Visual Work Instructions - Different Approaches and Use cases

If you are anything like me (if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you are), you’ve come up professionally in operations of one sort or another. By operations, I’m referring to environments where a product or service is made, stored, shipped, fixed, provided etc. Operations is where the rubber meets the road in most organizations. It’s where the actual value for the organization and its customers is created, and in some cases lost. It’s where 80% of an organization’s employees work, where most of the capital is invested and expenses generated. Operations, to me, also happens to be the most exciting and interesting place in an organization, simply because it’s where the people are, and where you have people you have variability.

In this discussion we’ll take a macro view of the different applications and use cases for Standard Work, and specifically Visual Work Instructions. Let’s start with the most fundamental question posed by electronic work instruction applications. Will they be used in-process, or provided as a resource. Let’s take a quick look at the difference

In-Process (Active) Approach


Fundamentally, in terms of standard work instructions, using standard work documents in-process means making the documentation not only available, but required at each work station. They actively guide the user through the work, providing every detail in WHAT to do and HOW to do it, step by step. The very best work instruction applications leverage images and video to more accurately and concisely describe activities and will provide opportunities for data capture, efficiency monitoring, and are infinitely more mobile and scalable to support broad in-process implementation.

The in process approach to implementing standard work instructions works really well, and provides maximum ROI in many different scenarios, particularly those requiring a high level of traceability to Who did What and When.

  • Hi mix and assortment manufacturing
    • Assembly, Machining, Bending, Welding, Fabrication, Paint/Masking, Plating, etc.
  • Maintenance, installation and repair
    • Troubleshooting guides, preventive maintenance, equipment inspection guides
  • Quality & inspections
    • Sampling processes and procedures, health and safety, audits, nonconformance

As Resource (Passive) Approach


Alternatively, many companies take a more passive approach to work instruction implementation. Maybe the work is highly automated with some basic manual functions, or cycle times are so short that interaction with an application would slow production. Whatever the reason, providing electronic, visual work instructions in a simple format that is highly accessible, mobile and easy to maintain adds quite a lot of value.

In this type of implementation, terminals would be strategically located near to where the work is occurring, but not necessarily at the workstation. Users would have the opportunity to reference the documentation during their activities to refresh their memories, but would not use the step by step guide functionality. The best environments for this type of implementation include:

  • High speed, low assortment manufacturing
    • Assembly lines where individual stations have few tasks or where automation is highly integrated
  • Highly experienced workforce
    • Keep in mind, knowledge loss due to turn-over, retirement, promotions, etc
    • Tribal knowledge with these high-skill workers needs to be captured
  • Simple but infrequent activities
    • Knowledge loss over time results in quality and consistency issues
  • Infrastructure challenges
    • Although, current SaaS/Cloud technology can resolve this

The decision to use either approach is of course dependant upon your specific business, but the most important commonality is the need for well documented standardized work instructions. Whether your team is on site, or in the field, directly involved in manufacturing, or supporting manufacturing, creating standard work instructions is critical to reducing errors, and improving quality & productivity.


Written by shannon Bennett

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