How to give instructions
Covey actually discusses this in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, under the heading of “effective delegation.” (Also, see this study outline for book (PDF file).) But here’s a quick list of steps:
In his book Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Learning to Give, Take, and Use Instructions, Richard Saul Wurman outlines a simple set of conditions that a good set of instructions must meet (no matter how complex the desired outcome is). In order to be effective, a good set of instructions must provide information about six things:
- Mission: What do the instructions show me how to do?
- Destination: What will I see, hear, experience when I’ve followed the instructions?
- Procedure: What are the exact steps I need to follow to reach the destination and accomplish the mission? What tools and equipments will I need? What special information do I need to finish?
- Time: How long will it take me to finish? (Other measures might be appropriate, like “how much money will I have to spend?” or “how far will I have to drive?”)
- Anticipation: What difficulties should I expect to encounter on the way? How should I prepare for the project?; and
- Failure: What will happen if I screw up? What does failure look like?
“Failure” and “Anticipation” are the most overlooked among these — which is what makes the assembly instructions with a lot of “assembly required” furniture so frustrating. We are rarely told when a piece should slide easily into place, or when it needs to be forced (anticipation) or that if a door is put on upside-down it won’t close properly (failure).