How to Migrate to Digital Work Instructions

Connected WorkforceLearning & Development December 21, 2018
In this article we outline the steps you can take to successfully get your work instructions into a digital format.
Work Instructions List

In my travels over the last few years, I haven‘t found anyone that doesn‘t like the idea of digital work instructions. There is a real desire to align operating processes by getting SOP’s off the shelf, out of the binder and into the hands of those who need them. However, there can be some distance between liking the idea and making it happen.

This article outlines the steps you can take to successfully get your work instructions into a digital format.

Step 1: Find the Right Platform

The first step to moving to digital work instructions is to select a platform for the information. One that is easy to maintain, manage and audit and easy for individuals to find what they need, when they need it.

The ideal system is one where your work instructions are created, updated and deployed from a single source, versus producing copies which are challenging to maintain. Make sure the instructions are near where the work is done and accessible on demand by those who need it. Mobile devices or computer access at the work station is critical to ensuring operators can instantly get to the information when they need it.

Step 2: Inventory Your Current Work Instructions

The next step to getting your project on wheels is to inventory your current work instructions. Who owns them now? Where are they? What format(s) are they in? How many copies are there? Are they current? When were they last updated? Are they complete, meaning is there a work instruction for every process? Assess how they’re currently being used. Are they referenced in new employee on-boarding? Are they used in daily operations? Are they accessible to those who need them?

Don’t be discouraged if your answers are not all that encouraging. That’s the reason we’re moving to an effective digital solution in the first place!

Step 3: Set Your Priorities

Now that you’ve identified what, where and how for the current state, set some priorities. Transitions are tough, so take one step at a time. You know your business, so prioritize the starting point. Find the area or process with the most pain and gather the existing work instructions. Congrats if they’re complete, correct and current. Regardless, evaluate each, put the most urgent first and make your plans for execution.

Step 4: Get the Right People Involved

Work instructions are all about your people. So, the next step is to get the right people on this project. While it’s impossible to manage by committee, getting consensus here is important. You have a real opportunity to make substantial gains in engagement and affecting positive change. So, in addition to the usual candidates, like ops leadership, safety, quality, maintenance, include one or several senior operators, and a couple newbies. Get the right people here and your buy-in to align processes will be off to a good start.

Step 5: Explain the Goals and Gather Feedback

At your kick-off meeting, explain the goals in detail. What is the objective and why are we doing it? How will it be accomplished and when will the process of transitioning to digital instructions begin. Then give the same work instruction to each team member, and ask them to review, edit, and comment on that one.

Make it clear that the work instructions will now be in digital format, and so it will become the gold standard for how work is to be done. Make it clear that deviation from this standard, once established, is not permitted. Let them be creative and candid. Set a deadline, gather and consolidate the results, and schedule a follow up meeting.

Step 6: Create the Digital Instruction

Look for the small differences (maybe even big ones) across the responses, and then determine the best way to finalize the best practice. Of course, this is a small sample, but you now have a blueprint for the kinds of variations that may exist, the points of contention and a path forward to establish your standard.

Follow this one through to the end. Create the appropriate video, steps and other support content. Go through your approval process and load it onto the mobile device of choice or computer located at the workstation. Ensure that all operators and leadership working in the area are aware of the new accessibility to the work instruction and the need to adhere to it.

Step 7: Engage Your People

Here’s where you can get amplified benefits for your new digital work instructions and make your smart factory smarter.

You know you’re going to get mixed reactions to any procedure change. Very experienced people will tell you, “That’s not how we’ve been doing it since ’98”. New people will tell you, That’s not how we were trained.

Ask them to give it a try, and share comments and suggestions, but stay the course. If you’ve picked the right people on the front end, this may already be done. Then on your regular follow up on this instruction, review again and be sure you’re still on track or if changes are needed. By bringing the work instruction to life and making it available, you can ensure that all have seen it and can now be held accountable. By engaging them in using it, you’ll either get their buy-in or find out why not.

Step 8: Publish the New Digital Instructions

Operational excellence is a journey, not a destination. That’s why it’s called continuous improvement. Reinforce adherence to the standard work by acknowledging compliance. Be sure team leaders use the work instruction as a tool if an operator strays from the standard. These instructions are not dust collectors in a binder any more, they are available and are the way the work is done.

Make certain that your floor supervisors are diligent in watching for and enforcing adherence to the standard. No doubt, you’ll get suggestions for changes and improvement ideas will feed work instruction revisions but stick to the standard as approved until sufficient data is obtained to warrant a change and revision to the work instruction. Maintaining a history of work instructions and tracking changes made will help avoid repeating history and taking steps backward.

Step 9: Repeat the Process Throughout the Rest of the Factory

Repeat the process sector by sector with one or two processes to establish the methodology for all. Then expand as time allows and urgency dictates. Any change is generally front loaded so invest the time to be certain the work instructions are made, approved and used. Champions will emerge. Acknowledge them and celebrate successes. Be sure your new people know where to find the instructions and that they’re expected to follow them. Encourage new ideas and share best practices.

Now that you have a strong foothold on creating and using digital work instructions, try uploading existing instructions as PDF’s or whatever format you have. You should have a method to solicit improvement ideas to get them current or validate their current perfection. As time and resources permit, convert to video format and then it should become a way of life.

Industry 4.0 Ain’t Easy

All this is easier said than done. As humans, we don’t easily embrace change. Each person is likely motivated in different ways. One thing is certain, your processes won’t become uniform across all shifts, all the time, unless you can effectively make work instructions clear, available and used. It takes discipline. That’s central to production anyway, but it’s worth the effort.

Poka is perfect for the task of moving to a digital work instruction environment. In addition to providing a format-flexible way to load work instructions, it has the added benefits of verifying that instructions have been viewed, facilitates employee communication, supports skills management and more. All this helps keep your now-digital work instructions alive, useful and impactful.

Continuous Learning
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