What are the signs your work instructions need an upgrade?

Research has shown that accidents in the workplace happen more frequently due to errors in systems rather than people. By writing clear work instructions, companies can improve their systems and reduce the number of accidents. Improving systems starts with looking at a company’s work instructions and standardized operating procedures (SOPs).

Person updating work instructions

Signs your work instructions need an update

Updating your work instructions is difficult

Documentation should be a celebrated aspect of continuous improvement. However, many employees actively avoid documenting procedures because their system for creating work instructions is too tedious or difficult to work with. Documenting standards creates a baseline for continuous improvement, so when employees are discouraged from writing things down, continuous improvement will be negatively affected as a result. When you document and standardize a process, by nature, it immediately starts becoming outdated. Operators naturally find better ways of performing tasks, new methods are introduced, parts and tools change, etc. If the process for updating procedures is bureaucratic and cumbersome, documents will quickly become outdated and ineffective.

Your work instructions are constantly outdated

A recent survey discovered 78% of manufacturers are using documents that are outdated or ineffective, causing a lack of standardization and quality control. When documents don’t reflect the reality of the work, employees will resort to grandfathered knowledge and best guesses, rather than the approved standards. If your documents constantly feel like they’re outdated, this is a substantial indicator that your system for work instructions needs a faster method for revising and improving documentation.

Your work instructions difficult to access

Finding the correct document may seem like a simple task, but if you’re like most companies, your organization has accumulated thousands upon thousands of files over the years. Large binders of dense, and likely outdated materials. Even if documents are digitized, when using multiple systems to create, manage, and store work instructions, finding the correct documents can be just as difficult their paper-based counterparts. If you are struggling to find the right work instructions relevant to your job, then it might be time to upgrade to a system that is more streamlined in its approach to document management and accessibility.

Your work instructions are not being used

Probably the most common indicator that your work instructions are ineffective — nobody is using them. Many times, technical writers, engineers, or training specialists, go through the effort of creating and documenting standardized procedures, but the documents end up collecting dust because they are not clear enough, inaccurate, outdated or difficult to access and keep updated.


Work instructions have become an indispensable part of everyday life in many companies. They provide structure, serve as knowledge mediators and support the optimization of business processes through standardization. By switching to digital work instructions, you have a powerful tool for making the knowledge of your employees visible. Going digital also makes them a lot easier to keep up to date.