Why are effective Work Instructions so important?
Work Instructions are the most basic tool used in every business or organization to help an employee follow a sequence of steps. Inadequate Work Instructions could result in returned product, loss of materials, customer complaints, or liability issues. Work Instructions can have a major impact on a management system effectiveness. If instructions are difficult to follow, employees will make errors in implementing the steps. Optimizing Work Instructions can lead to a more effective management system.
What is a Work Instruction?
A Work Instruction is a detailed sequence of steps that an employee needs to follow each time s/he performs a task. The purpose of a Work Instruction is to organize steps in a logical format so that an employee can easily follow it independently. Procedures for a process can be very long with multiple steps. Work Instructions enable us to remove some of the detail so that an employee can better understand the overall process.
We follow "Work Instructions" of some form or another throughout our daily routine. How many times have you arrived in a parking garage and missed the big poster by the elevator door, "Pay for parking before you go up to get your car"? The simplest Work Instructions fail and result in injuries and loss of life daily:
- "One Way"
- "Wet Floor"
These are simple instructions, yet we fail in implementing them. Writing a complex instruction for an assembly of tens or hundreds of pieces becomes more difficult and presents many more opportunities for failures.
Systematic Approach for Developing an Effective Work Instruction
Organizing your instructions in a systematic format is no different than organizing your inventory. When your inventory is well organized, your employees can find your product quickly and speed up your delivery process. Work Instructions that are following a systematic format will allow your employees to find information quickly and therefore perform the tasks faster and more accurately.
You can see how much more difficult it is to read a sentence WHEN font changes.
That's why a consistent format for your Work Instructions is so important. Employees can read the information faster and absorb it quicker if it follows the same format. Once you create one, you can use it to create a template. This template can be followed for creating other instructions.
Process Approach for Developing an Effective Work Instruction
Creating an effective Work Instruction is a process, not an activity or a one time project. You will not be able to tell if a Work Instruction is effective until you implement it. Many organizations view their documented process as a static and burocratic system. Major effort is applied to creating the system but verry little resource is provided to ensure its effectiveness over time.
Work Instructions are a type of document that will help you organize a single task usually performed by one individual. Creating Work Instructions is necessary when the process is quite involved and involves many tasks. If the process involves few tasks the "Work Instruction" can be included within procedure without distracting from the individuals understanding of the overall process. The document you are creating has a purpose of explaining the process to the reader. The content will depend on the skill level of the reader. Below is a simple formula that will help you determine the content of Work Instructions.
Employee Readiness = Education + Skill Level (Experience) + Training +Procedure & Work Instruction Content + Frequency Task is Performed+ Automation
If your employees are highly educated or skilled they may need very little time to acquire the knowledge to perform tasks or process. On the other hand if your employees do not speak the language and multilingual instructions are out of the question your Work Instructions may be made up of pictures.
There is no perfect format for all organizations. The types that will work best for an individual company will be developed over time through trial and error. When first deciding on how to construct the system, evaluate what format the instructions are currently taking. Look for hand written instructions, instructions taped to the wall or to the bulletin board, or written in the manual or catalog.
Individuals process information differently. Some are visual and process pictures faster. Other employees may process written text better. If you are writing procedures for engineers, a flow chart will save you a lot of time. Others may be totally lost trying to process a flow chart. A system needs to accommodate all types of learners.
Samples of Work Instructions
Every individual on daily basis is faced with some type of Work Instruction. It could be an instruction from the equipment manual, how to operate a mower, car gadgets. Some Work Instructions may be in the format of a form like a bank withdrawal or tax form. Some Work Instructions may be a flow chart in which you follow arrows to the next task. More and more the instructions are created in the computer database style. Here are some samples of Work Instructions:
|- Control of Trial Documentation
- process step instruction
- service steps
- software manual
- appliance instruction
- Income Tax Form
- job application
- prescription label
- street signs
- payrol tracking
|- Control of Document Alert
- assembly instruction
- work standards
- health instruction
- safety instruction
- work checklist
- inspection instruction
- user instruction
- computer screen instruction
- equipment maintenance
- testing instructions
- product specifications
Samples of Ineffective Work Instructions
An ineffective Work Instruction can result in nonconformances, losses of product and lost customers and revenue. An ineffective Work Instruction is confusing. It can have too much or too little information. A Work Instruction that gives an opportunity for many interpretations or multiple meanings will be implemented incorrectly. Remember, once the training is completed, Work Instructions and procedures are what most employees depend on.
ISO Work Instructions
ISO auditors look at instructions everywhere. Instructions taped to equipment, written with a marker on a wall, pinned to bulletin board, or written on sticky notes indicate a lack of standardization. ISO certification reqires control over instruction for consistant implementation. Employees will write notes anywhere it is convenient for them to remember the steps. After a while these notes become obsolete and a newer employee may implement them without knowing that they are wrong.
Controlling Work Instructions (all instructions) that are critical to producing consistent product or service can be a difficult taks. All that work is justified to provide employees the right Work Instructions.
For more on Work Instructions, see "Work Instructions That Work."
Foqus, Inc. July, 2006