Not another manual!

What do you do when people aren’t doing what you want? What do you do if they are not using equipment properly, are not following procedures or are making lots of mistakes?

Often the first response is to write a manual – a book of instructions or guidelines to give to people. Some think a clear explanation of the task, perhaps with attractive graphics, is that all is needed to bring about change.

But look around most offices and you’ll likely find dozens of manuals and help guides sitting on the shelf. No-one reads them, they have no effect. Often there is an official way (by the book) and a real way of working.

Writing yet another manual could be useful, but it could also be a big mistake.

Before committing more trees to the axe, or tying up hours in review meetings, investigate how useful a manual may be. Will it solve the real problem?

Spend time with the people you are aiming the manual at and ask questions like:

  • how is the equipment being used? why is it used that way?
  • what factors are driving workers to work as they do?
  • how does this task fit in with other tasks?

And perhaps the most important question “How comfortable is the audience with books and written material?”

You must have deep knowledge of the problem, the environment and the user before deciding on a solution. A manual may be the way to go, but your investigation may reveal a completely different solution is more appropriate.


Think about your existing manuals, guidelines and instruction books. Are they used? Do they drive behaviour?