Guide to Building Effective Digital Work Instructions

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In manufacturing and other industrial settings, digital work instructions provide relevant step-by-step information in an easily digestible and visual format, replacing outdated paper-based procedures. They help frontline workers perform any task that requires following a standard operating procedure (SOP) – from following clean/inspect/lubricate (CIL) maintenance to fixing a machine.    

Digital work instructions are as much about knowledge transfer as they are about process documentation. Documenting knowledge, especially tacit expertise, is increasingly important as the skills gap widens in manufacturing and other industries; 2.4 million jobs may go unfilled by 2028 as Baby Boomers retire, according to Deloitte and the National Association of Manufacturers. Without work instructions that can be transferred to – and quickly adopted by – the incoming, more digitally savvy generation, companies face huge productivity, quality and safety risks.

Clear and legible work instructions are always preferred; however, they're useless if not consistently used and strictly adhered to by operators. What are the best practices when it comes to creating standard processes that are followed the right way, every time?

Apply the DMAIC Process to Developing Effective Digital Instructions 

Transitioning from paper-based to digital work instructions may seem like an overwhelming and time-consuming process, especially if you have several documents that need to be digitized. With the help of this article, Parsable’s platform and our expert team of value consultants, you will be surprised at how easy it is to digitize, gather shop floor insights, and drive continuous improvements in productivity, quality and safety.

We suggest leveraging the define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC) process – a data-driven quality strategy used to improve processes – in order to guide your implementation. DMAIC is an integral part of Six Sigma, an approach to continuous improvement often used by manufacturers to improve, optimize and sustain process improvements. It is a valuable tool for maximizing gains from standardization.

5 Steps to Creating Digital Work Instructions That Drive Connected Work

Your goal is to build effective work instructions that improve operations for your frontline workers, which can lead to higher productivity and a lower defect rate. To get started in the process of writing comprehensive work instructions, follow these 5 easy steps.

1. Determine the Job Process

This first step lays the important foundation for building effective digital work instructions. Before you can determine the best method for executing the work, you must understand the process you are trying to document. In some cases, the author may be a manufacturing engineer or a manufacturing shop floor expert with experience in most, if not all, functional departments. 

Parsable’s no-code, intuitive Connected Worker Platform allows you and your team to quickly get up to speed on the applications’ capabilities.

In order to understand the process, authors – those who create the digital work instructions and workflows – will often do one or both of the following:

  • Spend a significant amount of time on the production floor where the work is actually taking place. Operators will provide you with practical and beneficial information that will help make your work instruction a more accurate and valuable reference.

  • Collaborate closely with teammates that work directly with the process. Don't forget about the passive involvement of shop floor personnel in approving or reviewing the work instructions, or active involvement as a member of the actual project team.

Next, you need to understand your audience. Your primary audience are the shop floor operators who will follow and execute the work instructions. They must be clear and concise.

Your secondary audience are the quality, engineering and product teams. They are interested in the data collected as the work is being executed, while ensuring the work instruction accurately depicts the process as it was designed. By tapping into the human and machine data, it can be used to drive continuous improvements around the process and product. 

2. Define What You Want to Measure

Defining the specific data collection requirements relative to your products, processes, facility and customer demands is a critical step in the process. By tracking and accounting for all the moving parts and processes on a plant floor, technology can continuously capture data and glean insights to improve productivity, quality and safety. Parsable’s Connected Worker Platform allows you to combine intelligent machines and platforms with human activity data, driving a deeper layer of insights. 

3. Understand the Effectiveness of Your Digital Work Instructions

Take the time to speak with key internal stakeholders to understand the effectiveness of your digital work instructions. Connect with the frontline operators who will be using the instructions, and gather their input and feedback. Talk to your engineering and quality teams to verify the data you are measuring is what they are looking for. This is an opportunity to have other team members validate and help drive continuous improvements to your digital work instructions.

4. Improve Your Process Documentation

Iterate, iterate, iterate. Repeat the first four steps of DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve) as many times as necessary until your process is stable. Make sure that the right people see the right information at the right time. It is critical to work with operators, quality and engineering teams to build better, more effective and intuitive work instructions. 

5. Apply Control to Digital Work Instructions

Now that the process is in a controlled environment, it is important to see the process is generating a consistent outcome. The control cycle is where you sustain the changes. It is the phase where you see if your documented process actually works and if people carry out the instructions as presented. 

  • Enforce compliance on the shop floor, making sure the team of operators is using the work instructions at all times during the process. 

  • By following the steps, you can reduce all variance and get consistent output, getting the process as tight as possible. 

  • Create a feedback loop in order to implement changes and updates.

The control phase can be supported by internal policies and procedures within your organization that require compliance. A system where procedures are not consistently followed will likely break down.

Work instructions are a critical part of your manufacturing operation. Digitally documenting operational processes allows you to improve the performance of the entire operation, and this is particularly true in manufacturing where more variables and higher risks coexist.

By implementing these steps in conjunction with Parsable’s Connected Worker Platform, it will help your organization standardize work across teams and sites, and provide your deskless workers with the digital tools they need to perform at the highest levels of productivity and quality, as safely as possible.

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