Work Instructions vs. Standard Operating Procedures


• Process overviews: SOPs are great for high-level process management. When you have a process that requires multiple steps, an SOP is perfect for outlining them and ensuring consistency.
• Regulatory compliance: Processes that must adhere to safety protocols and regulatory standards are best performed according to an SOP to ensure compliance.
• Introducing new equipment: When new equipment enters the equation, it’s best to include an SOP to guide employees on the proper way to use it from the start. This ensures all employees are trained the same way.

When to use work instructions

The checklist in an SOP outlines how to carry out specific parts of a process. It provides a guideline for employees to follow the process correctly and consistently, regardless of which team member is performing the job.

Limitations of SOPs include:
• SOPs are often rigid and leave little room for flexibility in unique circumstances.
• If they aren’t written well, SOPS can become complex and hard to follow.
• SOPs require regular reviews to ensure they are up to date with organizational changes.

The benefits and limitations of work instructions

7. Reinstall the filter:
• Place the cleaned or new filter back in the compartment.
• Secure the compartment cover.

3. Locate the air filter compartment:
• Refer to the unit’s manual for the exact location (in a digital work instruction, a link or image may be included here).

• Specific tasks: If a task is complex, detailed work instructions help to lay out the steps for that specific task. This is especially beneficial for tasks that are new to employees.
• Training and development: Roles that require precision and detail benefit from clear instructions that outline certain activities and responsibilities. This helps ensure employees are trained correctly from the start.
• Supporting SOPs: Work instructions are great for supporting SOPs with additional steps, clarity, and guidance on more complex tasks within the SOP.

Enhance work instructions and SOP management with a CMMS

For example, let’s say we have an SOP and work instructions for HVAC system maintenance.

1. Inspect the HVAC unit.
2. Clean or replace air filters.
3. Check and clean the condenser and evaporator coils.
4. Inspect thermostat settings and functionality.
5. Check refrigerant levels and look for leaks.
6. Inspect electrical connections.

Managing a lot of SOPs and work instructions can become daunting if not done properly. With digital solutions like a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), you can simplify job aid management in your organization, making the material more easily accessible by linking it to asset records or workflows.

Work instructions and standard operating procedures (SOPs) are job aids that ensure business processes are carried out correctly. Whether for new employee training, working with new equipment, or standardizing current procedures, these job aids help create a safer and more productive workplace.

1. Gather necessary tools and materials:
• Screwdriver
• Air filter replacement
• Vacuum cleaner or compressed air

SOPs and work instructions can also be used independently of one another. SOPs don’t always require work instructions, especially if the tasks within them are straightforward. Likewise, work instructions can be created for a particular task that may not be covered by an SOP.

The benefits and limitations of SOPs



A work instruction that might accompany this SOP could look like this:

6. Clean or replace the filter:
• If reusable, use a vacuum or compressed air to clean the filter.
• If disposable, prepare a new filter.

SOPs are best used for processes involving several steps, when consistent results are crucial.

When to use an SOP

These two job aids really complement one another. If one of the checklist items in an SOP is complex, work instructions can be included to break down how to perform it.

9. Verify that the unit is working:
• Make sure the unit is operating correctly with the new or cleaned filter.

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a high-level overview of a process that needs to be carried out according to certain specifications. It generally contains an outline or checklist of what needs to happen across functions or departments to carry out a procedure successfully—including specific tasks that a maintenance team member must perform.

5. Inspect the filter:
• Check whether the filter is clogged with dirt and debris.

4. Remove the air filter:
• Use the screwdriver to open the compartment if necessary.
• Carefully pull out the air filter.

Work instructions are step-by-step guides that outline how to perform specific tasks. Generally, work instructions accompany an SOP to break down each task within the SOP into even more detail.

The SOP might look something like this:

Now, let’s examine the benefits and limitations of work instructions to help determine how and when this tool can be most valuable.

Limitations of work instructions include:
• Work instructions have a limited scope since they only cover a specific task and not the entire process.
• If organizations create a large volume of work instructions, it can become difficult to manage or locate them when needed.
• Overreliance on work instructions could reduce employees’ ability to think critically and solve problems independently.
• Work instructions can overlap SOPs and become redundant and confusing if not properly managed.

Appropriate use cases for SOPs vs. work instructions

Work instruction for cleaning or replacing air filters

Work instructions are advantageous for more complex but focused tasks as well as supplementing SOPs with additional detail when needed.

8. Turn on the HVAC unit:
• Switch the unit back on from the main power source.

Work instructions often include additional background information on a task, visual aids like images and videos, and links to external resources as needed.

The difference between an SOP and work instructions

To best determine when to use an SOP, it can be helpful to understand the benefits and limitations that come with it.

An SOP highlights an entire process and the tasks that must be performed to accurately complete it. Work instructions take a specific task and detail exactly how to perform that task.

2. Turn off HVAC unit:
• Disconnect the unit from the main power source.

Published May 28, 2024, by Limble.

SOP for HVAC system maintenance

An SOP may also include additional background information and resources that pertain to the overarching process.

What is a work instruction?

Benefits of work instructions include:
• Offering clarity to tasks by providing step-by-step instructions and a level of detail that leaves little room for error or variation
• Providing support for employees who aren’t as familiar with certain tasks
• Easily adapted without altering the overarching SOP

Here, we’ll dive into the differences between work instructions and SOPs, and the best use cases for each.

What is a standard operating procedure?

Benefits of SOPs include:
• Ensuring employees perform processes consistently, thus reducing the chance of errors
• Providing precise guidelines on existing processes for training and onboarding new hires
• Helping maintenance teams meet regulatory and quality control standards, ensuring compliance with regulations
• Increasing accountability within teams by outlining who is responsible for each task
• Streamlining process execution, creating more efficiency within the workplace

The SOP highlights the who, what, and why of a process:
• Who is responsible for performing each part of the process or each task within the process
• What tasks are involved (usually a checklist of tasks)
• Why careful adherence to the process is important

Because of their differences, SOPs and work instructions each have varying applications for use. We’ve highlighted a few of these use cases to help you determine whether an SOP or work instruction is best.

Limble CMMS allows companies to keep track of all SOPs and work instructions in a centralized, cloud-based hub that employees can easily access from their mobile devices. The CMMS also assists in creating templates, optimizing workflows, and automating repetitive tasks.