Businesses normally set rules on how the the work gets done, and will use standard operating procedures, called SOPs, as well as a set of policies and procedures to accomplish work predictably and efficiently. There are difference between the two. Policies and procedures give an overview of a company’s activities. Operating strictly “by the book” means adhering to standard operating procedures.


Policies and procedures describe the generalized view of a job without getting into the major specifics, and often remain the same within a department or across the company as a whole. These often govern who does what on the job. Standard operating procedures get down to specifics of how a task is to be accomplished. SOPs work to fulfill policy and procedures. In general, policies and procedures come first while standard operating procedures are drawn up after a company determines its policies and procedures.


SOPs look more toward standardized ways to get work done, while policies and procedures allow more room for a worker to improvise. Because of this, policies and procedures create more likelihood of a standardized product or service, but SOPs insure that a product or service comes out the same way every time. Policies and procedures generally come from upper management. A department or shift manager oversees and enforces most standard operating procedures.

Examples of Specificity and Level of Detail

If a retail operation doesn’t allow returns, that’s general store policy. SOPs for that same store may explain how to tell a customer about the policy or when to call the store manager. Standard operating procedures are key in high-stakes tasks that have little margin for error. This includes medical care, where certain protocols are observed for practices ranging from blood draws to major surgery. Many technical tasks like fixing a computer or correcting a website’s coding errors are best served when protocols -- SOPs -- are written out first. Most of a company’s safety rules carry enough specificity to classify as standard operating procedures.

Step By Step

Standard operating procedures take a process and break it down step by step. This may include anything from how to thoroughly clean a work station to the sequence of assembling a hamburger per company standards.

In Writing

Many businesses write down policies and standard operating procedures. If the work requires many steps, SOPs will take up more space in the manual than policies and procedures. In practice, many policies are merely passed down orally or posted on the wall.