What are Work Instructions?

Work instructions are an important part of performing any task correctly, whether that’s learning to drive, cooking a meal, or maintaining a piece of equipment. Companies across several industries use work instructions to provide direction and guidance to employees. They set clear expectations for work, enhance safety within facilities, and ensure consistency and productivity in their operations.

In this guide, we’ll explain when and how to use and develop work instructions and share best practices for writing good work instructions at your organization. 

What are work instructions?

Work instructions are step-by-step guides that detail exactly how to perform a specific task according to specific protocols. In addition to the steps involved, they often include a list of resources or tools that may be needed to complete a task, visual aids to demonstrate certain steps, and any other useful background or asset information

What’s the difference between an SOP and work instructions? 

Standard operating procedures (SOP) and work instructions both fall under the “job aid” umbrella, but they do vary. 

An SOP details the specifications of a process—what steps and tasks are needed across numerous staff members or departments to complete a procedure. Work instructions, on the other hand, outline the specific steps, resources, and details needed for a team member to complete one individual task included in an SOP. 

In short, work instructions explain exactly how to perform each step of an SOP

When to use work instructions

Work instructions are essential to ensuring employees understand how to perform tasks correctly, safely, and consistently. Here are several instances when a company can benefit from using work instructions: 

  • Training and onboarding new employees: When tasks include clear work instructions, training time to review each task can be reduced, allowing new employees to get up and running faster while still having the support and guidance they need.  
  • Complex tasks: Work instructions help ensure safety and precision for complex or high-risk procedures. 
  • Standardizing processes: Any task that requires consistency, but that is performed by numerous people should have work instructions to help improve standardization. 
  • Introducing new equipment or technology: Work instructions help supplement training for employees on new equipment, help prevent errors, and ensure everyone becomes proficient. 
  • Compliance concerns: Companies subject to regulatory oversight should use work instructions to ensure that required steps are completed and standards are met.
  • Quality assurance: Sectors like aerospace or automotive, where quality is critical, benefit from work instructions to maintain high standards and thoroughness. 
  • Specialized tasks: Work instructions are beneficial for tasks that are slightly more specialized or performed infrequently. This helps avoid having to hire experts for less complex work while ensuring that employees can perform them correctly each time without the need for extensive retraining. 
  • Employee safety: When employees work in potentially hazardous environments, work instructions are crucial for ensuring hazard mitigation steps such as LOTO procedures are followed each time, preventing accidents, and protecting employees. 
  • Cross-training and flexibility: In work environments where employees must wear multiple hats, work instructions assist with quickly and correctly performing tasks outside of their regular duties. This can be a critical tool for helping creatively solve labor or workforce shortages

Who should use work instructions?

Various industries use work instructions to ensure tasks are executed accurately and safely. Some key sectors that benefit significantly from using work instructions include: 

Basically, any organization that requires consistency in performing specific tasks can benefit from utilizing work instructions. 

How to write work instructions

Creating effective working instructions requires several important steps to ensure the document is clear, concise, and useful for employees. Here’s how to write work instructions for your organization: 

Step 1: Write a brief, yet descriptive title

Write a clear title that immediately and accurately informs employees about the task and what it entails. If possible, use a consistent format for titles such as [Asset Name] [Task] [Frequency]. 

Well-named work instructions ensure that team members can easily locate the correct documentation for the task at hand.

Step 2: Write an introduction

Provide a brief overview of the task. This introduction should include the purpose and importance of the task to help employees understand why it is necessary and what is expected from them. This will also serve to further assist employees in finding the correct work instructions for their tasks.

Step 3: List all items needed

List any tools, materials, or resources employees need to complete the tasks. This will help them gather everything they need before starting, ensuring the task is performed as efficiently as possible without having to pause to locate tools, or parts within your parts inventory

Step 4: Describe how to complete the task

Provide clear, step-by-step instructions for completing the task. Use simple, easy-to-understand language. If any of the steps are complex, break them down into substeps if necessary. 

Step 4: Format the document

Format the document for readability. Use bullet points or numbered lists for each step of the instructions, and use bold, italics, and UPPER-CASE formatting within the text to emphasize key points. Place images, diagrams, and additional information only where they add value to the process to prevent distraction from the instructions. 

Step 5: Review and revise

After you’ve written detailed instructions, it’s time to edit and simplify them. Often, we write more detail and include more words than are necessary. So take some time to review the text, ensure that everything is clearly written, and remove any unnecessary words. 

Step 6: Include resources

Include any supporting resources like footnotes, flowcharts, links to videos, safety requirements, background information, or images to help ensure employees understand the purpose and how to perform the task. However, only include this information if it will add to an employee’s understanding and won’t distract or overwhelm them from the actual instructions. 

Step 7: Test the work instructions

Once the instructions are complete, it’s time to test them to make sure they are effective. 

Select a few employees who all work differently and have them test the instructions. Get their feedback on how easy it was to follow and make revisions as necessary before deploying the instructions to your entire team. 

Best practices for writing good work instructions

The most effective work instructions follow these best practices for ensuring ease of use, safety, and comprehension. 

Ensure RECS

RECS stands for Reliability, Efficiency, Confidence, and Safety. Work instructions should be written to ensure your employees can carry out each task:

  • Reliably: Employees can be expected to successfully complete the task with the same level of quality, every time.
  • Efficiently: The task completed according to instructions achieves the desired outcome with the minimum investment of time and resources. 
  • Confidently: Employees have trust that the steps outlined in the work instructions are well-researched, safe, and effective. 
  • Safely: Work instruction includes all necessary steps needed to ensure the safety of the person completing the task as well as the safety of those working nearby. 

Prioritize clarity

Clarity is one of the most important aspects of successful work instructions. Employees should understand exactly how to perform the task based on what is provided (written instructions, images, videos, etc.). If there is any misunderstanding or if employees frequently have questions about how to perform the task, the work instructions likely need to be rewritten. 

Keep it brief

Detailed work instructions are important, but so is brevity. The longer the instructions, the more likely employees are to take shortcuts. Keep them brief so employees can quickly and easily follow them without any confusion. 

Make it accessible

Employees should have easy access to work instructions, and there should be no confusion about where to find them. Digital work instructions stored in a platform like a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) can be especially beneficial in this regard because employees can access them from anywhere via a mobile device. 

Ensure accuracy

Ensure the accuracy of work instructions in order to prevent mistakes and make sure tasks are performed correctly. Regularly review the details, steps, and requirements to ensure everything is accurate and up to date. Cross-reference with SOPs and update the work instructions to reflect any changes in processes, equipment, or regulations.

Use uniform formatting

Consistency in work instructions helps maintain reliability and uniformity. Use consistent formatting and terminology across all of your organization’s work instructions to make them easier to read and follow. 

Use visual aids wisely

Visual aids are great tools to include within your work instructions. They enhance comprehension by demonstrating where or how to perform certain steps. Include diagrams, photos, or videos with their correlating step so employees can refer to them easily as they perform the task. 

Be sure to use visual aids only when they increase comprehension and help with a task. Too many visual aids can quickly become distracting and make it difficult to read the instructions. 

Gain input from multiple people

Involve stakeholders and experienced employees in creating or reviewing the work instructions. Also, engage employees who will be using the instructions. Gather feedback to ensure instructions meet the requirements needed to perform certain tasks and are easy to understand and follow. 

Take advantage of work instruction software

Tools like a CMMS software can streamline your work instruction creation and implementation. A CMMS allows organizations to create work instruction templates and uses a centralized digital hub where employees can quickly access work instructions from their mobile devices with an CMMS app

Get started with Limble CMMS today by signing up for our free demo.

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