A Year of Writing Work Instructions—What I Have Learned, Part 2

A Continuing Series from Mr. Procedure

Work instructions are where the rubber meets the road (to paraphrase the ages-old tire commercial). A company’s success depends on preparing and delivering their product, exactly as the customer desires it, on time in the right quantity, while creating as little waste as possible. Work instructions describe the actions that directly create the product, primary assemblies and sub-assemblies, perform essential testing of the product, document the product and prepare the product for shipment.

The work instruction must provide a detailed description of each step, usually using words and pictures together, to enable the operator to perfectly perform the step. That is pretty much the work instruction’s only objective.

Before discussing the nuts and bolts of work instruction development, first let’s consider the basic types of work instructions:

  • The batch-oriented work instruction: a batch-oriented work instruction describes how to blend ingredients together in the proper proportions and proper conditions to achieve the product’s desired outcomes.
  • The assembly-oriented work instruction: an assembly-oriented work instruction describes how to build a discrete part or integrate parts together into a larger assembly.
  • The testing work instruction: a test work instruction describes how to conduct a test on raw, intermediate or finished products/materials. A test work instruction may be a subset of a batch-oriented or assembly-oriented work instruction, depending on the specific aspects of the test.
  • The form-completion work instruction: a form-completion work instruction describes how to fill in the blanks of a form (IRS Form 1040 a prime example).

There may be other types of work instructions but for this discussion, most work instruction types will fit into one of these four categories.

Identifying the work instruction type is valuable for structuring the instruction layout, especially when a large number of work instructions. For example, if your organization needs a hundred assembly instructions to perform all activities in a product build, all one hundred instructions should be structured the same way. The assembler should not have to learn a new instruction format each time they move from one assembly action to the next.

More valuable than correctly identifying work instruction type is identifying the pre-requisite capability to perform the activity described by the instruction. Pre-requisite capability is defined as the skills, knowledge and/or task capability required to successfully complete the activity. Pre-requisite capability is often implied in the instruction, though in many situations it may be explicitly stated up front.

Understanding pre-requisite capability is critical, because the pre-requisite capability is what allows a work instruction to be “short and sweet,” conveying all the necessary information without cluttering the document with information the operator already knows.    In tomorrow’s installment, we will begin to look at each type of work instruction and the specific types of pre-requisite capability that allows each work instruction to make sense.

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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