CI Tools

How to write a work instruction. Easy guide to create your own template.

Standard Work (SW) is a simple written description to perform a task. SW is the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to execute a particular task. The three components of standard work are the following.

  • Job sequence to complete the job
  • The rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand (takt time)
  • The standard amount of work in process inventory

Let’s focus today on the first component.  One way to document this component of standard work is by using work instructions.  A work instruction describes in detail the step by step information to do the task.  In general, they combine words, pictures, icons, or sketches, to define each step.  They also contain important tips for things that can make or break the job, safety, and quality.  

The first step to create standard work was to understand the process and break down the job.   If you follow all the steps, then you already have the job sequence to perform the job safely and efficiently while achieving high quality.  All you have to do now is to present the information in a simple and easy to understand format.

Document header

  1. This is an official document and should contain the company or business name, and address. 
  2. Use a clear title that describes the task.
  3. Although is not critical, you should have a standard alphanumerical format to identify the work instructions.  This is helpful if you plan to create instructions for key tasks in different departments.  This number should go next to the work instruction title.
  4. Identify the department and position(s) that will perform this task.
  5. Include the document effective date.
  6. When the job has safety risks or required the use of personal protective equipment, you should identify both.  This information can go either on the heading or the body of the instruction.  You can use words but is better to use icons to represent risks and PPE.

Work Instruction body

  1. List the materials or equipment required to do the job, use bullet points to facilitate reading.
  2. Describe how to perform each step following the appropriate sequence.
  3. For each step, include risks, and tips to do the job easier and/or achieve the desired quality.

Document footer

  1. If you are using the WI as a training tool, the footer should include space for the trainer and trainee names and signatures.

Do the following while writing your work instructions.

  1. A number sequence for the steps.
  2. Limit the numbers of steps, if the task has more than 8-10 steps, subdivide the instruction in different subjects.
  3. Bullets or numbers each time you need to list something.
  4. Highlight important information using a different color, bold or italics.
  5. Use pictures, screen shots or icons every time you can.

Create a document template with the format you chose and a library with the icons to depict risks, actions, personal protective equipment, and others.  Designate who will be responsible for creating the work instructions.  Also, who will manage the documents library, including numbering, and filing.  Consistency and clarity are critical to avoid confusion

CI Tools

How to create standard work? Using PDCA to create the baseline for continuous improvement.

Although PDCA is a problem-solving tool, this methodology is excellent for any improvement activity.  We followed PDCA while walking through the kaizen steps, and today we will use it to create standard work.  In general, the following are the steps to create work standards.  The figure below shows how they translate into the PDCA steps.

  1. Understand the process, break down the job & question every detail
  2. Develop a new method for performing the job
  3. Run the process and observe results
  4. If it is necessary, adapt the process and go back to step 4.
  5. When you find the best method, create the standard

PDCA should be a team exercise, always recruit team members to analyze and create standards.  The most important part of the PDCA cycle, understanding the problem is critical for its success. This statement remains true when we use PDCA to create standard work.  Even if you know the process, ask what it is about, and what is supposed to accomplish.  What is its purpose?    If you can eliminate or combine the process, do it!  If you cannot, then continue to understand the job sequence, breakdown the job, and question each step. Always observe the process and talk with the people who do the work.

The next step is to develop a new method.  Engage the team in a brainstorming session for improvement ideas.  Prioritize and select the best solutions to design a new way to perform the job.   Use those ideas to design the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to do the work.  Test the new design, observe the process, and measure the results.  All this is part of the step Do, the second of the PDCA cycle.

The third PDCA step is Check, which is what you will do while analyzing the results from your test drive.  Does the new process achieve the objectives?  Is this the best way to do the job?  If it is, start to create the standard, which is the last PDCA step, Act.  If it is not, modify or adapt the process.  

If your test drive proves that you need to improve the new process further to accomplish the goals, modify it, and test it again as part of the PDCA step Act.  You keep changing, testing, and analyzing until you reach the desired condition.  When this happens, it is time to create the standard.

PDCA provides a framework that is easy to follow and repeat.  In the same way that you can use it to standardize Kaizen, you can use it for your standard work creation also.  Standard work is the baseline for future improvements.  You create the standard, let the operation stabilize, and then improve the standard.  

CI Tools

What is Leader Standard Work?

The fundamental ingredient for a successful lean implementation is creating a continuous improvement culture.  It is impossible to create a culture without the active participation and support of leadership.  Most of the time, leaders at all levels have to learn continuous improvement principles and tools along with their team.  But that is the easy part, the challenging one, is to move away from traditional thinking and adopt a completely different way to behave, think, solve problems, communicate and relate to others.  

In other words, leaders looking to use continuous improvement and lean thinking need to build a new business persona.  This journey will help you to reflect on how you manage or supervise now and build new habits for the future.   Some people say it takes 21 days to build a habit, while others claim it takes up to 66 days.  I don’t know the right answer, but I know that building the habits required to successfully change a culture takes more than a couple of months of practice.

One tool that helps with leadership changes in behavior is Leader Standard Work.  Standard work ensures consistent results and is the baseline upon which improvements are made.  Leader standard work is a description of the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to drive continuous improvement and Lean thinking throughout the organization.

Leader standard work is usually presented as a form or checklist with daily tasks, as well as space for additional tasks specific for the day.  You can divide the daily tasks by time-specific, like meetings and non-time specific.  A different approach is to divide tasks into sections.  For example, before, during, and at the end of the shift.  Like many other things with continuous improvement, you can select the format that makes more sense for you and your business.

The following are things that you should include in your Leader Standard Work because they support and promote continuous improvement.

  • Daily team meetings
  • Walk the area where value is created
  • Observe out of normal situations
  • Support continuous improvement activities
  • Follow-up performance vs. objectives
  • Set direction, ask and answer questions
  • Reflection
  • Plan the next day

Although many can say that using a form to guide what you have to do through the day is too restrictive and takes away the flexibility to deal with daily problems, it is the contrary.  Remember, you are building a new habit, a new way of doing business.  The form will help you to create that habit and make you focus on those things that will help to identify out of standard situations before they become a problem.  It will take time, but in the end, you will see the benefits of seeing things by yourself and not relying on reports with outdated information.  Lean is about learning, experimenting, and reflection on the results to keep learning and improving.  As a leader, you set the example by doing what you expect your team does.

This is like whey you are trying to build the habit of jogging or have a walk daily. It is hard, but over time you will get the benefits, will get used to it and doing it is almost like breathing.

CI Tools

What are the best practices to create standard work? What are the standard work documents?

Standard work documentation is important to record the right and only way to complete a process.  Although they are not a training tool by itself, it provides clear, simple, accurate, and complete information to support training.  Standard work is the foundation for improvements if they are not documented, that foundation is weak, and it will not drive the desired change.

The following are best practices to create standard work documentation.

  • The people who do the work participates in the process
  • Include all relevant information on one, easy-to-read document
  • Keep it simple and use visualization if possible.
  • Make the documentation accessible
  • Set clear expectations regarding revisions and improvements

There are different types or formats to document standard work.  The best format is the one that works for you, as long as it follows best practices and it contains the three components of standard work.

  • Job sequence
  • Rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand
  • Standard work-in-process inventory quantity

The following are examples of different templates or forms for standard work documentation.

Standard Work DocumentationDescription
Process capacity sheetDefines the available capacity
Standardized combination tableDefines the work of one operator during the process cycle, it describes what the operator is doing and when it is doing it.
Standardized Work ChartIt is a simple layout of the work area that shows the flow of the worker, information, and materials through it while keeping the production rate to meet customer demand.
Work instructionThere are different formats but in general, they contain step by step information to do the work.  They have a combination of words and pictures or drawings, to describe the step.  They also contain important tips for things that can make or break the job, safety, and quality.  
ChecklistThis simple document can have two different uses, to confirm that everything was done or to check as you carry out the task.
Visual aidSimple instructions using pictures or drawings to show the steps of the process.  They are posted at the point of use.
Memory joggerThese can be a group of laminated cards with general guidelines, settings, or other information that is not used very frequently.  

The first three worksheets on the table above are used in Toyota to facilitate the documentation of standard work.  Their use is fairly common in manufacturing, but not in the service industry.  The other examples listed are common everywhere.  You can use different types of templates to document your processes but be consistent on when you use each type and the format of the documents itself.  You do not want to confuse the employees.  

Standard work documentation is important to record the safest, highest quality, and the most efficient way known to perform a task.  They reduce variation and improve consistency.  This document is the baseline for future improvements.  It is important to emphasize that standards exist to be improved.  After you create a new standard, you wait until the process is stable and improve it again.  

CI Tools

How do you use the Job Breakdown Sheet?


The Job Breakdown Sheet is used as part of the Job Instruction program to breakdown the job into the smaller steps that make it up.   The Job Breakdown Sheet is used as part of the Job Instruction program to breakdown the job into the smaller steps that make it up.   We do this because it is easier to understand and learn each step at a time.  As described in my last post, the form contains the job steps (what), key points (how), reasons (why).

Let’s use one example to explain better how to use the sheet.  The process or operation that I will use is how to cook a sunny-side egg.  

The top of the form contains general information such as what is the process and what you need to do the job.  You will need to list all ingredients, materials, equipment, and tools need to cook two eggs.   

The breakdown section has the important steps, those that advance the work, change or transform the materials or ingredients, or adds value.  Use action verbs or phrases to start the description.  For each step, add the corresponding key points and reasons.  The key points are critical information that will help to avoid injuries, ensure the quality of the product, or make the job easier.  Use adjectives or adverbs to add this information. The part called Reason is used to explain why the step is important.  It is used to support safety, quality, delivery, or cost objectives.

Please see below the Job Breakdown Sheet example, use it as a reference, to breakdown one of your jobs.  

CI Tools

How do you make sure you understand the job? You need to know this before creating standard work.

One of our responsibilities as leaders is to keep our team and customers safe.  These days that means that we have to incorporate the CDC guidance for cleaning and disinfecting public areas and workplaces. How we make sure that our staff follows the instructions?  How do we redesign our processes to ensure the appropriate distancing?  To ensure effective procedures, you will need to create standard work to ensure understanding and execution, as well as communication and training.

In my post Standardization and problems, how to create standard work to reduce problems?,  I mentioned the general steps to create standard work.  The first step is to understand the process for which we will develop the standard work. Although maybe you want to go straight to creating the standard, the right way to do it is to improve the process first.  Why?  Because if you currently have problems, it is because the process needs improvements. The following are the three steps to understand the process.

  1. Identify and learn the process
  2. Understand the job sequence
  3. Find out the process parameters

Identify and learn the process

Ask what is the purpose of this process, what is supposed to accomplish?  What is the value for the customer?  Does the current pandemic affect what the customer wants?  It is important to have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish with this process, what is the target condition you expect from it.

Go to the place where value is created, where the action happens, what in lean we call the gemba.  Study the process without going into specifics, take a general look at the flow of materials and people.  If you would like to minimize the areas on which employees and customers cross each other, drawing a spaghetti chart will help you to visualize those patterns.  You can use the same tool to see how the information or materials travel through the process.  Identify where the flow stops, look for waste, such as waiting, delays, excess inventory, and others. Respectfully ask your team about those areas, how they feel, what they think?  Take note to remember those key points that you will use while understanding the job sequence.

Understand the Job Sequence

Armed with general knowledge about the process, break the job down into smaller logical steps.  We use the template called “Job Breakdown Sheet” to document this part.  This sheet is from the Job Instruction program, which is part of the leadership development program Training Within Industry.  

A step is a logical segment of the operation when something happens to advance the job.  The job advances when it changes form, fit, function, or adds value.  For each step, you will fill out what, how, and why.  What is the section where the step description goes.  

Key points are important pieces of information that can make or break the job.  On this section, you listed what is important to ensure safety, achieve quality, or make the job easier.  Include the best practices to perform the step as part of the key points.  The last section is to explain the why for each key point.  It is easier to remember a step, if you know why it is important.  Also, this is a good place to explain why the best practices are important, how they are aligned with safety, quality, delivery and safety objectives.

Find out the process parameters

After you learned the work sequence, it is time to add more information that will help to develop the new job method.  One of the components of standard work is the rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand.  To get this number, you need to know the customer demand.  Another piece of information that you need to gather at this time is cycle time, how much it takes to complete the job sequence.

In my next posts, I will explain more about the tools I mentioned here, spaghetti chart and Job Breakdown Sheet.

CI 101

Standardization and problems, how to create standard work to reduce problems?

In continuous improvement, we define a problem as a deviation from the standard.  That is a difference between what should be happening and what is actually happening.  That gap is a problem.  Standardization is the practice of setting, communicating, following, and improving standards and standard work.

But what happens when there are no standards?  How do you know that you have a problem?  Normally you know because a situation that does not feel right is jumping at you, other times those situations are screaming at you.  Those screams are usually in the form of complaints, delays, errors, or performance variation.  How do you choose where to start?

There are different prioritization criteria that you can use to determine what process you will tackle first.  You can choose the process based on volume, the effect it has on the problem you are looking at, or how much influence it has over the cost of operation.  If you never create a standard before, my advice is to start with a small process.  This will give you the chance to learn the basics before digging into a bigger problem.

The development of a standard begins with the problem we are trying to solve.  What is the target condition?  What should be happening?  What can you do to ensure you met the target condition every time?  Do not try to set your current process as the standard, if you have problems it is obvious that the current process needs improvements.  That is why you need to understand the current situation, find the root cause of the problems, and improve the current process before creating standard work.  In general, the following are the steps to create standard work.

  1. Understand the process, break down the job & question every detail
  2. Develop a new method for performing the job
  3. Run the process and observe results
  4. If it is necessary, adapt the process and go back to step 4.
  5. When you find the best method, create the standard

Standard work does not make any good if it is not communicated.  For that reason, training is the next logical step.  While creating the standard, engage the help of some members of the team.  They have the knowledge and experience that will facilitate the creation of the standard.  Also, this would be a teaching opportunity to develop their skills.  Train supervisors, team leaders, and other members of the team.  Use visual management if it is possible and have the standard work available for reference.

Now that you have standard work for that process, identify the next process, and keep improving.  Standard work is the foundation for improvements, they provide the baseline to process improvements.  Once established, stabilized it, and improve it!

CI Tools, Team Development

Do you know the characteristics of standard work?

Standard Work (SW) is a simple written description of the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to execute a particular task. Once established, it becomes the only acceptable way to do the process it describes.  Effective documentation and training are key to standard work success.  Use a template to ensure that all the standard work or work instructions look and contain the same parts or components.  

The three components 

  • Job sequence to complete the job
  • The rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand (takt time)
  • The standard amount of work in process inventory

Relevant information to include with the job sequence   

  • Key points related to anything that can make or break the job
    • Information that addresses safety issues or risks
    • Instructions or knowledge that help performance such as, what makes the job easier or ensure quality.  
  • Explains why the step is important

Characteristics of effective work instructions

  • Simple and clear, easy to understand by everybody.  
  • Complete, it shows the steps to do the job and other relevant information. 
  • Accurate, the document reflects the current process.    
  • Concise, it contains important information only.

A work instruction is not effective, regardless of how good the document is if the training is not adequate.  If your idea of training is to bring a group of people to a room to read the work instruction, you should rethink the training method.  How effective do you think this type of training is?  How can you be sure that everybody understood the instructions?  

The work instruction by itself is not a training tool, it needs to be supported by other teaching methods.  To be effective, the instructor should tell and show how to do the job.  The following are some general guidelines. 

  • Demonstrate the job step by step while explaining the key points and why things are done a certain way.  
  • Repeat the steps as many times as you think it is necessary before asking the employee to try.
  • Observe the employee doing the job.
  • Ask to explain the key concepts and whys, make sure they understand.   
  • Follow-up on their performance, observe and correct if it is necessary.  
  • Create a safe and respectful environment.  
  • Make sure they know who to ask if they have doubts or find a problem.  
  • Check-in with the employee often, until you are completely sure that he/she understands the job.

Many organizations fail to implement standard work.  As a result, perceived gains through Kaizen may be lost over time, and the status quo prevails.  The standard work is not set in stone, it is the baseline for continuous improvement.  When the process change, the standard work is updated.

Standard work is important to ensure everybody follows the same guidelines, and the process is stable. That way, the customer will consistently receive their product or service on time, with the best quality, and at the lower possible cost.

CI Tools

Take Baby Steps for Continuous Improvement

How do we learn to walk? The first step is crawling. As the babies become stronger will start pulling themselves up with the support of someone or something. Once they are up will learn balance and how to keep themselves up without any help. The next stage is walking with the mom or dad’s help, learning how to move their legs to take steps. Their curiosity will drive them to use that learning to wander around the house, using the furniture as support. They build confidence in their skills and keep practicing. Those small steps show them how much independence they gain, and they don’t want to lose it. One step at a time, they finally learn to walk.

The business process improvement is very similar. The goal is clear you want to thrive during good times and survive the inevitable challenges and economic downturns. You know that you need to improve your processes to accomplish on-time delivery of quality goods or services at the lowest cost. You want to change but do not have a clear idea of how. Like the baby learning to walk, you need to take small steps, one at a time.

Continuous improvement (CI) or Kaizen is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions. Before you start complaining about the Japanese words, let me explain its origins. The USA Department of War created in the early 40’s a training program named Training Within Industry (TWI). It was developed within the industry to help ramp up the production of war materials and equipment. TWI introduced the concepts of job instruction training and job methods. Job instruction training teaches the “one best way” to do the work, which we now call standard work. Job Methods taught employees how to break down jobs into smaller steps questioning each one as a way to generate improvement ideas. As a result, a high volume of small incremental improvements from individuals was delivered.

After World War II, the American occupation forces brought in experts to Japan to help to rebuild their industry. Edward Deming introduced TWI, and the Japanese love it so much that they give it a Japanese name, Kaizen. Kaizen comes from two words, Kai (change) and Zen (good). It is commonly translated as a change for good or continuous improvement (CI). The strength of CI comes from the participation of workers, of all levels, in the business improving effort. These efforts are driven by three major activities, standardization, 5S, and waste elimination.

By approaching change in small, incremental steps, CI reduces the fear of change. Like the babies learning to walk, the small steps increase your confidence to keep trying until you find success. If you need help on your journey, reach out, I can help!

This article was originally posted by Jina Rivera in Organization and Efficiency Solutions.

CI 101

What are the rules to fix problems?

One common mistake for a manager or business owner is trying to “fix” problems looking at reports. Those reports are full of old information. They are good to know what happened, but they don’t tell the whole story.

If you are a basketball coach, you won’t try to call the shots just by looking at your team stats from the office. You will go to the basketball court, where the action is. You will observe how the individual members of the team react to the defense or offense play of the rival team. If you see something wrong, you will ask for a time out to discuss a change in strategy. You are observing every move, focusing on what the team needs to do to improve their game, and win. You can not be effective in doing the same thing looking at the score only.

As a business owner, when problems arise with a specific process, you need to do the same thing. Always go to the area where the action happens first. If it is a problem with customer service, observe how your employees interact with customers. If it is an issue related to the quality of the food, try it yourself. Does it look and taste as it should?

Sometimes it is not obvious what is wrong. In that case, focus your attention on the process tools, equipment, and standard work. On the food quality example, you confirm something is off with the quality but don’t know what. Focus your attention on how close is the execution to the standard work or recipe. Observe if the cooks are using the right ingredients, the right quantity, or following the recipe steps.

As soon as you find out the issue, take a temporary fix on the spot. This temporary fix will not solve the problem. To fix it, you need to find the root cause of the problem. Do not try to guess or assign a cause based on your experience, engage the team on this exercise. Once you know the cause or causes of the problem, you can plan how to fix it. To prevent a recurrence, you need to update the standard work.

To succeed in your continuous improvement journey, follow these simple rules while fixing problems.

  • When a problem arises, go to the place where the action or process happens first
  • Check all the relevant things: equipment, tools, materials, standard work
  • Take temporary solutions on the spot
  • Find the root cause
  • Standardize to prevent a recurrence

To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. – Marilyn Vos Savant