Published November 13, 2018
Science of Work Instructions
Hands-on training in a Manufacturing environment is often the best method for measurable success, but what happens when reinforcement of said training must be made sustainable, accessible, and documented for posterity?
Enter Work Instructions.
If you’ve ever worked in manufacturing then you know the importance of work instructions. Within most manufacturing ecosystems lies the need to streamline training processes, be it something as basic as properly packing units for shipping, or advanced — and potentially hazardous — tasks such as testing equipment in a high-voltage capacity.
Beyond the initial training administered by supervisors, Work Instructions eternally bridge the gaps in information, close divides in knowledge from one employee to another, and serve as a handy-dandy guidebook for those looking to follow the path of highest — and documented — efficiency. Be it Work Instructions for manufacturing, administrative, operational, or even engineering wings of a company, the collaboration between a Technical Writing team and hands-on experts ensure that the day-to-day production processes flow naturally, so that the next step can progress without issues.
But there is an art form in crafting the Work Instructions, which sometimes straddle the predominantly gray area between not enough information or too much information; too rigid or too flexible; tried-and-true methods or dated methods; and most importantly: too complex or not technical enough.
It’s essential to strike a balance in each process or task, but at the same time strike the proper chord with end-users. So, let’s delve a bit further into the world of Work Instructions, specifically of the Manufacturing variety, and take a closer look some of the dos and don’ts of crafting these guidebooks.
The Benefits of Work Instructions
Streamline production processes:
- It’s important that the work is completed
according to the scheduler, so that the overall process
may be handed off to the next step without roadblocks.
Standardize training and methods of production:
- Knowledge within a Manufacturing environment should
be both uniform and accessible. It’s important to note
that employees will develop newer — and potentially
more efficient — methods to complete processes and
tasks, but a baseline must be established. Recognizing the
training and acknowledging the administration of the
training via documentation also creates accountability.
Reduce errors and scraps:
- Streamlining the production processes and standardizing
training and methods means less mistakes, which in turn
limits scrap material. All of this adds up to greater all-around
efficiency, whether it is due to time saved on the assembly
floor or costs controlled via reducing scrap materials.
Outline clear and established safety protocols:
- Safety is paramount in a Manufacturing environment. From
high-voltage fixtures, to forklifts, to pallet jacks, to even a
simple shop knife, understanding safe work methods and
operation of tools and equipment could be the difference
between a safe and hazardous work environment, and
possibly the difference between life and death.
Allow employees at all levels to aid in improvement of production processes and methods:
- Manufacturing is a team activity: think of Work Instructions as a playbook, where the individual moving parts within a diagrammed maneuver ultimately lead to gains or losses. Work Instructions allow the players (supervisors, assemblers, etc.) involved in the playbook to pitch in suggestions, ideas, wrinkles, and changes to the product, just as an athlete would drop in their two cents on a scheme to potentially push his or her team to greater heights.
Work Instructions DOs and DON’Ts
- Similar processes, part numbers, references, etc. should appear similarly within Work Instructions, and where possible, uniform throughout the entire catalogue of Work Instructions. Establishing benchmarks, such as color codes, bolds, italics, and underlines for fonts, font sizes, and proper alignments of texts, tabs, boxes, and pictures creates consistency — and, more importantly — familiarity for the end-user. Below, a series of key words and processes have been circled in red to demonstrate similarities and importance.
Mind proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation:
- While an end-user with less than eagle-eyes may not catch seemingly mundane errors, a professional, well-written document will always stand out and be easier to edit down the road. In many Manufacturing environments, though the Work Instructions remain confidential and only for internal use, appearances are often the first impression, and professional polish on the documents further heightens the importance of the contents.
Partner with experts:
- Engineers and Assemblers possess the depth of knowledge of the processes and methods to ensure just enough detail is included in the Work Instructions, not to mention proper tooling techniques, handling of delicate materials, and order of assembly, among many other variables. Partnering with experts ensures efficient processes and methods are being implemented.
Ensure end-user copies of Work Instructions are always the latest revision available:
- Outdated and out-of-revision Work Instructions are about as good as the total absence of one. The onus of maintaining the printing and publication of the latest revisions of Work Instructions should ultimately lie with the Technical Writing team and or Manufacturing Supervisors. The end-user, however, should be checking for the latest revision before every use.
Centralize location of Work Instructions:
- Be it a physical copy or digital file, Work Instructions should always be accessible when needed by end-users and editors.
Ensure changes are captured promptly:
- Reconciliation of edits, or “red lines”, leads to the latest versions of Work Instructions being available for use. Typically, 30 days is the maximum a red line can appear in a Work Instruction before needing to change revision and once again become an official document.
Do not allow anyone other a supervisor to authorize changes and red lines:
- The end-user is well within their rights — and responsibilities — to discuss and initiate changes, but a seasoned supervisor should have the final say in signing off on said changes.
Do not circulate multiple copies of printed Work Instructions:
- At no time should more than one physical copy of any given Work Instruction be out in circulation. Following this practice eliminates the chances that an older and/or red-lined revision is not being utilized.
Do not misplace Work Instructions:
- While this one can be difficult to enforce, it remains the responsibility of the end-user to ensure that physical copies of Work Instructions are never lost or misplaced. This ties in directly to having to print multiple physical copies of Work Instructions and everything that comes with the scenario.
While this is by no means an end-all, be-all, or extensive list of everything associated with Work Instructions, it sets many of the base guidelines and expectations regarding the crafting, editing, publishing, and maintenance of the documents. For more general information on Work Instructions, and their relationships to other critical documents, please visit the following websites: