What if you could standardize the way you create visual work instructions? In manufacturing and operations, we’ve seen the incredible potency of process standardization with visual work instructions. But what if we went further and I told you there were some best practices for creating the instructions themselves? Implementing some of these best practices will help you have new processes running on the shop floor faster and more efficiently.
Redlining your instructions or putting notes across the shop floor to indicate a new process change is not a viable solution, especially when those notes can get lost, dirty, or destroyed so easily. You need to be able to update your processes as fast and as efficiently as possible.
Let me explain how I ended up with some best practices for quickly and efficiently creating accurate and compelling digital work instructions.
The 3 States of A Process Before Visual Work Instructions
I like to think manufacturing processes exist in 3 different states prior to implementing visual work instruction software. In the beginning, it’s crucial to focus on the right one when creating your work instructions. These are:
- How you would like the job to be performed;
- How you think the job is being performed;
- How the job is actually performed.
It’s good to consider all three while developing your work instructions but one is more crucial than the others.
When you are about to develop your work instructions from scratch, it is not the time to restructure your processes. Remember, you want to be quick and new process revisions can easily be done afterwards. There is a good chance that you and other colleagues will have new ideas for an existing process and you should give it the appropriate time when you get to that point.
But currently, we are looking at implementing work instructions for the process we have.
You also might think you know how a process is being done, but I guarantee it’s not exactly how you picture it in your head. If this is your only source of reference, then problems will inevitably occur.
This now leaves us with the third state: How the job is actually performed. You have to see it for yourself and understand what is actually happening. That’s why “Go to the Gemba” is such an important fundamental component of Lean Manufacturing. Gemba is a Japanese term translating to “real place". It is recommended to go to the shop floor to see the “real place” for yourself.
Going to The Shop Floor
When you reproduce a certain task over time, you’ll inevitably come across deficiencies in the process. Experienced employees who have been doing this task for years know why and how these deficiencies occur! They know what will cause a quality issue down the line and have developed some working techniques to prevent errors.
You’ll want to take note of these techniques that have been integrated into the process on the shop floor. Your work instruction will be a tool used by operators. If it does not convey the exact method they employ, there is a high chance that your facility will experience process dissonance.
If the steps can’t be followed as displayed, how can your employees trust the rest of the instruction or new methods that you will eventually implement?
Remember: Your work instruction and what is being done on the shop floor need to line up 100%.
After we have our process set up and it is running on the shop floor, we can take the time to improve upon the process. We should ALWAYS be striving for continuous improvement.
Understanding where improvement is needed will become more clear when VKS Pro begins to generate useful data automatically.
In the meantime, you can turn towards your team leads or the operators with the most experience to guide you through the current process for your step by step instructions.
Sharing The Technique
We are now finally at the point where you can share the technique.
The method identified in the work instructions is good for multiple reasons:
- Operators helped create it through their knowledge and experience
- It reflects the current best practice
- It’s detail focused and easy to follow
- It requires less back-and-forth
It's All About The Visuals
To convey a process, nothing beats high-quality visuals. “A picture is worth a thousand words” is not only cheesy; it’s also very true. You should aim to minimize lengthy text as much as you can. When you distribute work instructions to a new employee, you do not want to worry about whether or not they’ll understand the text. You’ll want them to reproduce exactly what they see!
Do you need to instruct someone to press a button? Show a picture of a finger pressing that button.
There is a reason why LEGO instructions don’t have words on them. Their step by step instructions with pictures are so easy to understand that even children complete the tasks. This means your instructions should contain a series of images and/or videos with key actions an operator needs to perform. Remember, always take the picture or video from the operator’s point of view.
Of course, you’ll still want to add some text to your step by step instructions with pictures to further explain a complex process, but giving your operators a visual and interactive representation is a powerful tool. With our work instruction software, any lengthy explanations can be stored on the side and referenced when needed.
You also never need to worry about having too many steps. If you are using VKS, trusted and experienced operators can always switch to the ‘Expert’ mode to skip simple steps that have been laid out for newer employees.
Documenting the Process by Taking Photos
Taking photos of the process you’re documenting is essential as they will provide visual representations of how the job should be performed.
But since your instructions will be more than just photos, you’ll need to take notes. You could create the work instructions live beside the process which will save you some time but this can sometimes be time-consuming for the operators as the process may go slower.
On top of that, missing details may cause you to have to consult the operator again, and/or revisit the process. This can put a stop to you creating instructions since that specific process might not be currently active when you have time to go back on the production floor. We want to capture the whole process in one take.
- Ability to take high-quality images.
- Ability to document processes and create work instructions at the same time.
- Inability to quickly take pertinent notes without slowing down the operators.
- Possible need to re-document process if anything was missed.
This leads us to our next pro-tip discovered through our own tribal knowledge and the delivery of hundreds of thousands of work instructions created with VKS!
Recording the Process on Video
Recording videos for your work instructions can be a great asset as it will allow you to capture the whole process. Additionally, any complex step in your instructions that would benefit from a video can be fitted with a section of the recording to provide a greater context. Yet something key is missing… the pictures!
You could try to capture screenshots from the video but these images will be of lower quality and potentially blurry. Also, once you are in front of the computer, it will take a lot of time to repeatedly pause the video to take screenshots of the images you want to use for your instructions.
- Capturing the entire process in one take.
- Quick and productive for operators.
- Low-quality and potentially useless photos.
- Time-consuming in post-production.
Solution: Hybrid of Photos and Videos
Here is a case where we can have the best of both worlds by recommending a mix of photos and videos. While filming, if done with a phone, camera, or tablet that allows this option, the author can press the photo button to take high-quality pictures at the same time that the video is being recorded.
Do you see a point in the process that would perfectly represent the next step in the instruction? Take a high-quality picture while recording.
The author can ask the operator questions during the process and everything will be recorded. Documenting the process in this way will remove the need to take time-consuming notes while decreasing the impact on the operator’s productivity.
After the job is done, go back to your computer, drop your pictures into the work instruction software, and listen to the video while you are building it. You’ll be able to capture information faster and more efficiently while making sure you're not missing any important details in the process.
Even if you forget some pictures, you can still take screenshots from the video as a last resort. This will prevent you from redoing the work you have already done.
Pro Tip: Filming in 60 fps is recommended to obtain clear images while pausing the frame. Many modern smartphones are equipped with this capability.
If there is a part of the process that is proving to be quite complex in your step by step instructions with pictures, add a portion of the video as your instruction step. This is easily done if you are using a digital work instruction solution like VKS.
Using work instruction software naturally reduces the time it takes to create and distribute visually compelling and user-friendly work instructions. By standardizing your process and implementing these best practices while creating your work instructions, you’ll be able to speed up your production time and create effective material that your employees and your business can rely on.