The Importance of Work Instructions (and How to Write Them)

Writing work instructions is one of the best ways to ensure that your team members have the information they need to complete tasks effectively. But too many companies rely on outdated paper documents that are difficult to update and keep accurate. Check out our guide on writing work instructions.
Two industrial workers wearing hard hats, safety vests, and safety glasses, stand together in a factory. One worker is pointing while the other holds a laptop, both appear to be discussing something related to the machinery around them.
Published on:
20 October 2022
Updated on:
14 February 2024

Work instructions are essential for floor workers in any industry. They ensure that tasks are completed correctly and consistently, reducing the chances of errors and improving safety. In addition, well-written work instructions can help to speed up the process by providing clear step-by-step instructions.

Yet far too many companies create and utilize work instructions that leave their employees confused, frustrated, and bogged down in unnecessary details. This ultimately leads to errors, lower productivity, and increased frustration levels.

So how can you create quality work instructions that will actually improve efficiency and accuracy on the floor? And what are the limitations that come with traditional work instructions?

In this guide to writing and implementing work instructions, we’ll answer those questions and more. We’ll also provide tips on how to create work instructions that are easy to follow and tailored to your company’s specific needs.

What are Work Instructions?

While work instructions are often referred to in industries such as manufacturing, they can be used in any type of business. Simply put, work instructions are detailed, step-by-step written or verbal directions that explain how to complete a task.

Work instructions are often accompanied by visual aids such as diagrams, photos, or video recordings. These can be extremely helpful in providing clarification on key steps in the process.

Work instructions can come in various forms, from formal documents to more informal process maps. The format that you choose will ultimately depend on the type of task being completed, the audience, and the company’s preferences. Modern work instructions are being implemented across digital channels such as intranets, task management tools, and collaborative workspaces.

Regardless of the format, all work instructions should be clear, concise, and easy to understand. They should also be specific enough to cover all the key steps in the process while avoiding unnecessary details.

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The Importance of  Work Instructions

In today’s competitive marketplace, ensuring both quantity as well as quality is of utmost importance. This is especially true in the manufacturing industry, where a single mistake can often lead to faulty products and unhappy customers.

But work instructions are essential in any type of business, as they help to ensure that tasks are completed correctly, consistently, and efficiently. By providing clear and concise step-by-step instructions, work instructions can help employees to complete their tasks more quickly and with fewer errors.

Additionally, work instructions can help to improve communication between team members, as they provide a common reference point that everyone can refer to. This is especially important in businesses with distributed teams or remote workers.

Finally, well-written work instructions can be a valuable training tool for new employees. By providing clear and concise instructions, work instructions can help to ensure that new employees can quickly and easily learn their tasks.

What Makes a Good Work Instruction?

As we mentioned above, you have likely encountered work instructions of some kind in your daily life. But what makes work instructions good? And how can you tell if a work instruction is likely to be effective?

There are a few key characteristics that all work instructions share:

Clarity: Good work instructions are clear and concise, and they avoid using unnecessary jargon. They should be easy to read and understand and provide all of the information needed to complete the task.

Precision: Good work instructions are specific and unambiguous, leaving no room for interpretation. They should include all of the steps that are needed to complete the task in the correct order.

Brevity: Good work instructions are brief, and they get to the point quickly. They should only include the absolutely necessary information, and they should be free of any filler content.

Visual and Accessible: Good work instructions are easy to access, and they are often accompanied by visual aids such as diagrams, photos, or video recordings. They should be stored in a central location where all team members can easily access them.

Compliant: Good work instructions adhere to any industry-specific regulations or standards that may apply. This is especially important in businesses that are subject to strict quality control measures.

Four workers in a factory, wearing blue uniforms and yellow safety vests, engage in discussion. The setting features machinery and industrial robots in the background, indicating an active manufacturing environment.

How to Write  Work Instructions

If you are looking to implement work instructions in your business, there are a few steps that you can take to ensure that your work instructions are effective.

Let’s walk through the steps to creating and implementing high-quality work instructions – regardless of your industry or process:

Step 1: Define Your Work Instruction Purpose

The first step in creating work instructions is to define the purpose of the instructions. This is where sitting down with your instructions stakeholders – typically process experts, managers, and team leads – can be helpful.

Some questions that you may want to consider at this stage include:

  • What task does the work instruction cover?
  • Who will be using the work instruction?
  • What are the specific goals of the work instruction?
  • How can we ensure that all team members understand and use the instructions correctly?

Once your goals and expectations are clearly defined, you can move on to the next step.

Step 2: Draft Your Work Instruction

The next step is to draft your work instruction. This is where you will start putting the steps of the task into writing to build the framework of your work instruction.

When writing out the work instructions, return to your original goals and ensure that each step meets one of those objectives. Also, keep your audience in mind and use clear and concise language.

If you find that your work instruction is starting to get too long or complicated, consider breaking it down into smaller steps or adding visual aids to make the instructions easier to follow.

At this stage, it can also be helpful to have someone unfamiliar with the task review the instructions to ensure that they are straightforward and easy to understand.

Here is an example outline of what you can include in a work instruction:

  • Task name and description: Give the work instruction a name that is easy to remember and identify. Then provide a brief description of what the task entails.
  • Scope: Define the scope of the work instruction by specifying what it covers and does not cover. Include any relevant background information that will help team members understand the context of the task.
  • Roles and responsibilities: Clearly assign roles and responsibilities to team members involved in the task. This will help ensure that everyone knows their part in completing the task.
  • Prerequisites: List any prerequisites that must be met before starting the task. This could include acquiring certain materials or completing another task.
  • Step-by-step instructions: Outline the steps needed to complete the task, including any key details or actions that need to be taken.
  • Success criteria: Define what success looks like for the task. This will help team members know when the task is complete.
  • Compliance and Safety concerns: If any compliance or safety concerns are related to the task, ensure to include them in the work instruction.
  • Contact information: Provide contact information for any relevant parties that team members may need to reach out to during the task.

Step 3: Create a Visual Aid

Visual aids are a great way to supplement written instructions and make them easier to follow. In fact, including a visual aid with your work instruction can help increase comprehension tenfold.

There are several different types of visual aids that you can use, including charts, diagrams, photos, and videos. Consider what will work best for your team and the task when choosing a visual aid.

For example, if the task involves assembling a product, a diagram or photo showing the finished product could be helpful. Or, if the task requires team members to follow a specific process, a flowchart might be a better option.

Once you’ve selected the type of visual aid you want to use, create it and include it with your work instruction.

Step 4: Test Your Work Instruction

After you have created your work instruction, it’s crucial to test it out to ensure that it is effective.

One way to do this is to have someone unfamiliar with the task try to complete it using only the work instruction. After they have finished, ask them for feedback on the clarity of the instructions and if there was anything that was unclear or confusing.

Another option is to run a pilot of the work instruction with a small group of team members. This will allow you to identify any issues with the instructions before rolling them out to the entire team.

Once you’ve made any necessary revisions, your work instruction should be ready for use!

Step 5: Implement and Adapt

After you’ve created and tested your work instruction, it’s time to implement it with your team.

As you start using the work instruction, pay attention to how things are going. Are team members able to complete the task as intended? Are there any areas where the instructions could be improved?

If you find the work instruction is not working as well as you’d hoped, don’t be afraid to make changes. Remember, the goal is to create a clear and easy-to-follow document so that team members can complete tasks effectively.

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Common Pitfalls of Traditional (Paper) Work Instructions

For years, work instructions were designed and created using paper documents. While this method worked well enough, it had a number of drawbacks, including:

  • Difficulty in making updates: If changes needed to be made to the work instructions, it was often a challenge to update the paper documents and ensure that everyone had the most recent version.
  • Inaccurate information: Over time, paper work instructions can become outdated and no longer accurate. This can lead to team members following incorrect procedures, which can cause errors and rework.
  • Lack of visibility: With paper work instructions, it can be difficult for managers to track who is completing what tasks and how well they are doing. This lack of visibility can make it challenging to identify areas for improvement.
  • Easily misplaced and lost: As your products and processes grow, so will your need for unique work instructions. The more paper work instruction you have, the more challenging it will become for operators to find and consult the right guidance.
  • Limited in scope: Paper work instructions can be limiting when you have a wide range of product variants with endless combinations. When operating in a configure-to-order/ customization environment, it can be nearly impossible to create accurate paper work instructions for every specific order.

The good news is that there is a better way to create and manage work instructions. By using digital work instructions, you can overcome the challenges associated with traditional paper documents.

What Are Digital Work Instructions?

When paper work instructions fail to offer the level of accuracy, clarity, and visibility that you need, it’s time to consider a digital solution.

Digital work instructions are simply work instructions that are created and managed electronically. This can be done using a variety of software options, including dedicated work instruction software or a document management system.

Benefits of Digital Work Instructions

There are many benefits of using digital work instructions, including:

  • Improved accuracy: With digital work instructions, it’s easy to ensure that everyone is always using the most up-to-date version of the document. This can help to reduce errors and rework.
  • Increased visibility: When work instructions are managed electronically, it’s easy to track who is completing what tasks and how well they are doing. This increased visibility can be used to identify areas for improvement.
  • Enhanced collaboration: Digital work instructions make it easy for team members to provide feedback and suggest improvements. This enhanced collaboration can help to ensure that the work instructions are as effective as possible.

Build Better Work Instructions for Your Teams

Investing in writing and implementing quality work instructions can be a challenge, but it’s one that is well worth the effort. By creating clear and concise work instructions, you can ensure that your team members have the information they need to complete tasks effectively.

Whether you are upgrading your physical work instructions to a digital format or you are starting from scratch, the tips above can help you write work instructions that are clear, concise, and easy to follow.

Don’t risk having your team members complete tasks using outdated or inaccurate information – invest in quality work instructions today.

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Try Azumuta today and see how easy it is to create and share work instructions for your manufacturing process.

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