Standardized Work Instructions

ABC Auto Supplier is a manufacturing company that produces safety components for the top automakers all over the world. In their production facility, standardized instructions for operators have been created by management and have been implemented. However, these guidelines have not been put into proper use. As a result, the company is experiencing production output that varies. Also, operators perform tasks at their workstations differently. Some operators are faster than others, and some are producing more quality components than others. The reason is that they are not following standardized work instructions.

Standardized Work Instructions (SWI)

Standardized Work Instructions (SWI)

Reasons Why Operators Don't Follow Standardized Work Instructions

One of the main reasons the operators are not following standardized work instructions is because this nonfunctioning system does not provide enough training; especially in new work task procedures. Another reason standardized work instructions are not strictly followed is that of limited follow-up by management. The managers are only not checking to see if the operators are following standardized work instructions. Lastly, before implementing these guidelines, management did not take the time to get input or feedback from operators.

They simply thought of the best instructions they thought would work in theory, but instead developed standardized work instructions that resulted in low motivated to work according to these instructions. The operators have no intention of putting these work instructions into real use because management has not even followed up to see if these standardized work instructions are being employed. Also, the management’s oversight in not involving operators and the development of standardized work instructions is blamed on a shortage of time and pressure from top management to produce high-quality products with the least amount of time. Management is also compelled to keep their overhead costs low, which means the costs and support time required to employ these work instructions are not feasible in their minds.

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Operators perform work test differently in this nonfunctioning system because operators are trained by different individuals who carry out the work tasks in a variety of ways. The standardized work instructions are used as a guideline in training, but it is not emphasized that operators should follow these work instructions correctly and they are told that these work instructions cannot be trusted because management does not always update them. Also, many of the work instructions given have a shortage of information regarding work methods and assembly sequence from an ergonomic viewpoint. This problem results in operators who are taught work task procedures in various ways depending on which workstation they are working in.

This is just one example of how standardized work instructions are critical for any organization involved in production or manufacturing. Just like the example, many organizations fail to employ this lean tool even though it is one of the most powerful ones to use and also forms a baseline to apply other lean methods. Until the management at ABC Auto Supplier realizes that improving standardized work is a never-ending process, they will continue to have failures to sustain the best results in addition to problems training new employees.

What is Standardized Work Instructions?

In simple terms, standardized work instructions are the written description of the most efficient, highest-quality, and safest method for completing a particular task. Also known as SWI, its name implies that standard work instructions detail one specific way to complete a process or task. These specific instructions allow processes to be completed in a timely, consistent, and repeatable manner. With its implementation, employees will improve quality, increase production, and enjoy a safer and more predictable working environment. If you work in production, you probably know the nature in a workstation is that the variety of parts and components that are manufactured are often not standard and sometimes one-of-a-kind. In this case, there is tiny opportunity to determine the best way to manufacture such items. By standardizing work instructions and creating stable processes, companies can make continuous improvements. These standardized work instructions should include the time needed for operators to finish work and the instructions should be derived from an outcome of performed time studies and work measurements.

Follow-up is a critical step when implementing new methods or assignments to operators. When the management of ABC Auto Supplier implemented new standardized work instructions, one of the reasons it failed is because every day a team leader should have been asking, “What is preventing us from following our instructions today?” In addition to asking this question, managers must also follow up on the answer and initiate improvements when necessary. Follow-up confirms that new methods are used and understood and also gives a good indication if the goal for implementation of the new work standards has been fulfilled or not. Follow-up by management is like an investigation, and it should be done on a regular basis to see if employees are working according to SWI. Follow-up should be performed every week to ensure that instructions are updated and that the process is stabilized. If results show that operators are deviating from the guidelines, measures must be performed to ensure that everyone follows the standard work method. Performing follow-up also provides the foundation for new ideas to be created since managers are continuously monitoring the workplace and creating increased motivation for improvements. Follow-up is also necessary when a change has been made because the information should be communicated to all employees so that everyone gets involved in the change process. Employees will also be able to see how their contributions have affected the results of the new change.

SWI encourages operators to get involved, and this is why this principle also ties into other lean methods that encourage organizations to seek out continuous work improvement such as kaizen. This is also one of the reasons why SWI is one of the most powerful lean methods because it employees the experts of the work on the line (the operators), and they is also the same people who have the power to change the culture on the shop floor. The operators should also be involved during the development of standardized work instructions since there is a higher likelihood that they will accept the implementation of these instructions. They will also be more satisfied with their work because they have a chance to affect how their work is performed in the company. It has been proven to SWI is a very powerful way to increase employee motivation when they are encouraged to improve SWI. When everyone within the organization is involved in the development of SWI, an employee’s work ethic will also increase when they can identify problems and provide management with the best possible solutions. SWI should also provide a step-by-step description for the best way for operators to complete a task. They should be written in a way to minimize variation and be easy enough to understand so that any employee will be able to do the task and complete it to standards. The instructions should concentrate employee-centric tasks primarily on tasks that are employee-centric and secondarily of materials and equipment. SWI should also explain the most efficient way of completing a task in sufficient detail as well as provide an estimated time required. Lastly, SWI should focus on minimizing defects and errors by highlighting any quality checks.

Benefits of SWI

There are four areas of improvement that are affected by the implementation of SWI:

  • Quality of the finished product
  • Ensuring consistency during production
  • Throughput of the process
  • Operator safety

Instructions get old as soon as they leave the printer, so it is very important that they are continuously improved. Without SWI, managers and operators would have to rely on their collective memory to continue performing a process that ensures consistency and quality of the finished product. As the cliché goes, “To err is human,” and you cannot expect people to remember everything especially when it comes to product manufacturing. SWI does not replace initial training, and new employees should always be trained properly when first hired, but it does reinforce what employees have already learned.

Implementing Standardized Work Instructions

Since workstations are characterized by the number of tasks that are needed to be completed, it is important to focus on the work which is actually standard when implementing SWI. When reviewing the particular circumstances for your organization, you will probably find that the best places to perform SWI are by focusing on inspection processes, equipment maintenance procedures, gauge or tooling calibration, or cleanup procedures. Many of these tasks are extremely repetitive and often require standard documentation that is complete and provides sufficient details. SWI for these proceedings will have a direct impact on your workplace because safety incidents will be reduced and there is a high likelihood that the quality of all parts produced will be increased.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when performing a management solution to implement SWI:

  • Are there consistent procedures across every workstation that can be easily documented?
  • Can you review and document activities even in workstations where work performed is not completely the same but similar?

Asking these questions is all about determining consistency across your organization, and a lot of the information you need may also be available using data compiled from management software. Once you are armed with this information, it should be used to review how different employees complete standardized processes, and you will also be able to determine the best methods for each employee in regards to how they complete a given task and document procedure in detail. As you implement SWI, you should also give employees plenty of opportunities to provide feedback. It is not uncommon that improvements in work instruction can come from very unlikely sources and employee opinions on a task or procedure are something that should not be ignored.

Another huge benefit of SWI is job motivation. If the employees in your organization are willing to help each other and motivated towards the assignment, quality and performance will automatically increase. They will also generate new ideas and improve the way they communicate with each other. This is why it is important for management to encourage employees to share information and ideas as well as foster cooperation. This is often done through the creation of goals that are specific, concrete, and reasonable. It could even be in the form of a contest where departments compete against each other for a particular prize or reward. It will create a positive effect since employees will increase their productivity and performance levels since they have something to strive towards.

SWI Will Improve Your Organization

Regardless of what is being produced, it is important to focus on work activities that are consistent and well-documented. When employing standard work procedures, it is also crucial that you provide opportunities to refine and improve SWI by gaining feedback from employees who are directly involved in the process. With the proper implementation of SWI, your organization will enhance and benefit through increased efficiency, improve quality, and a reduction of safety incidents throughout your organization.

Author: Eric Raio

Eric Raio is one of the founders of Factory Solutions. When he isn’t plotting new ways to create awesome software. He likes to geek out about flying drones and technology.

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