Procedures That Get Read (Part 4)

In the last post, we discussed the effective use of photos, as well as the pitfalls created by mis-using or over-using photos. But sometimes photographs are not the best vehicles to graphically represent a piece of equipment.

Let me share an example from my previous work. In one organization, I had to write an operating procedure on a system used to prevent runaway reactions (called “exotherms”) in mixers. The nature of the system (several pieces of equipment in four different locations) made it impossible to show in one photograph. But to effectively enhance the verbal description of the system’s intent, the system needed to be captured in one visual. To solve the problem, I created a single diagram showing the relationships between pieces of the system. (This was supplemented by photos of individual components as well as the word description.)

A diagram can be as effective a photograph in “speaking 1,000 words.” In many cases, one diagram can clarify a description of systems or equipment in ways a photograph or series of photographs cannot.

In addition to the ability to capture multiple pieces of equipment in a single image (as described above), diagrams can provide the following advantages:

1. A diagram can provide an unhindered view of what you are intending to describe.

In many cases, a photograph of equipment will be cluttered by all of the objects that fall into the camera’s field of view. A diagram can effectively illustrate the components of interest while removing the clutter. In many cases, this will provide greater clarity than highlighting components within a photo (as described in Part 3).

2. A diagram can illustrate components that are not visible under normal machine operating conditions. In many cases a prospective operator needs to understand how components within a machine function, even though the components cannot be viewed during operation or training.

3. A diagram facilitates an easier view of process flow. In cases where product flows from point to point through equipment components, an uncluttered diagram of components allows arrows and other marks indicating flow to be included with minimal appearance of clutter.

These are four advantages that can be gained from the use of diagrams. There are possibly others that you can identify.

Diagrams can be created using Power Point shapes (actually, the same shapes are available in Word). They can also be hand-drawn and scanned for inclusion in a document. The two methods can be combined: hand-draw and scan a diagram, insert it into the document, and then add flow lines and markers, labels of components (using text boxes in Word) to the scanned image.

As with any device, diagrams can be mis-used and hinder communication in the procedure. Over-use of diagrams can have the same effect as over-use of photos or color (see Part 3).

Two suggestions related to the use of diagrams:

1. If a photograph will serve the same effect as a diagram, use a photograph (it takes less time to create).

2. Do not use blueprints or engineering drawings unless there is no alternative. The problem with engineering drawings is that they are designed to communicate specifications, assembly and/or purchasing instructions, etc. As a result, they contain a lot of information that is not relevant to the training. Any information not relevant to the learning process is an obstacle to the learning process. (Also, engineering drawing scale is usually too small to effectively illustrate a component or system when converted to a standard procedure page.)

In the next part of this, we will discuss enhancements to words beyond mere color.


About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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