Implementing effective Work Instructions

Have you ever bought a bicycle for a child? Comes in a box and the kid stands impatiently waiting for assembly. Inside the box are parts and 50 page manual written in 50 languages. Looks simple enough. Maybe you can assemble it without reading the instructions. Execute and find that you forgot the sprocket tie downs or now you have to take the back wheel of to install the chain. 

Or maybe you’re the other type of person who, in fact, reads the work instructions only to find that a step was missed or that the illustrations are so confusing – no one could understand. 

One of the most important characteristics of great leadership is the ability to communicate. Thus, organization that communicate well have serious strategic advantage over the competition. 


Implementing effective Work Instructions

By Eric Roberts

Written work instructions

You should be proud. Your team did a great job doing a value stream map. Not a single step was missed. The result, a 30 page document that no one will ever take the time to read. 

Reality is, that written work instructions are more of an instrument for disciplinary action than actually making a process easier to understand. 

Telling a new employee to read thirty pages, have them sign off on a sheet indicating they did – then expecting them to effectively run an operation is LUNACY. Regrettably, this is a standard practice every day. 



It’s time to start making work instructions that align with today’s culture. Today, your next generation work force goes to YOUTUBE and other forms of media to watch a video on topics of interest. 

Now is the time to capitalize on that very media to make effective work instructions. Lose the paper and build the video library. Leaders will find immeasurable productive benefits. 




Regrettably,  Lean Implementation is not a cut and paste operation. The entire purpose of Lean Manufacturing is nothing more that creating a common focal point (The 7 Wastes) and providing navigation tools to control team focus. Simple as that. Where things get really rocky is history and performance. You bet, there are plenty of success stories out there regarding the merits of Lean. Unfortunately, it is not a cut and past solution. 

A great example is the Gemba walk. The purpose of the Gemba walk to to get the meetings out of the office and on the the floor where the money is made. Without a doubt, this is one of the most effective team concepts out there and results can materialize very quickly by coercing the team to see issues first hand. However, implementing this process as a phased approach can be disastrous!

In order for any Lean implementation to be effective the culture has to change. The first of those changes has to start with trust and then delivery. The fact is, Lean will require a cultural shift from reactive to proactive and more importantly – a broader change in “what is perceived” to be value added. 

Asking a leader to start trending data manually on a Gemba board will almost always be viewed as “more work”. Great leaders ensure that the wins (positive graphical improvement trends) are 1) celebrated 2) have performance reviewed linked and 3) ensure accountability. 

Only then will the tool become a “benefit” instead of a night more. Remember, there is no point in implementing anything Lean if the culture is not set up to accept it. 

Lean implementation requires a strategy. 


While you may be the smarted Lean person in the company, you will fail if the rest of the team is not conceptually aligned. Long before implementation – require common reading, take the time to give presentations, and mentor your team on core concepts. 

Go in easy – start with teaching them to see the Seven Wastes. 

Revise Accountability

Tie lean objectives and training objectives to performance reviews. Great leaders are constantly learning. Asking your team to read a lean book once a quarter and quizzing them on the concept is completely acceptable. Then start using a Hoshin diagram to build their accountability. 


Push it down then support bottom up

Remember, as leaders, the objective is to teach a “new” language. At the end of the day – everyone in the building should speak Lean. Encourage teams to utilize standard Lean formats to present to Sr. Leaders from the bottom up. 



Line Balance

Leaders know that looking for hidden waste is a daily and never ending objective. See the Time Chart and review the content. Assume that this operation is staffed with 4 people. (Molding and Cooling Times are automated). What are the opportunities for cost reduction here?

The Time Chart


The pacemaker process (longest cycle time) is the molding operation. This means that any subsequent operation could theoretically take as long as the pacemaker and still be complete before the next part comes out. The problem with this mindset is that we accept that each subsequent process is 100% labor absorbed. In the charted example, it should be fairly obvious that if label and pack could be combined that 1 unit of labor could be saved. (Thus reducing the need to hire additional labor for other processes in the organization).

By getting in the mindset that the process was quoted for 4 (and it is making money) these opportunities are frequently missed.


Leaders know that line balancing should be part of an organizations regular review. One great way to ensure that labor stays in check is to FORCE a line balance exercise each time additional labor is requested. If the data does not support additional labor, then it should not be provided.


Leaders know that excess labor is a recipe for future layoffs. Keeping labor tight keeps the workforce challenged to find improvements, ensures layoffs are minimized, and reduces communication chain loss. It is almost always better to invest in the process and cross train the workforce as opposed to specializing the labor base.


Leaders care about the future of the organization. Layoffs and frequent onboarding can destroy organizational culture. Line balancing is a stabilizing process that can secure culture.





Visual Workplace, Visual Factory

VISUAL TASKS (Visual Workplace, Visual Factory)

In a leaders quest to build a Visual Work place, it is often very difficult to determine if tasks have been completed. We found this solution as a creative method to make tasks visible.


T cards are available in different sizes. The paper is cut in a specialized manner that can be hung in a slit rack. T cards are commonly used for visual Kan-Ban systems.


By simply using both sides of the T card it is easy to create visual go/no go board for work instructions. Placing the basic task on the card, employees simply flip the card over and replace it in the rack when the task is done. By doing so it is very easy for supervisors and other lead staff to go into a work cell to determine if the task has been completed.

Better Way Inc. is a provider of T-card solutions along with specialized software for populating data on the card. Click on the link below for more information.

T-Card Solutions

Tasks to be completed


At the beginning of the shift all of the cards are flipped to red.

Task Completed


During the shift or operation, T-Cards are flipped over to green indicating that the task is complete. This action makes it very easy for a supervisor to review required action items in the line. We also see opportunities where this type of system could be easily utilized for audits.

(Visual Workplace, Visual Factory)



Too many times we see short sighted 5S success. As leaders, 5S programs need to be built around a culture of teaching employees to “see” waste and clutter and most importantly, how it impacts the overall operation.


Seems simple enough? Pick a work cell and challenge the workforce to find everything in a cell that simply should not be there. Using tools like 5S red tag above makes it very simple to identify items in the work cell that should not be there. Typically those items are moved to an area for review prior to disposal. In the “sort” phase, the key objective is to remove items that do not add value to the process.


Putting thing in order in the work cell requires more than simple arrangement. To do it right – get out the stop watch, time the process, count the steps, examine the ergonomics, and create an environment with the least amount of non-value added time.


A 5S event is a great time to “clean up” the work cell. Taking the time to wipe down equipment, tables or even the floor provides an opportunity to identify – leaks, damaged equipment, or other opportunities for improvement. Most importantly, this activity sets the new standard expectation for how a work cell should look.


Take the time to build systems in the work cell to ensure that everyone is doing the process the same way. Simple tools like the shadow board example above help to ensure, regardless of who is working – they follow the process the same way.


Develop a regular audit system to ensure program compliance. More importantly, train the workforce to audit their own work environments and coach on expectations. Remember, culture is driven when teams take direct ownership.




When we talk about cleaning a facility it is often confused with creating a Visual Workplace. There is an entire process to address cleanliness and clutter known as 5S but we will get to that in future blog posts. The Visual Workplace is much more that organization.


Imagine traveling the interstates without exit signs, without GPS, or without a map? Can you fathom the inefficiencies? Imagine doing it with out a cell phone! Over the years technology and visual illustration have literally changed the way we look at the world. Now ask yourself as a leader, why our organizations do not reflect the same.

In a perfect world, we need onboarding and training to be – “simple”. As leaders, we often expect new employees to hit the ground running. Do they? Most organizations spend a couple of hours training basic company rules then send employees to the floor expecting fantastic results. Ultimately, without a visual workplace program in effect, we are setting them up to fail.

In a dream facility (where everything is always perfect) the operation is so well illustrated and automated that literally ANYONE OFF THE STREET can immediately begin work with little or no onboarding. A bridge too far? Consider the following:

  • When you go to an unfamiliar grocery store and you want to find bread – do you NATURALLY look up for a sign over the bread aisle?
  • When you want to turn onto a street from as dictated by your GPS – do you NATURALLY look for a road sign?
  • When you go to a fast food restaurant – do you NATURALLY look for menu?
  • When you go to a department store and are ready to check out – do you NATURALLY look for checkout lane with a light or indicator that is is open?

I’m guessing you answered yes to all of these questions. So why wouldn’t you want to gain a competitive advantage by building a facility that is as NATURAL as the outside environment where the workforce is coming from? By investing the time into the Visual Workplace, leaders can drastically reduce onboarding time. 


It goes beyond sign and floor striping. Remember the last time you wanted to fix something at home or had technical questions? I would venture to guess that you when straight to youtube. Within minutes you found out how to fix that leak or repair that squeak.  However, when leading your workforce – you create an arsenal of paper documentation for your processes, try to manage them through a revision system, and worst of all – expect your newly onboarded employees to spend hours reading information they will forget after 12 minutes.

Leaders get creative with visual workplace techniques by placing themselves in the in the role of the receiver. Step back and pretend it was your first day on the job – what could be done to make the environment more NATURAL. Take the time to query new employees to find out what opportunities for improvement exist in the onboarding process.


Before you can go VISUAL it is beneficial to invoke lots of 5S events. Afterward, take the time to sit with staff and employees and BUILD A VISUAL PLAN. Utilize available tools to get the most of what works with your budget. Focus on building an environment that is NATURAL.