Getting Started With Digital Work Instructions

Connected WorkforceLearning & DevelopmentManufacturing Training February 24, 2023

It’s a daunting task to go fully digital with your work instructions. We share our three-step plan of attack so you can get rapid results.

Digital Work Instructions Poka

You’ve made the decision to ditch paper and go full-digital for your work instructions. This likely feels like a daunting task that will take years to accomplish. So what’s the best way to tackle a project of this magnitude?

Taking an outcome-based approach to prioritizing where and how to get started with digitizing work instructions will help ensure a focused strategy that delivers rapid results and improves engagement among shopfloor employees.

This article shares best practices for moving from paper-based SOPs to digital work instructions, in the most efficient and effective way possible.

The Trend Towards Digital Work Instructions

Historically, work standards in factories have been captured in lengthy SOPs written on paper or saved in a Sharepoint drive. They are stored off the shop floor, making it difficult for operators to access them when needed. This can lead to workers feeling unsupported in responding to situations on the production line and needing quick answers.

Written instructions are also more liable to be misinterpreted, leading to inconsistent work performance. Changes and updates to procedures are often communicated verbally, further exacerbating inconsistencies.

Work instructions that are visual, short and accessible on the factory floor can be a game-changing complement to your official SOP documentation. They are a valuable resource for operators, used for both formal training and continuous learning - a resource to answer questions and spread improvement; not just a make-work project that collects an inch of dust and prize-winning cobwebs.

The trend towards using digital work instructions in factories has gained momentum in recent years as the manufacturing skills crisis has worsened. With record-high turnover, the skilled labor shortage, and an aging workforce, manufacturers are looking for better ways to engage and support their frontline workers.

The most compelling driver for factories to digitalize work instructions is the desire to better support a culture of standardization: to reduce the losses in production that are caused by inconsistent work methods or knowledge gaps. Using a Connected Worker app like Poka, leading manufacturers have seen a ton of benefits, including:

  • CH Guenther eliminated 40 hrs of downtime/year on one machine

  • L’Oreal was able to improve OEE by 5% while onboarding new employees and increase overall training completion by 10%

  • Tyson Foods sped up onboarding time by 15%

A secondary, but still compelling, benefit of digital work instructions is the speed of content creation and its ease of use:

  • it’s 25-50% faster to create a digital work instruction

  • using Poka’s approval flows, it’s 50% faster to approve an instruction

  • and by scanning QR codes posted on equipment, it’s 80% faster for operators to find needed instructions.

Having accessible standards enables everyone to work in the same way, making it easier to identify and implement improvements. This is because digital work instructions are easier to edit than paper, and employees can provide feedback on confusing or inaccurate instructions in the app. So while you may be questioning whether you have the bandwidth and resources to migrate to digital work instructions, the good news is, doing so will ultimately make your team more efficient.

(To get a full understanding of Poka’s digital work instructions feature, check out the video here.)

The Lack of Prioritization and Focus: The Main Pitfall 

A common pitfall for many when starting their digitalization journey is a lack of prioritization and focus. They’ll randomly start digitizing their work instructions without taking a focused approach, delaying the time it takes to see any value. Moreover, the lack of focus can lead to too much simultaneous content creation. All of these first and second drafts cause a bottleneck, limiting organizations’ ability to complete and approve final versions.

1. An Outcome-Based Approach: The Solution

Outcome Selection

We recommend an outcome-based approach, which involves defining the desired outcome from digitalizing work instructions and creating a detailed use case.

Start by looking at where your greatest losses are in production. For example:

  • Is there a quality issue on Line 1 that is resulting in expensive rework?

  • Or perhaps recurrent unplanned downtime on the packaging line is keeping you from getting product out the door?

This will help you prioritize where you want to start building out digital work instructions.

But you can get even more focused than this. Next, determine what is the root cause of the loss in that area. If the issue is tied to either man (skills/knowledge) or method (process/standard) losses, then digital work instructions will help.

  • Is the raw material being handled according to quality standards?

  • Is the machine being maintained properly?

Answering these kinds of questions will help you determine what use cases or work instructions you want to prioritize.

Another common outcome that operations leaders prioritize for digital work instruction creation is reducing onboarding time. This is especially useful when employee retention is a challenge. Digital work instructions can complement on-the-job shadowing, shortening the time needed with the trainer. Because new employees have access to standardized content, they can learn more autonomously and refer to instructions as needed.

Defining your desired outcome makes it possible to determine the project’s scope of work from the start. It allows you to decide which use case to prioritize, based on the need for improved outcomes, as well as buy-in from the shop floor.

2. Track Your KPIs

In order to achieve the desired return on investment, it’s important to track Success Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The previously selected outcome will determine which KPIs to measure and tracking should begin by capturing the baseline to serve as a reference point for future comparison. To enhance KPI analysis, it’s beneficial to prioritize the creation of instructions based on their frequency of use and level of difficulty. It’s also crucial for the target area to have support from the shop floor to ensure success.

3. Share & Leverage Content Creation

One of the advantages of digital work instructions is how easy it is to share content. This is especially important for companies with multiple production sites making the same product, as global standards are crucial to ensuring consistency, regardless of where an item is made. When one plant creates a digital work instruction, it can (and should) be shared with others.

Another way to quickly produce expert content is to leverage any OEM training. Especially applicable if you’re commissioning new equipment, take the opportunity to do a content creation blitz by filming the OEM technician performing critical tasks. Bam - you will have ready-made, best-in-class content ready to go.

Success Stories for Implementing Digital Work Instructions


Mars, a global food company with a confectionery and pet food division, has used Poka to create 7,000 work instructions since 2018 in 170 of their plants. Today, Poka is the corporate standard solution on the shop floor supporting the learning pillars of Mars Supply Excellence.

Prior to Poka, they had several disparate systems that was confusing and time-consuming for operators to navigate when accessing information. Now, they use Poka to provide a centralized and organized hub for operational knowledge, consolidating the number of systems required. Mars is leveraging Poka to create a culture of standardization powered by a central information repository, that is easy for operators to tap into whenever needed. This has significantly reduced the overtime costs associated with training employees.

Why Implement Digital Work Instructions?

For more information on how to implement digital work instructions, watch our on-demand webinar A Modern Approach to Onboarding for the Empowered and Connected Frontline Worker.

Digital work instructions are crucial for organizations looking to stay competitive in today's fast-paced world. However, starting the process without a focused approach can lead to delayed results and disengagement among shopfloor employees. By adopting an outcome-based approach, you can define the desired outcome and create a detailed use case to ensure rapid results and improved engagement.

For more information on how Poka can help you get started and utilize the full power of digital work instructions, contact one of our experts today.

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