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SOP vs. Work Instructions – Which Is Better?

In the software development world, there are a lot of acronyms thrown around. Two of the most common are SOP and WI, which stand for Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and Work Instructions (WI), respectively. 

But what exactly is the difference between the two? And which one should you use for your project?

In this post, we are going to discuss the differences between each and provide a better understanding of when to use either one.

What is an SOP?

An SOP is an important tool for developers because it helps to ensure that tasks are completed consistently and accurately. When all developers are following the same SOP, it makes it easier to identify errors and potential problems. It also allows new developers to more easily learn how to complete tasks.

There are many reasons why SOPs are important in software development. First and foremost, an SOP helps agencies complete and deliver tasks in a consistent and timely manner, with full attention to the details – removing the risk of error or oversight.

Without an SOP, it would be much more difficult to identify errors and potential problems. 

Secondly, SOPs help new developers to more easily learn how to complete tasks. By having a step-by-step guide to follow, new developers can hit the ground running without having to waste time trying to figure out how to do things on their own.

Another reason why SOPs are important is that they can help improve efficiency and productivity

By outlining exactly what needs to be done and how it should be done, you can eliminate wasteful steps and streamline the task at hand. This can save valuable time and resources in the long run. 

What are Work Instructions?

Work instructions are simply step-by-step explanations of how to complete a task. They can be written or verbal, but most often, they are in the form of procedures, process maps, diagrams, or even videos. 

Work instructions are created for a variety of reasons, but their primary purpose is to ensure that tasks are completed consistently and accurately

Having detailed work instructions can also help to reduce training time for new employees and minimize errors. Additionally, clear work instructions can help teams to communicate more effectively and avoid misunderstandings. 

SOPs vs. Work Instructions: Key Differences

Here’s a brief table that clarifies the differences between SOPs vs. work instructions.

SOPsWork Instructions
SOPs explain processes, including who’s responsible and what needs to be done.Detailed, step-by-step instructions explaining how to perform a task.
SOPs are addressed to all stakeholders involved within a process.WIs are addressed to specific individuals who are responsible for a particular task.
Often created by upper-level management and a few experts.Mainly created after consulting with individuals who are well-versed and experienced in the process.
The prime objective is to ensure compliance and achieve results that pass quality standards.The primary objective is to ensure that the job is completed using uniform, consistent practices.

Benefits of Using SOPs

SOPs are commonly used in virtually all types of businesses. Here are some benefits that they offer:

Decrease Training Time

If you have ever had to train someone on how to do a task, you know that it can be time-consuming and frustrating. 

By having a document that outlines the steps needed to complete a task, you can drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to train someone new. This is especially helpful if you have a high turnover rate or if your team is constantly changing.

SOPs eliminate the need for trial and error. As a result, your employees will waste less time trying to figure out how to do something and can instead focus on getting the job done quickly and correctly.

Improved Collaboration

Another benefit of using SOPs is that they can promote better collaboration within the development team. By having a clear understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities, team members can work together more effectively towards the common goal. 

This can lead to improved morale and motivation, which can, in turn, improve the quality of the final product. 


SOPs promote predictability in the workplace by ensuring that tasks are completed in the same manner each time they are performed. 

This leads to fewer mistakes and a higher quality of work overall. When your employees know what is expected of them, they can work more efficiently and with greater attention to detail.

Benefits of Using Work Instructions

Here are some key benefits of using work instructions:

Improved Efficiency

By having clear and concise instructions available, workers can quickly learn how to complete a task without having to guess or trial-and-error their way through it. 

This can save a lot of time in the long run. In addition, if a task needs to be completed by multiple people, work instructions can help to standardize the process so that everyone is on the same page (literally!).

Diagrams or pictures can be very helpful in providing step-by-step instructions on how to complete a task. In this way, workers don’t have to waste time reading through lengthy paragraphs of text. 

Rather, they can quickly reference the visual aids as needed. This is especially useful for complex tasks that may be difficult to describe in words alone. 

Quality Control

By having explicit instructions on how tasks should be completed, businesses can rest assured that their products or services will meet a certain level of quality every time. 

This is because there is less room for human error when people are following a set procedure. 

In addition, if something does go wrong, it will be easier to identify where things went off track so that the issue can be addressed and prevented from happening again in the future. 

Reduced Costs

The improved efficiency and quality associated with work instructions can lead to reduced costs for businesses. 

For example, if there are fewer mistakes being made, businesses will save money on rework or replacement costs. 

In addition, businesses will save money on training costs since new employees will require less training if clear instructions are available.

Work Instructions and SOPs are Both Vitally Important

SOPs are used to communicate how a process should be done. They’re comprehensive, detailed, and specific. SOPs include all steps in a task, including prerequisites for that particular task or set of tasks (e.g., you need an approved purchase order before you can get the correct quantity of materials).

Work instructions are more often used as supporting documentation for an SOP – they usually focus on one specific step or procedure within an overall process defined by its parent SOP.

As your business grows, you will want to consider setting SOPs for general tasks in the workplace, such as how to send a time-off request. Work instructions would ideally be project-specific.

When it comes to ensuring projects are delivered in the right way, on time, clear communication within and between your teams is vital. SOPs and WIs are a critical part of that, but when it comes to website collaboration, Atarim provides an unrivaled set for centralizing communications and creating an easy and intuitive workflow. Try Atarim for free today.

If you want to learn more about creating instructions and processes, you should consider reading What Should You Write: A User’s Guide, Tutorial, Reference Manual, or Standard Operating Procedure?  by John H. Major.

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