Whether you are trying to introduce consistency to tasks being done or to make it easier to train new employees, work instructions, sometimes referred to as standard work, can make life much simpler. It is easy to see how specific instructions on how to do a job would be helpful for complicated tasks such as running machinery, but even apparently simple tasks like making a sandwich can benefit.
Standardized work instructions can bring multiple benefits:
- Increase speed
- Improve consistency and reduce confusion
- Provide a baseline for making improvements
- Improve quality and reduce costs
- Make it easier for a second worker to take over in the middle of the task
- Bring new employees up to speed more quickly
What do work instructions look like? Usually they combine text and pictures to help an employee understand the process. Work instructions for stocking a display case might have a photo of a perfectly-stocked case followed by a list of items and quantities to be placed in the case and a diagram of what goes where. For a sandwich, the photo might be of the two halves just before they are put together, along with a list of ingredients in the order they are to be added. For sewn products, there might be a photo of the finished product, plus smaller photos of a few details, and a list of steps to be followed.
In day-to-day management, the big advantage of work instructions is that you get all your employees doing things the same way. Everyone makes the sandwich the fastest way, in the same order. There is no confusion on the counter, and if someone has to leave a sandwich mid-production, another employee can step in easily. The supervisor can easily see that everyone is dong the job “right” rather than having to figure out if a variety of different processes are up to the business’s quality standards.
Having a set way things are done, in writing, also makes improvements possible. If someone on the line discovers a better or faster way to do things, it can be incorporated into the work instructions so that everyone improves at the same time. Work instructions should be an evolving set of best practices for a given task, updated every time an improvement is discovered, not set in stone.
Developing good work instructions takes time and thought, but they make life easier and improve quality down the line.