Sunday, October 23, 2005

Visual Work Instructions Basics

A few years ago, we had a consultant join us to improve our operation. One of the first areas that he focused on was placing large visual work instructions all around the plant. This was not a completely new idea to us. Previously, we had targeted visual work instructions at key areas however he wanted more of them.

Based on his advise, we needed larger (11" x 17") visual work instruction posted high above every work station. He also stressed that the work instructions should be on photo paper and laminated. This meant special paper and new color printers. With these work instruction posted at each work station, he predicted a huge increase in quality first pass yield.

Like most consultants, he had some great ideas but his plan was flawed. In addition, he missed the purpose of the improvement as in the case of the visual work instructions. Regardless, we went ahead with his recommendations for all the obvious reasons. Not surprising, the workstations looked great with all the visuals yet we did not see amazing improvements in our quality when we completed this task. Was this project a boondoggle (waste)?

Not a complete waste just implemented poorly. A few practical work instruction improvements were learned in the process:

Visual Work Instruction Basics:

1. Use regular 8 1/2" x 11" copy paper (Its cheaper, standard and only regular printer needed).
2. Post at each work station at the operator level and make it accessible (Posting high up presents a barrier to updating and requires maintenance help).
3. Have the operators write their own work instruction (Keeps ownership and accuracy high)
4. Use plenty of pictures with brief steps. (If it is too wordy, people will not read them).
5. Update them regularly (Out of date information is worse than no information at all).

Start with these basics to make visual work instructions a better tool in your operation. I will add more about what we learned on visual work instructions in the next few posts. Next topic, what is the true purpose of the visual work instructions?

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