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What are digital work instructions?

This post is part of a series blog on Standardization. See part II on job observation and Gemba Walks and part III on competency management.

Let’s start this post with some quotes that I think are particularly relevant to introducing the concepts of Standard Work and Standardization in Lean projects:

  • Taiichi Ohno (1912-1990):
    • “There is no improvement possible without standard. The beginning of all improvement is knowing exactly where you are.”
    • “Something is wrong if workers don’t observe daily, find things that are tedious or ineffective, and then rewrite the standards. Even last month manual should be out of date.”
    • “The standard is a living document that may be in continuous evolution, subject to the P(S)DCA improvement cycle.”
  • Masaaki Imai in his book Gemba Kaizen:
    • “The standard is the starting point for improvement. Always after a Kaizen, we will have either an improvement of the current standard or a new standard.”

What is Standardization?

As a reminder, one definition of Standardization would be: “The Standard is the best currently known way of working which allows us to achieve quality, cost and delivery objectives while guaranteeing people’s safety” Therefore:

  • It must be common to all people (new employees, old employees, etc.).
  • It must be defined in such a way as to ensure the efficiency, regularity, and rationality of operations, in the pursuit of operational excellence.
  • The Lean Standard is designed to develop learning

“Anyone” must be able to master it through training and coaching. Training is understood as the practice of skills.

I remember the panic caused by the maternity leave of a colleague, very competent in her activities, which we were able to solve with no issues in time thanks to the construction by herself of work standards that served to train two people. This is the key: we create standards so that they can be used to train others and avoid variability or non-quality (reworks, scrap, etc….among others)

Standardization helps to avoid variability between people and avoid working in firefighter mode, avoiding falling into a vicious circle, in which we do not have time to train and generate quality problems and wastage. It sounds very common, but the construction of the standards by the actors of the activity itself favors the creativity of the people to be in a permanent search for the improvement of the standard. In addition, we will capitalize on the best practices in the standard.

For years we have been making standards by hand, i.e. on paper, which entails an arduous and tedious activity of having to write down each standard, with its key points, what is prohibited and why, and what to do in case of anomalies, etc. Oh, and then keeping them up to date! This is a difficulty that requires a lot of time and resources for companies, which they often do not have, and it is done poorly. We often find obsolete standards that do not serve to train teams.

One of the main problems we face is managing teams, especially when your company grows. But the more your company grows, the more difficult it is to work efficiently with all employees. This is where standardization becomes essential to reach each and every one of them with robust standards. Today, with the visual work instructions tools, such as the mlean -Visual Standard –, we achieve several very important advantages:

  • Absence of paper or Excel…
  • Instructions for digital standards
  • Construction of these with the actors themselves and in the field.
  • Ease of paperless change management
  • Ease of training people through videos
  • Elimination of misinterpretation, a way of looking at it throughout the enterprise(s)
  • Savings on translations
  • Etc…

What are digital work instructions?

Visual Standard, (mlean’s digital work instructions tool), is a tool that allows you to transfer information about standard work practices using visual media, mainly videos. In other words, it is a way to visually communicate your company’s know-how processes through a method that requires almost no prior training. It is easy to create and to change on the fly or as we change the process. The key point is how with this tool, you speed up the learning process and the readiness of your team.

And why should it be visual? Visual information is much more accessible than text. Only 10% of people remember what they hear and only 20% remember what they read. However, more than 80% of people remember what they saw and did.

Standardization Objectives

As the main objectives for which we would implement standardization, we can highlight the following:

  • Troubleshooting
  • Process improvement
  • Generation of higher yields
  • Activity and context management
  • Results improvement
  • Reduction of indirect and direct costs
  • Process automation

What is Standardization

Standardization benefits

The Benefits of Standard Work are many and we are not listing them all. In addition, standardization improves the entire internal and external process of the company bringing innumerable advantages and benefits that, on many occasions, go unnoticed. Some of the main benefits would be:

  • Ensures correct performance of the work
  • Reduce costs
  • Reduces time
  • Streamlines and shortens processes
  • Improve the quality of the service or product
  • Enables better forecasts and predictions
  • Allows us to better adapt to changes in the environment
  • Promotes corporate culture
  • Allows for greater liberalization of management

Why use digital work instructions?

So we have already seen the objectives and benefits of standardization, and work instructions are a key part of it, so let’s dive into some advantages of digital work instructions with more new concrete cases that will only translate into efficiency, knowledge sharing and time savings for the plant.


Request a demo of mlean Digital Work Instructions Tool

Reduction of training times

Imagine your company hires two new employees. For the first few weeks, they will need someone to teach them how to do each task, and while this experienced person is teaching them their various jobs are not being done. This specific situation leads to a lack of efficiency that can be easily solved by implementing digital work instructions such as Visual Standard. Or let’s go further: Your company may hire a worker who may not speak your language as well as you would like, which makes teaching them even more difficult and less efficient. The solution is the same: video work instructions. They may not understand you perfectly, but they will understand you with pictures or videos and with the ability to show sequences of what he/she has to accomplish. Plus, the savings in time and money in translation, in sending instructions made, for example, in a factory in France in French to a plant in Poland. The saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” has never been so true.

Reduction in paper use

Another good point that will make you decide on digital work instructions is that you will digitize the work in the factory through the use of tablets -among other electronic devices- and eliminate the use of outdated paper versions, improving the transfer of knowledge throughout the organization. Thus, any updated information will now be available to every worker who requires it, improving communication between teams and above all instantly! You will avoid many trips to the computer to change the document, print it, and place it on the workstations. That is, you will do it right where the changes are happening and the change will be in real-time.

Other advantages of digital work instructions

However, it’s not all about sharing and creating standards – which is great – it’s also about stopping and preventing anomalies from occurring on the shop floor. As soon as a problem occurs, the operator will alert through the visual system and let the right person know what the problem is, even more, where it is occurring. Thus, once this system is fully implemented, anomalies could be prevented.

It is said that one thing leads to another: safety. When you have reduced setup times for each operator, reduced errors on the shop floor, and eased the transfer of information – leading to a greater understanding within the organization – you have invested not only in efficiency but also in safety. Safety of the individual and of the assets. And that is an important issue to keep in mind.

How to implement Digital Work Instructions?

To implement the digital instructions we will proceed as before, i.e. we will rely on the SDCA cycle:

  • S: Setting the standard
  • D: Applying the standard and training people
  • C: Check, observation of compliance with the standard and search for improvement opportunities
  • A: Improve the standard, correct deviations, and implement improvements

The work instructions in Visual Standard will include all the aspects that we have on paper:

  • Main stages, key points, reasons for the key points
  • What is prohibited and why
  • What to do in case of anomaly
  • Operation times
  • Others…

We will continue to rely on the 4 principles of economy of movement and the observation of the 7 wastes for its creation, therefore, in its construction, nothing changes!

The main advantage of visual work instructions is that we will do it on a tablet in the field, without paper, with the team leader and his operators. The savings in management time is estimated at more than 50%.

As for the implementation of people training, with these digital work instructions – Visual Standard – it will be much more effective, as we have indicated above. Then it is clear that the great advantage of having a digital library of standardized processes is that it is very easy to manage and keep up to date. This way, we are generating information that is available when we need it at any time. Whether to consult previous processes or to create new ones, there will always be a single database with reliable information.

How to manage Standardization Management?

In the following blog posts we will discuss how to manage the standardization management with more digital products in our standardization solution:

Request a demo

If you are thinking about implementing a visual work instructions tool in your company, have a look at the mlean Visual Standard solution asking for a demo. The tool will give you the whole picture of how it can help you become more efficient, share knowledge, and have robust standards.

Start digitizing your Shop Floor

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