- What are work instructions?
- Why are work instructions important?
- How to write work instructions
- The difference between work instructions and SOPs
- Work instructions vs. processes vs. procedures
- Level up your work instructions with Scribe
Imagine assembling a piece of furniture without going through the instruction booklet. Unless you're an expert at assembling, you'll likely end up with a wobbly structure and a handful of nuts and bolts left over.
Companies provide an instruction manual with a product to help users assemble it correctly and efficiently. And to make sure they don't get hurt.
Work instructions share a similar purpose. They help you explain to your co-workers how to perform certain tasks. These instructions provide clear guidance on task-related steps to improve operational efficiency and safety and reduce errors, downtimes, and workplace accidents.
Here's what work instructions are, plus step-by-step instructions to help you create work instructions of your own.
Before we get started, here's a TL;DR to help you understand what we'll be covering in the post:
TL;DR: How to write work instructions
- Work instructions are detailed, step-by-step guides that clearly explain how to perform a specific task.
- Work instructions are different from SOPs, processes, and procedures.
- Work instructions should meet the following criteria to be effective: credible, clear, accessible, and consistent.
- To create work instructions manually, write the document title, define purpose, write instructions, add visuals, rewrite these instructions for simplicity, add references, and test their effectiveness once drafted.
- Or you can use Scribe to create visual instructions quickly and efficiently. Scribe creates visually appealing work instructions by capturing user movements while they're performing a work process.
What are work instructions?
Work instructions are detailed, step-by-step guidelines that clearly and precisely explain how to perform a specific task. These instructions break down a task into manageable steps, often accompanied by illustrations or diagrams to clarify the process.
They comprise relevant information like tools to use, quality standards, and troubleshooting tips; among other things.
Well-written instructions can result in faster and more efficient training, quality improvements, fewer disruptions, and increased staff satisfaction.
But, when drafted poorly, they can lead to serious consequences, including errors, injuries, delays, and quality issues.
That being said, let's learn why work instructions are important.
Why are work instructions important?
Work instructions are important because they provide employees with a clear direction to perform their work tasks. This can include anything - from day-to-day tasks to complex procedures.
Work instructions also help them understand what the management's minimum expectations are.
For management, providing employees with detailed work instructions offers several benefits. These include ensuring that all employees follow the same standardized procedures, avoiding costly mistakes and/or liabilities, continuously training their employees, and facilitating better communication with them.
So, the better your work instructions are, the more efficient your workplace will be.
Work instructions guide workers in four key quality areas: training, reference, problem-solving, and continuous improvement. These areas directly relate to the Deming Cycle that identifies fundamental quality planning as "Plan-Do-Check-Act."
Here’s how this works:
- Plan: You create instructions you want the workers to execute.
- Do: The references then need to be effectively implemented to make them accessible to all personnel.
- Check: Then, documentation has to be verified to ensure the established instructions support your problem-solving methodology.
- Act: Ultimately, what has been identified should be used to ensure continuous improvement.
Keeping this in mind, here are the two reasons why work instructions are important:
- They help reduce variation, enabling workers to improve quality and meet demand. Also, since work instructions are explicitly detailed, they are perfect for training new employees.
- They enforce consistency when performing tasks and set expectations to measure quality and task time. Based on it, the management can determine whether workers are meeting the organization’s expectations for them.
Work instructions create a foundation for processes to help your company run smoothly and, therefore, influence your organization’s success.
We've seen many people confuse work instructions with SOPs, procedures, or processes. To clear the confusion, let's understand how work instructions are different from them.
Now, let's dig into how to create work instructions.
How to write work instructions: a step-by-step guide
Patrick Sweeney, in his article "Four Essentials of Effective Work Instructions," mentions that work instructions should meet four criteria to be effective:
- Credible: Workers “believe that they define the one, single, proper way to perform a task.”
- Clear: The instructions “can be quickly understood by the worker with minimum effort.“
- Accessible: The instructions “can be located quickly and easily.”
- Consistent: The instructions “conform to a style developed specifically for procedures and work instruction“ to match worker training.
To create work instructions that check off all four requirements, you can use a tool like Scribe, which uses AI to build work instructions for you — with text and annotated screenshots.
You can also choose to do it manually. Here's how to do it:
1. Choose a task and tool for creating your work instruction
Decide the task you’ll write the work instructions for. Define it and its steps. Make note of the tools, materials or references employees need to perform the tasks themselves.
Next, pick a tool for creating your work instructions. Opt for options that would be most accessible to users, with plenty of formatting and editing options.
For example, Scribe cuts the time it takes to built work instructions (we're talking 15x) and makes sure your documents are consistently high quality.
Just turn on the extension or desktop app to capture your work processes. Scribe will automatically generate a visual, step-by-step guide you can share directly, download or embed.
2. Write the document title
The first step is to list down the title of the document. Choose a title that gives context and directly refers to the task at hand.
For instance, if you want to write work instructions to explain to employees how to create tasks in Notion, a good working instructions title would be "How to Create Tasks in Notion"
Launch your documentation software, create a new document, and type in the title like this:
2. Explain the purpose of the work instruction
There’s no point in writing work instructions without a purpose. There has to be a reason why you’re documenting detailed task-related steps.
Think about what you’re trying to achieve for your business. Asking questions will help you step back and go beyond what you already know, deepening your understanding of the topic at hand.
Continuing with our example, a clear purpose for a document titled "How to Use Google Docs" would be "To help the user become comfortable with creating tasks on Notion."
3. Describe your work instruction
This is where you’ll explain how the user should complete the task.
List all the information and approved materials the worker needs to perform the task in the document. Use clear, detailed language, and include relevant references (images, flowcharts, videos, tables) so that the user understands what to do with minimum effort.
For example, to create a task in Notion, the user will need to sign in to Notion, head over to the board, select "+ New," add task name and relevant details, etc. Here's what it'd look like:
Break down steps into numbered or bulleted sequences, with each step representing a single action. If you’re using images, refer to them within the text so that the user understands the content more effectively.
We also recommend using bold, italicized, and UPPER-CASE text to emphasize important pieces of information.
You can also add your company's logo as well as header and footer and mention whether it's internal documentation, for consultants, or public.
4. Add visuals
Now that you have the whole body of your work instructions ready, let's make the document more visually appealing.
This is important as human beings respond strongly to visuals, with a past study terming us as 90 percent visual beings. Naturally, visual work instructions are more effective than text-heavy documents.
Choose powerful images that fit the text. A good rule of thumb is to place images on the left-hand side and text on the right. You can also refer to the image in the text to be extra clear.
Using bold, italicized and uppercase text will also lend more character to your document and emphasize important information. Consider using top tip boxes as in this Scribe for drawing your employee’s attention to best practices.
5. Edit for simplicity
Here are a few tips to simplify your work instructions:
- Use short, simple sentences that are no longer than 15 words.
- Avoid clauses and multi-syllable words.
- Pick a word or term to describe a procedure and stick with it. Don’t use synonyms or different words for the same processes.
- Only use acronyms when you absolutely have to. If you do, spell it out for the first time and enclose the acronym in brackets beside it.
- Include a list of abbreviations for the reader to refer to in your document.
6. Provide references
Share additional resources and source materials to enhance the reader’s understanding. You can add footnotes or an appendix at the end of the document for additional reading.
7. Test effectiveness
You need to assess the effectiveness of a work instruction before making them available company-wide.
Ask a colleague or employee to follow the given directions to perform the associated task. Carefully observe and take note of how they do the job. This will help you identify instructional gaps that need further clarification and understand what needs to be changed or added.
Once you’re 100 percent sure the work instructions are easy to understand and follow, add them to the associated SOPs.
✅ Check out our work instructions template that lets you create work instructions, while also saving time and the amount of effort required.
The difference between work instructions and SOPs
People often confuse work instructions with Standard Operating Procedures. So, let's clear up the confusion.
A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a top-level document outlining what needs to be done and by whom under different circumstances. It addresses everyone involved in performing a specific business process(es). While it may outline one or more jobs, it doesn’t provide any detail on how to work the different phases.
On the other hand, work instructions show an individual who will do the actual work exactly how it’s done, step by step, and with supporting visuals where necessary. It only addresses the personnel responsible for executing the task and assumes they need detailed step descriptions since they’re new on the job (even if they are not).
We can say work instructions detail how to execute SOPs.
To better understand the difference, we highly recommend reading our five best SOP examples blog post here.
Work Instructions vs. processes vs. procedures
When documenting a quality management system, you need to identify ideal processes, procedures, and work instructions to meet the requirements of ISO 9001:2015. Each of these terms, although interconnected, has subtle differences you need to appreciate.
Process instructions are a set of activities that utilize available resources to transform inputs into outputs. They have defined objectives, resources, activities, inputs, and outputs.
A procedure, unlike a work instruction is a uniform method that outlines how to perform a process and includes slightly more detailed sections. Think: What are the definitions, terminology and explanations? What needs to be accomplished to execute the process? Who performs what actions? What tools, information, or resources are required?
Note: SOPs are not the same as procedures. The former looks more towards standardized ways to get work done, while the latter gives you more flexibility to improvise. It’s why procedures create more likelihood of a standardized product or service, whereas SOPs ensure a product or service comes out the same every time.
On the other hand, work instructions show a specific way to perform a task within a process, which is why it’s the more detailed part of the procedure. Many companies use a work instructions document to give step-by-step details of different tasks outlined in a procedure to reduce mistakes.
- A process states what needs to get done and why
- A process asserts how the process should be completed
- Work instructions illustrate how to carry out the said procedure.
Level up your work instructions with Scribe!
Creating work instructions takes time and effort.
Your employees may be so neck-deep into their work that they may not even have the required bandwidth.
To reduce this time and the amount of effort required, you can use Scribe. Scribe automatically captures user movement while they're performing a task.
Based on that, the platform automatically generates a visually-appealing step-by-step guide (we like to call them Scribes), requiring you and your team minimal effort and reducing the time required to create work instructions by more than 70 percent.
But don't take our word for it. Take Scribe out for a test spin today.