More than nine out of ten accidents at work are caused by human error. These result in serious injuries and cost the industry billions of dollars each year. But much of this could be avoided with better and clearer work instructions. This guide shows how to write work instructions or standard operating procedures.
If you can write clear and concise work instructions or SOPs for your colleagues, they will know exactly how to accomplish their various tasks. It reduces risk because there is less chance of something going wrong. It also improves efficiency; Work instructions ensure that the best way to do a job is clear and known by whoever performs it.
This comprehensive guide shows you how to write work instructions that your colleagues can understand and benefit from. Remember what Einstein said:
if you can't explainsimply,you don't understand well enough
Speaking of simplicity, if you're the type who finds things easier to learn through a visual or an audible format, check out our video below on where job instructions started and why they're important:
What is the difference between work instructions, work instructions, SOPs, etc.?
Depending on the situation, work instructions are also called work instructions, standard operating procedures (SOPs), job aids, or user manuals. In any case, the purpose of the work instruction is to clearly explain how a given work task is performed. They are like the step-by-step instructions we receive when learning to drive a car: make sure the gear lever is in neutral, start the engine, press in the clutch, engage first gear, etc.
It is important that work instructions are not confused with processes or process maps. Let's quickly see where work instructions fit into our overall process documentation layers:
- ANprocess hierarchyit shows your overall process architecture and how it supports your business. (You can read more about this in ourInstructions for creating process hierarchies)
- ANprocessIt is a chain of activities that turns inputs into outputs. (Interested? Read ourSimple process mapping guide)
- ANprocesscontoursWhatcarry out a process – sequence and who does what. At Gluu, we combine process and procedure in a single, simple format (because people get confused).
- ANwork instructions- or job guide, job aid or standard operating procedure - describes in detail how an activity is carried out within a process (or procedure).
Therefore, your work instructions should be part of the big picture.process improvement plan.
With that clarity, let's move on to the topic of writing work instructions. (Oh, one more thing: for more clarity on all the BPM jargon, check out ourBPM Glossary)
Why are standard operating procedures important?
Reduce the impact when key people leave the company
Work instructions or SOPs build and maintain knowledge in a company. When “how things are done” is transmitted orally, there is room for human interpretation and error. And the knowledge of how to perform a task more efficiently is lost when the employee leaves the company, taking the knowledge with him. Good work instructions prevent all of that.
Work instructions reduce risk
It reduces risk because the safest way to do a job is clear and known by important people.
Avoid mistakes and “blame points”
Clarity prevents mistakes. Crucially, this avoids the blame game. When something goes wrong, there is a tendency to blame or blame others, which is natural. However, if this happens frequently, it can affect employee morale. Clear work instructions minimize this problem.
to save time
The chart below shows Gluu's own research on the return on investment in writing work instructions. The point is, your initial time investment will pay for itself after you've used your job instructions three times. It just means saving time; we haven't even mentioned the value of avoiding mistakes and rework. This is also known as "standard work" within Lean:
What is a good guide?
Work instructions must be very clear on how employees perform their tasks. There should be no room for interpretations. You must not be lazy. You want to minimize the chance of confusing your employees. This means that your instructions should be as short and simple as possible. The internet is full of amusing examples of misspelled and other instructions that have a funny double meaning. Here are some ground rules to help you:
#1 of course
As George Orwell said...
"Good writing is like a pane of glass in a window."
You look through it and immediately understand the meaning. Every employee must be able to understand his work instructions. Avoid polysyllabic words, complex sentences, jargon, acronyms, many technical terms (without explaining them) and unnecessary conversation.
Write your work instructions in such a way that they are easy to understand for all employees performing the task. Use the active voice to help your reader by relating it to subject, verb, and noun sentence structure. For example,the man (subject) drank (verb) his beer (noun), Not,the man took a sip of his beer.
#2 is affordable
Work instructions are all well and good, but what's the point if they're only accessible in the office when the people who need them are on the shop floor? The people doing the work should have easy access to operating instructions when and where they need them. Travelers or business documents?
(Here's aTool like Gluucan help you get the right instruction, in the right format, in the hands of the right employee at the right time).
#3 is believable
Employees must view work instructions as reliable, helpful and accurate. Otherwise, they're just another good idea that nobody cares about. Get in touch with the most senior employee doing a task and ask them to explain how the job is done. Make sure your instructions reflect reality.
(Again, a tool like Gluu can help you get the right people involved and work together to keep you current as you learn and develop.)
#4 is consistent
Work instructions must follow a consistent style. Consistency in terminology, design, media and method makes them easier to understand and digest. When it comes to consistency, they also need to stick to employee skills.
(Gluu helps ensure a consistent format across the organization.)
#5 Keep it short and simple
We've covered this before, but it's really an important point. As Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you haven't understood it well enough." This prevents later errors. Writing a work instruction isn't about sounding smart. Instead, consider the language in your TV's instruction manual. Or better yet, look at the language used in a children's book. Try to keep it as short and simple as possible.
#6 is visual
We live in a visual culture. Many of us are more comfortable with visual media than reading books and newspapers. Therefore, try to use images, drawings and videos in your work instructions whenever possible. Think about who will consume your work instructions and try to format them accordingly.
(With Gluu, you can add and view images and videos right on the tablets or phones your frontline workers use.)
#7 Written by people who know
The person with the most experience performing the task should be the one who writes the work instruction. Don't give the task of writing your work instructions to someone who isn't 100% familiar with the job. You cannot expect an operator to fully know how to write work instructions if he is not fully familiar with the job. This means that there can never be just one person writing the work instructions for your business, unless it's a small one. We asked a number of industry experts why engagement is so important, and you can see their responses in this article.on here.
(With Gluu, you can delegate ownership to people you know, no matter where they are.)
So, with those clear ground rules in place, how do you actually write? That's what the next section is about.
7 steps to clean work instructions
Have you ever bought a piece of furniture disassembled, come home and tried to follow the assembly instructions only to be totally confused? If so, you are not alone. It has happened to many of us. For this reason, good technical writers are in high demand.technical writingIt's a big topic and beyond the scope of this article, but here are seven steps to improve your work instructions:
Write a clear title
What's in an Introduction? Well, actually a lot. Getting this part right is crucial. To do this, make sure you do the following:
- Provide context: Briefly explain which process the task belongs to.
- Identify Owners: Briefly explain who owns the process and who owns the task
- State the result: briefly explain what the result or purpose of the task is
- The title should be related to the job title: a good example might be "how to sanitize your hands".
Describe the purpose - why
What is the purpose of your job instruction? Why are you preparing this? Asking why will help you to step back and reflect on what you are trying to achieve. The answer to why not is simply the problem you've already identified. Asking why is deepening your understanding before delving into the details. Read more about the value of asking whyon here.
So a clear purpose for "How to sanitize your hands" would be "Prevent the spread of bacteria so that other people get sick".
Describe how to do
First you need to list the materials that will be needed to carry out the work. For readability, it is best to list them under headings and distinguish between provided and non-provided materials. Organize your bulleted list logically. For example, with hand disinfection:
- Antimicrobial liquid soap in dispenser
- running water
Include any relevant or useful references directly in the text as natural hyperlinks. This makes it easier for the reader to clear things up.
To describe how, for example, employees should sanitize their hands, you must first choose a format to explain it. There are three basic options. The cookbook format, the decision table, and the flowchart. You can choose different formats for different jobs, perhaps according to their complexity. Keep in mind that many people are visual learners, so charts and flowcharts, perhaps with images, may be the best approach.
formatted for readability
Think of your work instruction document as a teaching tool. Put yourself in the reader's shoes and think about what would help them digest the document.
- Choose how you want to format the document and save it. If you practice Lean, here's onesample formatuse to consider.
- Break each step into a sequence of numbers. If there are more than 10 steps, divide the different topics. A step describes an action that takes no more than 15 seconds.
- Use pictures or drawings. Make sure the image matches the text. See the image in the text. Place the images on the left side of the paper and leave the text on the right side.
- Emphasize important information using capital letters, bold or italics.
- Turn any list into a numbered or bulleted list.
Tools such as Gluu'swork instruction functionin ourunderstand the product, has a built-in format that makes it easy to ensure consistency. For example, it's helpful to format risks the same so people quickly learn to recognize them:
rewrite and simplify
The most important rule of good writing is brevity. Short, simple and clear.
- Use short, simple sentences. Sentences should not exceed 15 words and should not have subordinate clauses.
- Use short, simple words. Polysyllabic words sound smart but slow the reader down. Make it easy for them and imagine you are writing to a five year old.
- Avoid acronyms, and if you must use one, spell it out the first time and put the acronym in parentheses next to it. From now on, use acronyms.
- Include a list of abbreviations for the reader to refer to.
- Decide which word or term to use to describe something and stick with it. Don't use different words for the same thing. For example, if you use the term "household soap", use only that term in this document.
As discussed above, use active, not passive, sentences:
Correct:Dry your hands well.
incorrect:Your hands must be completely dry.
It is always helpful to provide sources and suggestions for further reading and learning. Add footnotes or have an appendix at the end of the document.
Try with a colleague!
To ensure that your work instructions are easy to understand and follow, ask a colleague to complete the task behind you. This will tell you if certain parts or explanations are confusing or need further clarification.
- Ask a suitable colleague to read your draft work instruction and give you feedback on it. Does the work instruction correspond to the actual execution of the task? It's confuse? What could be clearer?
- Ask the colleague to do the work following the draft work instructions. DO NOT help or explain further. To watch.
- Write down what needs to be added or changed in your copy of the work instruction.
Example of a tested SOP format
Lean.org has some useful templates for writing standard operating procedures. These are mainly for advanced factory settings:
Your Work Instruction Checklist
To summarize and simplify, here's a checklist to have on hand when planning how to write your next job instruction.
- Identified process to which the task belongs
- Identify the purpose of the task.
- Understand the scope of the task.
- Designated people responsible for the task.
- Specific tools needed for the task.
- You mentioned all security requirements.
- Choose an appropriate and useful format
- Useful visual aids used
- Tested for simple language and short sentences.
- Jargon and unnecessary technical terms have been removed.
- Tested on a colleague.
Now is the time to put it into practice!
As we say, it's important to remember
"The perfect is the enemy of the good."
Just start, learn and improve over time. One idea is to inform your co-workers about what you are doing and ask them to point out any errors or omissions. This ensures that your job instruction is well received. Here at Gluu, we believe in writing work instructions into an integrated system for managing business processes.
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...or when you're ready, check out ourwork instruction functionto start your own work instructions right away.