Work Intructions vs SOP

Does Your Organization Need SOPs, Work Instructions or Both?

Manufacturing documentation comes in many flavors, and the specific document type and its purpose can vary from organization to organization. In this article, we’ll take a look at two of the most prevalent types of manufacturing documents and what makes them different.

Take a look around your organization and you’ll notice a lot of people doing a lot of different jobs. Engineers, Accountants, Technicians, Line Operators, etc. all have specific knowledge of their roles, and you could assume that the processes and procedures that govern and steer all these different activities are well documented. In some cases you’re correct but in many others, not so much. If you’re in the “Not So Much” camp, and you’re beginning to realize that the lack of documentation is resulting in quality and productivity problems, just know you’re not alone.

A lot of companies lack needed documentation, which happens to be why VKS exists in the first place. However, before jumping off into the great documentation abyss (and it can be an abyss if not done well), let’s clarify a common point of confusion for even the most seasoned professional.

  • WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WORK INSTRUCTIONS & STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES?
  • AND…
  • WHICH ONE DO YOU NEED?

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll frame the Work Instruction vs. SOP conversation in the context of a manufacturing company, and we’ll give this hypothetical manufacturer the random name (In an effort to protect the guilty) - Seat of Your Pants, Inc. (SOYP, Inc.). SOYP, Inc. has been making jean shorts profitably for nearly 100 years, but today things will be different. Today, Stephanie, a fresh face walked in the door. Stephanie is a new college graduate from a top engineering school and within minutes of stepping onto the shop floor, starts to see problems. People with the same jobs are doing them differently, producing inconsistent results and making Kaizen all but impossible.

When Stephanie asks line operators to see their procedures, they have no idea what she’s talking about. When she asks the Line Supervisor to see the procedures, she is shown a binder full of Standard Operating Procedures. Stephanie quickly realizes that although the SOPs are complete and accurate, correctly detailing the WHO, WHAT and WHEN for all plant operations, something quite important is missing. The HOW.

The Line Operators at SOYP, Inc. obviously need to understand the Who, What and When for running their area, line, etc. but without the How, plant leadership is leaving a significant grey area open to translation, or opinion as to whose method is best, fastest, safest, etc. The missing How are work instructions, and include step by step, detailed task level instructions. Work instructions for the SOYP, Inc. shop floor will go a step further than explaining to the stitching line operator that the number of stitches per inch must be between 18 and 20 and must be checked hourly.

Work instructions will tell or show that line operator exactly how to setup the stitching machine to achieve that result. Every step or setting, in the correct sequence, preferably using images and/or video to make the process even more clear. There are a couple of powerful benefits to SOYP, Inc. and their shop floor team to implementing detailed work instructions:

  • Kaizen is now possible: Stephanie knows the current state and can begin working with the shop floor team to make incremental improvements, which can be documented in the work instructions and deployed plant-wide
  • Better, more consistent results: Quality and productivity become more consistent and predictable when a known best practice is documented and implemented plant-wide
  • Faster (Less Expensive), more accurate training for new employees, and cross-training for the existing team
  • Simpler method for receiving suggestions for improvements from the shop floor
  • Better Engineering and Management understanding of the work

Understanding the importance of work instructions, Stephanie went to work documenting in detail how each task is performed using images wherever possible. The Line Operators were initially hesitant but began to understand the importance of standardized methods and the ability to implement Kaizen meant significant cost savings over time.

Soon, SOYP, Inc. was running like a well oiled machine. Standard work and Kaizen had transformed the plant into an efficient, high quality manufacturer of jean shorts and Stephanie, well she was promoted quickly up the ranks to COO. With her new role, and the new status of SOYP , Inc. as a world class manufacturer, she thought a company name change was in order. Welcome to Short-pants Designed and Crafted Accurately, Inc. (SDCA, Inc.).

Now, answering the questions posed at the beginning of this blog may seem quite obvious. You probably need SOPs and Work Instructions in your operation and although there is an investment in time to implement this level of documentation, your organization will realize real, quantifiable savings as a result.

It’s my hope that with this simple, and yes comical example, you have a better understanding of how Work Instructions and SOPs differ, and what you are probably missing in your own operation.

Thanks for reading,

If you want to learn more about VKS’ Solution feel free to contact me for a live demonstration of our software and its capabilities by clicking here!

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