Work Instructions vs SOP: Which Do You Need?

By: Simon Spencer

mercredi, mars 25 2020

Work Instructions vs SOP

Manufacturing documentation comes in many flavors, and the specific document type and its purpose can vary from one assembly line to another. But when looking at work instructions versus SOPs (standard operating procedures), how do you decide which you need? As these are two of the most prevalent types of instructions, it's important to find the optimal option for your company.

Take a moment to visualize yourself walking through your organization. What do you notice?

Do you see a lot of different tasks being performed at the same time but intended to solve various issues. You may see High-Mix Low-Volume operations (HMLV) or Low-Mix High-Volume operations (LMHV) being carried out every minute on the shop floors. At the same time, the creative processes like putting together tradeshow presentations to product innovation debates are observed on the top floors.

On the other hand, let's look at the roles of the people involved. There are product engineers, accountants, technicians, line operators, and so many others. They all possess specific knowledge that work instructions attempt to capture and distribute to your other workers.

You could assume that the processes and procedures that govern and steer all these different activities are already well-documented. You may be right in your thinking for some situations, but for many others, not so much.

If you’re in the “Not So Much” camp and are just beginning to realize that the lack of documentation is resulting in quality and productivity problems, just know that 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 and SOPs?

And more importantly, how do you figure out which one your company needs?

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 - Seat of Your Pants Inc. or SOYP Inc. for short.

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, she 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.

Plant Operations

The Line Operators at SOYP Inc. 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.

5 Benefits of Going Digital

With VKS Lite, work instructions can be configured to show a line operation the exact steps required to set-up the machine to achieve the results needed. Every step or setting added is then played in the correct sequence each time, using images and videos to further simplify the process and make it clearer.

For SOYP Inc. and any company like it, there are five powerful benefits to implementing detailed work instructions for the shop floor:

  1. Kaizen is now possible: Stephanie knows the current state of production and begins working with the shop floor team by promoting a culture of Continuous Improvement and making incremental improvement with documented work instructions deployed plant-wide.
  2. Results are superior: Quality and productivity become more consistent and predictable when a known best practice is documented and implemented plant-wide.
  3. Training is faster: There is now training for new employees and cross-training for the existing team that are both more accurate and less expensive than before.
  4. Suggestions are encouraged: There's now a simpler method for providing feedback and receiving suggestions from the shop floor.
  5. Understanding is improved: The work is better understood by both engineering and management as it is now standardized.

Realizing 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 standardizing methods and the implementation of Kaizen as it leads to significant cost savings over time.

Soon, SOYP Inc. begins to run like a well-oiled machine. Standardized work and Kaizen have transformed the plant into an efficient, high-quality manufacturer. For her part, Stephanie has been quickly promoted up the ranks to COO.

With her newly-acquired role and the renewed status of SOYP Inc. as a world-class manufacturer, Stephanie decides to expand the company's manufacturing efforts into new sectors.

Bridging the gap between work instructions and SOPs

So then finally, do you need work instructions or SOPs? To answer this question, we need to look at it from the point of reconciliation. Although the initial investment into digital work instructions requires just a little bit of time to implement, your organization is certain to quickly realize the immediate and quantifiable savings.

As a result, you need both work instructions and standard operating procedures (SOPs), but with a slight variation -- these need to be visual and electronic to keep up with the ever-changing regulations and best practices.

We hope that with this simple and yet comical example, you have a better understanding of how work instructions and SOPs differ, along with what you are missing in your own operation. If along the way, you identified starting points to implement better work instructions and SOPs management then we are happy to share our knowledge and tools to do so with a demonstration of our software.