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

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, 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.