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instruction checklist

Instruction vs. Checklist - What Should You Choose?

Checklists and work instructions are both powerful tools to boost quality and efficiency on the shop floor or in the field. Find out which one to choose, and when.

2 minutes read
Published on 1 December 2022 Updated on 25 April 2023

Digital work instruction tools open up new possibilities. They make it easier to implement clear processes and get consistent outcomes with concise work instructions. On top of that, it can become a reporting tool by implementing checklists.

The user simply swipes yes, no and next, quickly completing a checklist, including the option to leave a comment. The outcome is registered and the gathered data can be used for anything from audits to responding swiftly to detected problems.

But when to use an instruction and when to opt for a checklist? Let’s dive in so you can choose the right one each time.

The importance of picking the right one.

Why not go for an instruction every time?

Because isn’t completing a checklist itself a work instruction? Well, yes, there is indeed an overlap in form, as a checklist is essentially a one-step instruction. But their purpose is different and therein lies the key:

  • Work instructions help frontline workers to complete tasks according to the defined Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). These SOPs are implemented to meet criteria for quality control and audits.

  • Checklists are instructions on how to perform checks to see if the criteria are actually being met. Digital tools - like SwipeGuide - provide accurate status reporting at the same time.  

Knowing when to choose a checklist is key to achieving clean and effective reporting. 

And it’s not just the business outcomes that benefit from a good separation between instructions and lists. Think about it from the perspective of the frontline workers. It boosters confidence and reduces errors when there’s a clear view on what’s important to check and how. 

Putting them side by side.

Zooming in, it’s helpful to see both the overlap and the differences at one glance.

instruction vs checklist

Feed into the cycle.

As you can see, instructions and checklists complement each other. Quality work instructions are step one. Then the frontline workers can check and report on the adherence to the standards with a checklist.

Instruction checklist feedback
Ideally it becomes a back and forth. A good balance between instructions and checklists promotes accountability and growth. Employees understand better where things go wrong and can adapt to prevent further mishaps.

And that’s no empty promise.

Companies that implement checklists consistently report that instructions are being used more, leading to improved quality and less downtime overall.

Time to feed the loop.


Learn more about optimizing instruction, checklist, and SOP content: 

👉 How to Create the Best Checklist
👉 Safety checklists for frontline teams. 
👉 Best Practices: Data Analytics & Visualization in Manufacturing.

Data Analytics in Manufacturing


Picture of Wenda

Wenda uses her experience as an expert technical writer to bring unique insights to her writing. She helps SwipeGuide develop content that clearly explains the inner workings and mechanics of complex manufacturing procedures and processes.

Published on 1 December 2022