Procedure vs. Work Instruction

What's the Difference?

Procedure and work instruction are both important documents used in organizations to guide employees in performing tasks and achieving desired outcomes. However, there are some key differences between the two. A procedure is a set of steps or actions that need to be followed in a specific order to complete a task or process. It provides a general overview of the process and outlines the main steps involved. On the other hand, a work instruction is a more detailed document that provides step-by-step instructions on how to perform a specific task or operation. It includes specific details, such as tools and equipment required, safety precautions, and quality standards to be followed. While procedures are more general and provide an overall framework, work instructions are more specific and provide detailed guidance for carrying out a particular task.


AttributeProcedureWork Instruction
DefinitionA set of steps or actions to accomplish a specific task or goal.Detailed instructions on how to perform a specific task or operation.
PurposeTo outline the general steps and guidelines for completing a task.To provide specific instructions and details for performing a task.
ScopeCan cover a broad range of tasks or processes.Usually focuses on a specific task or operation.
Level of DetailMay provide a high-level overview of the task.Provides detailed step-by-step instructions.
FormatCan be in the form of a document, manual, or standard operating procedure.Typically presented as a document or manual.
Frequency of UpdatesMay require periodic updates to reflect changes in processes or best practices.May require frequent updates to ensure accuracy and reflect changes in procedures.
ApplicabilityCan be applied to various tasks or processes within an organization.Usually specific to a particular task or operation.
UsageProvides general guidance for performing a task.Provides detailed instructions for performing a task.

Further Detail


In any organization, whether it is a small business or a large corporation, having clear and well-defined processes is crucial for efficient operations. Two commonly used tools to document these processes are procedures and work instructions. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are distinct differences between the two. This article aims to explore and compare the attributes of procedures and work instructions, highlighting their unique characteristics and purposes.

Definition and Purpose

A procedure is a set of steps or actions that need to be followed to accomplish a specific task or achieve a particular outcome. It provides a standardized approach to ensure consistency and quality in performing a process. Procedures are often broader in scope and can encompass multiple tasks or activities. They serve as a guide for employees to understand how to carry out their responsibilities effectively.

On the other hand, a work instruction is a detailed document that provides step-by-step instructions on how to perform a specific task within a procedure. It breaks down the procedure into smaller, more manageable steps, making it easier for employees to follow. Work instructions are typically more specific and focused, providing detailed guidance on the exact actions to be taken, tools to be used, and any safety precautions to be followed.

Level of Detail

Procedures are generally written at a higher level of detail compared to work instructions. They provide an overview of the process, outlining the major steps and key considerations. Procedures often include information on the purpose of the process, the desired outcome, and any relevant policies or regulations that need to be followed. They serve as a reference point for employees to understand the overall process flow.

Work instructions, on the other hand, dive into the nitty-gritty details of each step within a procedure. They provide specific instructions, often including visual aids such as diagrams or images, to ensure that employees can perform the task accurately and consistently. Work instructions may also include troubleshooting tips or best practices to address common challenges that may arise during the task.

Applicability and Flexibility

Procedures are typically applicable to a broader range of tasks or activities within an organization. They provide a framework that can be applied across different departments or functions. Procedures are often designed to be flexible, allowing for customization based on specific requirements or variations in the process. They provide a general guideline that can be adapted to different situations.

Work instructions, on the other hand, are more task-specific and may not be applicable to all employees or departments. They are often tailored to a particular role or function within the organization. Work instructions are less flexible and are designed to be followed precisely to ensure consistency and quality in task execution. They leave little room for interpretation or deviation.

Documentation and Updates

Procedures are typically documented at a higher level and may undergo fewer frequent updates compared to work instructions. They serve as a foundational document that outlines the overall process flow and may require revisions only when there are significant changes to the process or when new regulations or policies are introduced.

Work instructions, on the other hand, are more detailed and may require more frequent updates. They are often reviewed and revised as needed to reflect any changes in tools, equipment, or best practices. Work instructions are crucial in ensuring that employees have the most up-to-date information on how to perform a task accurately and safely.

Training and Compliance

Procedures play a vital role in training new employees and ensuring compliance with industry standards or regulations. They provide a comprehensive overview of the process, allowing new hires to understand the context and purpose of their tasks. Procedures also serve as a reference point for audits or inspections, demonstrating that the organization has established standardized processes.

Work instructions, on the other hand, are essential for hands-on training and ensuring consistent execution of tasks. They provide detailed instructions that can be used as a training tool for new employees or as a refresher for existing staff. Work instructions also contribute to compliance efforts by ensuring that tasks are performed consistently and in accordance with established standards.


While procedures and work instructions share the common goal of providing guidance for performing tasks within an organization, they differ in their level of detail, applicability, and purpose. Procedures offer a broader overview of a process, while work instructions provide specific instructions for individual tasks. Both documents are essential for ensuring consistency, quality, and compliance within an organization. By understanding the attributes of procedures and work instructions, organizations can effectively document and communicate their processes, leading to improved efficiency and performance.

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