Our Experience: Tips and Insights
Over our 40 years of explaining, we've accumulated a wealth of valuable information. This body of knowledge includes tools we have developed, approaches that have worked well, approaches that have failed, and a large amount of miscellany that could be called "accumulated wisdom" or, perhaps more accurately, "battle scars."
We welcome questions and suggestions for new topics.
Visual Work Instructions: The Impact on Quality Metrics
The notion of giving an operator what she needs, when she needs it, in a way she can use it (visually), seems like a commonsense approach, but it's surprising how many text-heavy, confusing, unfriendly documents we see. I have to assume that's because companies haven't seen or can't imagine the impact effective work instructions can have on their metrics; therefore, I want to share statistics from two companies Explainers worked with where we definitively captured the results.
We created visual work instructions for an international company that develops medical devices—a highly regulated environment. The procedures were complex and the workers inexperienced. The devices were intricate and expensive, allowing for only minute deviations and making quality imperative. Though we were part of an overall Lean initiative, the company was able to determine the impact our instructions had on three metrics:
- Yields increased 8%
- Deviations per lot decreased 83%
- Training development time decreased 50%
Spend Less, Get More with Simple Visual Job Aids
Why do we ask so many questions?
Because in the process of answering them, important information can surface—information that often leads us to create even better instructions.
It became clear that a book of 2,000 images would not only be costly, but a challenge to use. We worked to understand the differences between cores and identified four distinguishing characteristics. We then created a visual decision tree printed as both poster and quick-reference card.
To no one's surprise, the cost of the poster was a fraction of the budget for the book of images.
Are there questions you should you be asking? Give us a call; we'll help you identify them.
Work Instructions for Multilingual Workplaces
English-only instructions are no longer sufficient in many factories. It can take considerable time, effort and money to support a multi-language workforce. Developing visual instructions helps workers of any language do their jobs better and keeps translation costs to a minimum (you’ll never need to translate an illustration).
This maintenance procedure we created for a company in Puerto Rico shows how to replace a battery in a control unit. Using arrows and fading back nonessential elements, we clearly show how to do the task using very few words. At times, visual instructions need no text at all.
Reducing translation costs is another compelling reason to consider visual work instructions.
Keep your multilingual workforce energized—call us to see how we can help with visual work instructions.
Measured Training Results
Our client had a problem with unscheduled downtime. Their operators were turning off sensors in a misguided effort to keep the line running, which sacrificed productivity and safety. To help them, we created a visual theory of operation that explained how the line functioned, with focus on how different sensors affected the line.
Using this document in training, our client was able to test the operators’ understanding of the line. Pre-test scores averaged 33% and that included a group of seasoned operators. Post-tests were given months later and jumped to an impressive average of 92%. By learning the function and purpose of the sensors, workers could use them to quickly identify and correct problems that had previously stopped the production line.
Because of confidentiality issues, we're showing you an aid we developed that used similar features—strategically placed color additions and word balloons—for identifying multiple areas of a packaging machine.
Let us help you keep your lines running—call us today.
Maintenance Procedures Need Work Instructions
Irregular maintenance of production and testing equipment is a hidden source of product variation. Maintenance procedures are the orphans of work instruction systems, with most attention being devoted to production. For optimal overall quality assurance, there must be appropriate attention to documenting maintenance procedures, both preventive maintenance as well as routine maintenance performed by production workers. The attached sample shows routine cleaning of an ultrasonic water tank as a required procedure at the start of every production shift.
The completed work instructions met our "Four Essentials" test - all were Clear, Credible, Consistent, and Accessible. Here's where you can see more aboutevaluating your work instructions.
Handling Repetition in Work Instructions
Whenever a procedure involves repetition, either real or apparent, the procedure writer must take extra care to head off error. Here are some tips:
Emphasize the repetition. Don’t hide or simplify the sequence. Make it clear that there is a string of actions. This obvious approach should help alert the user to the need for caution.
Graphics are better than text. Graphics allow the developer to show repetition rather than merely describe it. If instructions are straight text, it’s easy for a user to count wrong or miss the significance of terms like “repeat” or “again” or “reverse.”
Clarify the differences between similar steps. Have a clear overall layout and use graphic symbols to show variation in the sequence.
Consider a checklist. Aviation and aerospace procedures are full of repetitive sequences that require careful attention to detail. As error-reducing precautions, aviation and aerospace instructions often involve checklists. A checklist reduces dependence on fallible human memory and helps focus the user on each individual step.
This sample is from our series of EXPLAINIT® Nursing Procedures. Irrigating Salem Sump Tube is a sensitive procedure for checking the function of a tube running into a patient’s stomach. It requires five separate actions involving a syringe.
The steps are similar but there are very important differences between the actions at each step.
The format we used here clearly shows that there are a series of steps that appear similar but are different. The use of in-and-out arrows, numbered steps, and the general layout are all designed to alert the nurse to a sequence of steps that must be performed exactly as instructed.