Procedures vs. Work Instructions — Learn how You Can Leverage Both for Your Organization

Lauren Funaro
August 30, 2022
min read
January 10, 2024
Photo credit
There’s been a debate on procedures vs. work instructions and we’re here to put an end to it. Read this blog to know how they differ and why you need both. 
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Most people are confused about the terms "procedures" and "work instructions. Mainly: which is which? Am I writing a work instruction or procedure, and does it matter? 

In short, yes. Knowing the difference between each will help you create a better documentation process to guide your employees and strengthen their skills. 

In this blog, we help you understand the relationship between procedures and work instructions.

TL;DR: Procedures vs. work instructions

We’ll cover:

  • What is a procedure?
  • What is a work instruction?
  • Procedures vs. work instructions
  • Why do you need both?
  • How to leverage both and create better documentation procedures

Let’s get started!

What is a procedure?

Procedures are step-by-step instructions that help you perform a specific task. They’re often consistent once established and help maintain a uniform understanding of what to do in different circumstances, like in this example of a new hire onboarding guide:

Different step-by-step procedures can help you with each part of a business. You’ve likely come across procedures in information sessions, training manuals, procedure manuals and guided tutorials. 

Here are a few examples of procedures in business and where/when you need to establish a procedure:

  • The project has multiple steps with very detailed actions.
  • A regular task is necessary for every employee to complete.
  • A process needs documents for hiring or training employees.
  • You get repeated questions about the task.
  • The process is vague, and employees can interpret it in multiple ways.

Creating numerous business procedures and ensuring their consistency can be challenging. Luckily there are SOP Chrome extensions and tools out there that automate the process and cut your time in half. 

For example, Scribe is an SOP (standard operating procedure) generator that documents your processes for you, creating a visual step-by-step guide. 


Check out this tutorial from Adam Heist to see the tool live in action. He explains each step in complete detail and has broken down the entire process well.

What are work instructions?

A work instruction is a detailed description of how to perform a process in steps. It should make clear to your employees how to perform their tasks. For example, you can create a work instruction that explains the specific steps on how to file and approve an employee expense claim. 

Work instructions describe the right way to perform a particular task. Every task is a part of a larger process, so every step must be clear with detailed guidelines, so there’s no room for misinterpretation. 

Here are a few use cases where you need to create a work instruction:

  • Work instructions that explain the process of onboarding new employees.
  • Work instructions for your sales team to define the sales process.
  • A thorough safety work instruction for your workers.
  • A work instruction for your IT team regarding IT security controls and procedures.

Documenting your workflow with the right work instructions will help you organize the process for every task. Here's how Hector Garcia uses Scribe to create detailed documentation.

Try Scribe's free ‎Work Instructions Generator to get started!

What’s the difference between procedures & work instructions?

“Procedures, or SOPs, are standard outlines of who does what and when. Work instructions sit underneath the SOP umbrella, and detail the step-by-step actions that any individual should take in carrying out a process. At Scribe, we can use our tool to easily create larger SOPs and then document the individual work instructions.”— Raina Ahuja, Product Manager, Scribe 

Why do you need both procedures & work instructions?

There’s a common misconception that you can use procedures and work instructions interchangeably. But they each have different purposes and winning teams leverage them both to strengthen processes and the organization as a whole. 

Here’s how: 

1. Procedures & work instructions maintain consistency

When you have multiple processes going on, there are chances of things going wrong or not as they should.

By creating procedures, you're explaining the step-by-step process, but work instructions will fill them in on other crucial details for the task. 

For example, the procedure of your sales process will explain the essential steps in it, but the work instructions will include every tiny detail that makes up those steps. Such as who is responsible for each step and any other background information. 

2. Procedures & work instructions flesh out broken steps in your organization

As an organization, there are high chances you have multiple recurring tasks and processes going on. It's normal for employees to overlook a few of the steps when everything isn't documented properly. 

So when you begin creating procedures and work instructions, you discover existing loopholes in completing the task. Detailing the entire procedure and describing work instructions removes any room for misunderstanding. 

3. Procedures & work instructions provide a hands-off training guide for new employees

When you onboard new employees, you won't be able to begin the training right off the bat. So instead of letting them figure out everything on their own, you can distribute SOPs and work instructions so they can familiarize themselves with tasks and steps.

This ensures they aren't entirely clueless during training, can learn the process quickly, and can ask questions. This cuts down training time and ensures you won't have to start everything from scratch. 

How do both procedures and work instructions work together?

Procedures and work instructions are two peas in the training pod.

  • Procedures outline the overall steps to finish tasks.
  • Work instructions provide a detailed guideline for completing the tasks associated with each step. 

You want both in place to ensure your employees clearly understand their tasks and how to do them.

However, note that procedures always come before work instructions. This is because procedures offer a more standardized approach that your employees can follow in any situation, while you can adapt work instructions to specific conditions.

🎓 Related resource: Steal These Manufacturing SOPs for Your Team

Procedures vs. work instructions — why not have both? 

Procedures and work instructions aren't alternatives to each other. You need both to establish consistency within your organization regarding every process.

However, we understand creating them and ensuring they are engaging can feel like a task unto itself. That’s why at Scribe we’re determined to make it easier for you. 

Check out how Scribe generates SOPs and work instructions, cutting your documentation process to just a few clicks.

Ready to try Scribe?

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