Monday, October 24, 2005

True Purpose of Visual Work Instructions

I noticed something interesting when we posted visual work instructions all over our plant. The operators who helped write the content looked them over, made corrections and never looked at them again. The work instructions were posted above each work station yet nobody looked at them after the first week.

Almost every operator believed that they knew their jobs well enough not to rely on the work instructions. So if the visual work instructions are not for the operators, what is their true purpose?

The first purpose is to document (standardize) the current best way to perform a task or complete a process. Many of our processes in the past were considered tribal knowledge. Only a few people carried that specific knowledge in their heads and passed it on to others as required. Over time, some important information was lost which was either lost forever or forced us to re-learn it. Not a very productive use of resources.

The second purpose is for training or teaching new employees the correct method or process. Depending on word of mouth training from experienced operators leaves opportunities of missing information or compromises in quality. The visual work instruction should contain the proper information and improve the learning curve.

Finally, the visual work instructions provide the basis to audit the process. Using the visual work instruction as the standard work method, any person could check the actual operation against the documented method to ensure adherence to standard. In addition, the standard documented process becomes the baseline for improvement efforts.


Mark Graban said...

I was always taught to NOT hang the work instructions right in the operator's face. They know how to do their job (if you've helped train them properly). The SW documents are actually there for the SUPERVISOR or team leader to be able to reference, so they are sometimes hung on the OUTSIDE of the cell. Just a thought.

Mike Wroblewski said...

Following our consultant's directions, we did in fact hang then up. We quickly learned that this is not the best approach as you pointed out, Mark! This lead to the post on the purpose of SW documentation.

Anonymous said...

An airline pilot has work instructions too - but doesnt need to reference them all the time. Why show the staff up, and P them off.

Anonymous said...

A work instruction is written in the first place because it is important that the particular task is carried out a specific way and in a specific sequence. If the work instruction is not going to be used, well then its not worth having it in the first place (you will go mad trying to enforce the non-enforceable).

The operator does not necessarily need to refer to the work instruction each time he carries out the task BUT he MUST carry out the task EXACLTY according to the WI. Why go to the bother of writing it otherwise? How on earth can you begin to problem solve and continually improve your business processes if you don't know EXACTLY how things were done in the first place.

An airline pilot doesn't need to reference his work instructions! Rubbish! of course he does. A pilot will go through the same pre-flight check according to his pre-flight instructions - even if he has done this 10,000 times before. Can you imagine, after a crash, the pilot saying "I know my job, I don't need instructions on how to do it".

The bottom line: If you have a documented method of carrying out a task (such as a recipe) you will get predictable results 100% of the time. To get different results you would need to change the instructions.

Leaving it up to human discretion will not, and cannot achieve this.

Unknown said...

We are trying to prepare 1 work Instruction for each operator at our manual insertion production line (PCB Assembly). If operators attendance are fluctuate more than 15% - 30% during weekend or night shift, we do need to prepare over 3 - 4 sets work Instructions for every single models.For your info, we are running 10 - 15 different models per day. How can we have prepared 1 set of Work Instruction by each operator refer to each WI and can cope with fluctuate attendance of 15% - 30%?