How to Write Good Work Instructions: 10 Easy Steps

By: Ben Baldwin

July 15, 2021

How to Write Good Work Instructions

When looking at how to write good work instructions, your main goal should be focused on the people reading the document. If the document is hard to read, inaccurate, or not well-defined, your workers will likely find process knowledge elsewhere; perhaps from less desirable sources.

When writing instructions, it’s helpful to remember: Anyone can write a set of work instructions, but are they suited to the needs of the workforce?

In this case, fast comprehension and wide accessibility are the keys to providing your workers with the best work instructions possible.

So, How Do You Write Good Work Instructions?

When it comes to good work instructions, the standard for “good” is reliant on the ability of others to read and perpetually use your document.

With this in mind, let’s explore the 10 steps to writing good work instructions. We’ll define some fundamentals, discover tips, and outline features beneficial to your operation.

1. Who is Your Audience?

When beginning to create a process or write a document, the first thing you need to consider is your audience. Good work instructions are written for the people performing the work, not for the person writing the instructions.

who is your audience

Ask yourself these 2 questions:

  1. Who will be reading these work instructions?
  2. What are their capabilities and knowledge levels?

These 2 questions are paramount when considering how to write good work instructions. Even though process engineers and/or management create the processes, they are not the people who perform the work. For this reason, your work instructions need to match your workers’ level of expertise and knowledge. Once this is done, anything is possible.

People of all skill levels can perform amazing and complex tasks given the right guidance and well-crafted instructions.

As Gabrielle Dumouchel, CMP Manufacturing Quality Inspector, noted in A Manufacturing Quality Inspector Shares His Experience: “You need to put yourself in the operator’s shoes. Evaluate the process from their perspective. You might know the ins and outs of a process but that's not the same for everyone. Every author should examine the skill levels of their employees and write it from their vantage point.”

Pro Tip: An easy way to provide the best work instructions for a variety of skill levels is to use Expert Mode within VKS. With Expert Mode access on specific guidebooks, your most experienced operators skip steps that are laid out for employees with less experience.

2. Define the Process

Beyond writing for a specific audience, you need to clearly define the task at hand. If the operator doesn’t have a defined goal, then errors are more likely to occur. Imagine putting a puzzle together without the larger picture for reference. Wouldn't the puzzle be much harder to build?

In the same way, it is advantageous to give your workers a clear understanding of where the process begins and ends. This is accomplished in a few ways:

  • Add a checklist of the parts required at the beginning of the instructions.
  • Provide a picture of the final product to help workers visualize the end goal.
  • Avoid relying on work order numbers by outlining what will be done in the title or a small text box.

By following these steps, you will accurately define the task, the reason for accomplishing it, and what the completed product will be.

3. Use Strong Visuals

People assimilate knowledge with their eyes first. Visualization is one of the fastest ways for people to quickly recognize problems and find solutions. With pictures, graphics, and videos, written process descriptions can be much shorter. The picture has already provided a lot of information.

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is especially true when it comes to learning and instruction. Here are 4 tips to get the most out of your visuals.

  • Take the picture or video from the perspective of the operator: This will help the operator quickly orient themselves between what is on the screen and what is in the workstation.
  • Tell the reader when the perspective changes: If the component or device needs to be flipped over or turned around, add an arrow indicating the movement. You can also add a note such as: “turn 180 degrees” or “turn upside down”.
  • Use the tools you have to quickly get the shots you need: Taking photos or videos for work instructions doesn’t require state-of-the-art equipment. Use your phone, tablet, or any point a shoot camera. By using simple equipment that you already have on hand, documenting your process becomes faster and more efficient.
  • Add context when zooming: If you only provide a zoomed-in perspective of a specific part or component, then the operator may lose track of where that area is. Instead, provide a larger picture and then place a zoomed-in picture above it. This way, you have both the context and the specificity you need.

zooming in

4. Be Clear and Concise

A key factor in how to write good work instructions is to avoid using verbose language. You’ll want to relay the task in the simplest way possible. It may sound pretty to add colorful language - it could even be seen as a good way to get your point across in a deeply descriptive manner - but workers can get lost in overly long descriptions. Your visuals will provide more context than your words ever could.

To explain what I mean, imagine you are an operator following a set of instructions. You are building a small electrical box. Alongside a picture providing visual context, which statement would you prefer?

Grasp the top and bottom cover in your hands. Then affix them together on the horizontal x-axis of the top cover by turning the screws in a clockwise fashion.

or

Take the top and bottom cover and close them together.

You would choose the second one right? It’s clean, simple, and to the point. Rely on the visuals and keep your text clear and concise.

concise instructions

Additionally, use specific language to hone in on what exactly needs to be done. Instead of using words like “until tight”, use accurate measurement techniques like torque values. This way, your instructions are less ambiguous and more fine-tuned to the needs of your customers.

Pro Tip: Use VKS ToolConnect to enhance quality and process control. With smart tools like a torque wrench connected to your work instructions, the correct torque values are applied in the right areas and all values are automatically recorded for quality assurance.

5. Break the Process Down into Specific Tasks

It can be tempting to create one long process guidebook for an entire product. Every instruction is located in one file and workers find their stage within the process. But unsurprisingly, this does not simplify the operation.

Besides needlessly complicating your workers’ tasks and goals, you are also hindering your ability to track the fine details of your operation.

A better idea would be to break your process down into smaller guidebooks. You want task-oriented instructions, not necessarily instructions oriented around the final product.

To explain what I mean, imagine you are a kitchen stove manufacturer and every component is assembled in-house. This includes the motherboard, the heating coils, the insulated metal sides, and more. Each of these components requires assembly and they come together to make the standard kitchen stove.

Just as it would be inefficient to build one stove at a time from start to finish, it is inefficient to have only one guidebook for the whole stove building process. Instead, break the whole process into smaller procedures and assembly steps. This will enable your workers to quickly access the specific instructions they need instead of scrolling to find the appropriate section.

Pro Tip: By breaking the process into smaller procedures with VKS Pro, you can track the productivity and performance of each individual component. With this data, you receive in depth knowledge of your operation, its capabilities, and ways to continuously improve.

6. Make It Accessible

When you go through the work to create an awesome set of work instructions, don't hide them away in a lost computer file, or worse, a physical binder. This completely negates the purpose of work instructions.

Your work instructions need to be available all the time, with quick and easy access for the people who use them.

From employee badges and barcodes to accessing your work instructions through an MES, there are numerous quick, easy, and autonomous ways for your employees to access the right instructions at the right time.

Pro Tip: Make accessing training documents easy by linking them to your guidebook. Do employees need a quick reference on how to use a machine? Instead of making everyone go through the explanation every time, provide workers with a link to the necessary guidebook or video. Then the information is available whenever they need it without slowing down the process.

7. Use a Consistent Format

As you create more work instructions, you’ll want to settle on one specific format. This way, workers will quickly become familiar with one format across multiple processes. They’ll instinctively know where to find information, how to access forms, and input additional data.

It will also make writing good work instructions even easier for you. With a standard format and style, writing work instructions will take less time.

In our case study Watchfire Signs Achieved Their Goals in 1 Year with VKS, Watchfire Signs Project Admin Engineer, Justin Hart noted: “The bigger the instruction, the more VKS helps us. Just formatting a Word document to look professional and spaced correctly takes time. This is all removed by using VKS. So the larger and descriptive the document, the more helpful VKS is to our purpose and the more time we save.”

Pro Tip: To speed up work instruction creation, use templates for similar procedures. This will provide you with a ready made structure to easily build on.

8. Provide Safety Information

PPE

A key part of writing good work instructions is providing knowledge about how to perform a job safely. Look out for your workers by providing information on best practices, how to safely handle dangerous materials, and more.

  • Does the operator need to wear PPE?
  • Does the operator have to lift anything heavy?
  • Does the operator need to use any dangerous chemicals?

If any of the answers are yes, then provide instructions that inform workers of the potential risks and how they can stay safe. Within the guidebook, provide reminders to wear their hard hat, lift with their legs, and keep dangerous chemicals far away from each other.

Just as the instructions are primarily used to ensure the quality of the work, leverage them to also ensure the safety of the people performing the work.

Pro Tip: You can also link safety and maintenance information within your guidebooks. This way, all the necessary safety and maintenance knowledge is readily available at every step of the way.

9. Collaborate with Workers

A big part of how to write good work instructions is finding the best methods available. Your workers on the shop floor have years of hands-on experience. They collectively know the ins and outs of the operation, the errors that occur, and the solutions to specific problems. Sadly this knowledge is often not documented.

A key way to gather information and connect with workers is to perform regular gemba walks. This will create a dedicated time and place for you to gather your facility’s tribal knowledge and input.

But as useful as Gemba walks are, they can’t be done all the time. For this reason, it is beneficial to set up a way for workers to make suggestions while they are working.

suggestion box

Our work instruction software provides users with a fast and easy way to make suggestions while not disturbing their workflow. With built-in suggestion forms, users can immediately inform the appropriate people about issues and possible improvements. This is all done directly within the guidebook. No need to call anyone over or open another system.

10. Make Your Guidebooks Match Reality

And our last but essential step on how to write good work instructions is to make sure your guidebooks match the work being done on the shop floor. If the instructions are not in line with the reality of the shop floor, then your work instructions will lose credibility.

As our Partner Manager, Mat Samson stated in Creating Step-By-Step Instructions with Pictures & Videos: “Your work instruction will be a tool used by operators. If it does not convey the exact method they employ, there is a high chance that your facility will experience process dissonance. If the steps can’t be followed as displayed, how can your employees trust the rest of the instruction or new methods that you will eventually implement?”

Don't write the instruction based on what you think should be done, write it based on what your experts are doing.

After the process and the instructions are in line with each other, implement a continuous improvement plan such as the DMAIC approach.

Good Work Instructions are Written for the People

What makes a work instruction good is determined by how well your workers use it. Every step in the preceding list is geared towards making your work instructions valuable and accessible for the worker on the shop floor. Strengthening their process and knowledge leads to strengthening the whole organization.

Here at VKS, we are proud to provide work instruction software that is easy to use and suited for people of any age, occupation, and experience.

To learn more about how to write good work instructions, check out our guidebook of the week video series. It’s a great place to find new and innovative ways to use and create good work instructions that truly benefit your organization.

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