences.
- Fancy (bureaucratic) words and long sentences.
- Unnecessary repetition.
Effective writers avoid passive sentences when possible because they tend to slow or impair reading comprehension. Passives make a document longer than necessary because they tend to be wordy. Conciseness does not mean that repetition is never appropriate. SOP authors consider whether instructions should repeat critical information. Authors avoid unnecessary repetition by carefully organizing SOP content.
Organised writing always starts with a purpose. Organized writing for SOPs presents
- More important ideas before less important ideas.
- Closely related ideas together.
- Subordinate ideas under main ideas.
- The steps of a process in chronological order.
Authors achieve organization through planning and outlining. Outlining consists of making a list of topics and arranging the topics in relation to one another. Authors prepare topic outlines before drafting any other text.
To-the-point writing is direct. It states the main point at the beginning. A reader should not have to surmise the main point or wait until the end to discover it. SOPs give to-the-point instructions using a mix of strong, imperative sentences and active, descriptive sentences. Imperative sentences do not require a subject—they tell a person to perform an action. Strong imperative sentences start with strong verbs. The document still must state explicitly who performs each action, especially when the instructions address more than one person. Instructions do not need to use words such as “must” or “should.” The following sentences provide more examples of passive, imperative, and descriptive sentences.
Example of passive sentences (ineffective):
- The engine is to be turned off.
- The aforementioned task is always completed at the beginning.
Examples of imperative sentences (effective if the document makes it clear who performs the action):
- Turn off the engine.
- First, turn off the engine.
Examples of descriptive sentences (effective when they clarify imperative sentences):
- Turning off the engine helps conserve fuel and reduce the risk of fire.
- By turning on the engine you can operate the vehicle more effectively.
UNITAF Standard Operating procedures (SOP) are adapted primarly from US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Our written and audio procedures are a combination of the following primary source materials, as well as our own learnings, modifications and adaptations:
- US Army Techniques Publication, Infantry Platoon and Squad (ATP 3-21.8)
- Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks Warrior Leader Skills Level 2, 3, and 4 (STP 21-24-SMCT)
- The Warrior Ethos and Soldier Combat Skills (FM 3-21.75 / FM 21-75)
- Leadership Development (FM 6-22)
- Dyslexi's Tactics, Techniques, & Procedures for Arma 3 (TTP3)