How to write work instructions that really work.

written on 28.09.2021

With globalization and the associated cross-location cooperation, an increasing shortage of skilled workers and the highest quality standards, uniform specifications are required for the manufacturing processes of products.

Across a variety of industries and use cases, digital work instructions provide an effective method for knowledge transfer and ensure consistent quality awareness among employees.

What are work instructions?

In short, a work instruction represents a specification for the proper execution of work steps and describes to the employee:in an understandable way which steps are necessary for the correct execution of an activity.

When properly designed, the work instruction can be used to instruct employees in accordance with the applicable Occupational Safety and Health Act.

IIn most cases, digital checklists are used, which have become an indispensable tool on the shopfloor thanks to media support and intuitive user guidance.

Classification of the work instruction in the QM system

How should work instructions be designed?

Human error in production processes is a major source of error. e.g. 70% of all accidents in technical systems can be attributed to human error. To avoid this, work instructions can make a valuable contribution.

The following principles should always be observed:

  • User-centered and user-friendly
  • Effective and easy to understand
  • Effortless to use for both creators and executors
  • Quickly available

Structure, as in most cases, is the be-all and end-all for creating instructions, especially in quality management. A clear and logical structure is essential for creating and understanding work instructions.

How to write a work instruction.

When creating a work instruction, the focus is on conveying knowledge. Accordingly, the document should be self-explanatory and clearly laid out.

The following guiding questions serve as a guide when creating a statement of work:

  • Who (employee)

Who has to do the work?

  • What (work steps)

This must describe the activity to be performed in as much detail as possible.

  • What for (purpose of the step)

The purpose of citing the purpose is to give employees a clear understanding of why the work step is necessary. This increases acceptance and awareness of the task.

  • How (Workflow)

The entire workflow must be broken down in single steps.

  • With (work equipment)

This defines the test equipment, tools, or devices with which the work step must be performed and how they are to be used. For example, it may be recorded here which sizes or variants of test equipment are to be used in performing the activity.

  • Where (workstation)

Here it is important to define exactly for which workstation or area or system the work instruction is valid.

  • How much (quantity)

Indicate how much of something, e.g., batches, pieces, etc., is to be produced.

  • How long (time required)

It should be specified in this step what the maximum time duration of the individual work steps may be. Here it can be a rule time expenditure, which is to be defined realistically.

  • In what quality?

Here it is important to define quality standards in advance and to show the quality level of the product to be manufactured. Common KPIs that make quality measurable in the work step are defect rates, lead times, defect categories or also scoring during audits.

  • How secure?

Occupational safety also plays an essential role in the context of work instructions. That is why work safety standards should also be specified to be applied in a wide variety of areas in the company.

Questions and content for creating work instructions

Advantages of digital work instructions compared to paper-based checklists:

The basic idea behind work instructions is to document the individual process steps in such a way that uniformity and a high degree of standardization are achieved in the execution of work steps. By using digital checklists to create work instructions, a wide range of benefits can be generated from which management and the shopfloor benefit equally. The wide range includes:

Updates at the touch of a button:

A major advantage of digital work instructions is that they can be quickly updated in the event of changes in the process, an addition to the intermediate step or an update of the test equipment used. This is done centrally by the responsible position, such as the production manager, and is automatically available at all necessary points in real time.

Correct versions at a glance:

Automatic versioning of work instructions can ensure that the correct version of the work instruction is in use and that recent changes can be tracked. The use of outdated documents could result in a number of consequential errors.

Addition of information such as pictures / videos:

Visual elements such as photos, videos or interactive PDFs support the comprehensibility of the present work instructions and save time during learning. Especially in the age of social media, visual representations are indispensable.

Multilingualism with a common database:

In global use, digital work instructions are ideal because a wide variety of language versions can be created on a common database. This ensures a standard across regional company boundaries without having to share documents across multiple media breaks.

More efficient onboarding of new employees:

A digital form of work instructions can also facilitate processes in the context of onboarding processes. Instead of paper checklists and analog release processes, processes can simply be digitized and automatic release processes can be stored.

More awareness of tasks:

Digitizing work instructions can increase efficiency. The relevance of the individual work steps is highlighted and traceability is promoted. In addition, improvements in the process can be submitted.  

Digital Documentation:

With the digital form of work instructions, checks are recorded digitally and evaluated in dashboards. For employees, documentation is now only digital and there is no longer a need to carry paper checklists from one station to the next.

With the digital form of work instructions, checks are recorded digitally and evaluated in dashboards. For employees, documentation is now only digital and there is no longer a need to carry paper checklists from one station to the next..

3 steps to successful use of digital work instructions

1. Document step by step the process

The easiest way to document a procedure is to first outline the SOP steps. An SOP describes the steps required to complete a task from start to finish. If you have a 65-page manual that covers 9 different processes, you can create a separate SOP for each process.   

Once the process has been finalized, the digitization of the work instruction can begin. Checklist software is suitable for this purpose, with which you create your previously defined workflows in the app as checklists, define the respective areas for which the work instruction is valid, and define the individual steps in the work instruction as checks. This enables companies to standardize workflows in order to optimize business processes.

Determine who is responsible for the process and give a clear idea of the desired outcome. If you are clear about your goals, it will be easier for you to formulate the necessary steps. Repeat this process sector by sector until one of the two processes is established as a methodology.

2. Make work instructions easily accessible for employees

Work instructions should be easily accessible to all employees so that they are actually used. This puts an end to searching and using PDF checklists or paper checklists.

Employees should have easy access to the relevant work instructions via desktop or tablet. The data they record during their work can in turn be shared. In the best case, all data of the operation, such as inspection and test data as well as actual and target values are made available in the app so that all relevant data are bundled in one place.

In addition, visual formats such as images or videos of each process step can help make work instructions easier to understand. Text-only instructions can be misinterpreted, whereas with videos or images there is no misunderstanding.    

3. Learn from your employees and optimize your processes

Digital work instructions are a wonderful way of getting to know employees and their processes. Suggestions for solutions to known deficiencies or information on how to deal with problems can be recorded by employees and in turn serve as a basis for further process optimization.

When choosing a digital solution, go for a tool with integrated reporting capabilities to help you realize the full potential of the data captured during process flows.

This simple way of recording knowledge and making it accessible to everyone is particularly helpful for shopfloor employees who only have a limited time window for documenting processes.

Conclusion

Work instructions have become an indispensable part of everyday life in many companies. They provide structure, serve as knowledge mediators and support the optimization of business processes through standardization. By switching to digital work instructions, you have a powerful tool for making the knowledge of your employees visible. Use the full potential of your work instructions.

Willkommen in der Welt von Quality Excellence.


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