Do Not Write Work Instructions!

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Probably not what your ISO auditor would want to hear. O.k., go ahead and write a few to start...but you better use them! I've seen lots of work instructions lately that just do not get used. We didn't write them for the auditor, did we? Why did we even write them to begin with?

Why? Let's use our 5W1H (what, when, where, who, why and how) to get to the bottom of this.

WHAT is the purpose of the work instruction? Most working professionals will tell you that they serve as the record of best practice, training, etc. Most ISO auditors will tell you that they are required for ISO certification, but generally speaking this reason is subordinate to the reasons previously stated. In other words, work instructions must be useful for training and improvement purposes, or, they are not worth the paper they are written on.

WHY use a work instruction for training or improvement? Isn't there something better? The keyword to think about here is "use." Work instructions don't use themselves, people use them for training and improvement. Decades of research suggest that people learn differently. This has spawned hundreds of millions of dollars in various training methods, techniques and schemes. Video, audio, computer, etc. the choices for learning media are endless. But a work instruction, when coupled with a solid OJT method of instruction like JI, builds a desired habit in the trainee. What I mean is that if the trainer is prepared, she can validate that the trainee knows what she knows - or, that knowledge has been transferred. Can your computer do that with a work instruction? How about your DVD player? When we think of training this way, videos, CDs and computers are at a large disadvantage to the human capability to train.

WHEN are work instructions written and used? When they are written may depend on your business. The timing could be: before the process is created, as the process is created or after the process is created. In Bryan's perfect world, the paper would be created concurrently with the process - not before, when assumptions are incorrectly made and clung to after they are disproved, or, after when bad habits have formed and must be broken. WHEN are they used? Usually, at least once in the beginning of the process to train people. Hopefully, you have tested the instruction to see if it is bullet proof. Hopefully, it won't be the last time you use it. And, when abnormalities are found, a work instruction makes for a quick and easy troubleshooting guide. When improvements are made, work instructions are very useful for guiding trainers through the new process, reminding them about the key points the new improvement requires.

WHERE are work instructions written? The right answer is NOT behind your engineer's desk! Instructions are written by directly observing the process. If you asked me to bet on the accuracy and effectiveness of a work instruction written by a highly paid engineer under the gun of a corrective action and a Job Breakdown Sheet written by a well trained supervisor that will actually use the JBS, my money is on the supervisor.

WHO. Already covered that. To expand a little more, preferably the person who knows the job and will use the JBS to train others. If that is impossible, get a cross functional team to work out the sheet through collaboration. The bottom line is that direct observation of the job is required and it should be written and used by the person that will do the training. Although it won't vanish, effectiveness diminishes as you deviate from this recommendation.

HOW is the work instruction used? The four step Job Instruction method is the preferred technique. Unfortunately, most trainers will not go much beyond group overview discussion of a work instruction, demanding that trainees read the WI, or more commonly job shadowing with an eventual abandonment of the work instruction.

Don't write that work instruction unless you mean to use it. With great power comes great responsibility!



At March 2, 2010 at 9:09 AM , Blogger Tim McMahon said...

I couldn't agree more Bryan. Too often we don't stop and ask why do we do this. Who is managing the business? Management or auditor. I wonder why so much effort goes into maintaining the status quo of a minimum standard. The standard is a minimum set of requirements to meet. In Lean company we want to deliver value at the lowest cost possible. I don't believe hitting the low bar is that.

Tim McMahon
A Lean Journey

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At October 31, 2011 at 2:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that a properly written job break down sheet is necesary for accurate training. I have an issue where I work and here it is. I am responsible for initiating and recording training and I have to get experienced printing press operators to train other experienced operators so that everybody is doing standard work. I have selected the best operator for each of the printing processes we use. Now they have to instruct others. How can I accomplish this without anybody getting their ego hurt?

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