Many people confuse guidelines and work instructions. In fact, most people write work instructions and call them guidelines or vice versa. Knowing the difference between guidelines and work instructions can help you understand the documentation process much better and, therefore, develop great procedure documentation. Better documentation means better organization.

Social distancing guidelines druing COVID-19

What are guidelines?

Guidelines are general statements, recommendations, or administrative instructions designed to achieve the policy’s objectives by providing a framework within which to implement procedures. A guideline can be viewed as a statement by which to determine a course of action. A guideline aims to streamline particular processes according to a set routine or sound practice. Guidelines may be issued by and used by any organization to make the actions of its employees or divisions more predictable, and presumably of higher quality. A guideline is similar to a rule.

  • A guideline can change frequently based on the environment and should be reviewed more frequently than standards and policies.
  • A guideline is not mandatory, rather a suggestion of a best practice. Hence “guidelines” and “best practice” are interchangeable.
  • It’s a non-specific rule or principle that provides direction to action or behavior
  • It’s a plan or explanation to guide one in setting standards or determining a course of action.

What are work instructions?

Work instructions describe how to accomplish a specific job. They are specific. It’s good if they are as visual as possible. A procedure or work instruction should detail the exact steps an individual would need to go through to complete any activity detailed in a process.

  • Visual aids, various forms of job aids.
  • A sequential or chronological listing of actions.
  • Provides specific assembly instructions.
  • May be from the manufacturer or contractor with site / business-specific amendments.

Hopefully, these definitions shine some light on the differences between guidelines and work instructions. Both will save you a great deal of time and give improved clarity to business management documentation throughout your organization. They will also mean that all staff has a clear expectation of what they will find in each type of documentation and therefore where to look for the information they need.