How to deal with operators who fail to follow work instruction?

Jen Kirley

Quality and Auditing Expert
Staff member
Admin
#43
I have found that the need for work instructions varies based on a number of factors, such as (there could be more)
  • Regulations
  • Complexity of the work
  • High risks - failure is not an option (we US navy NDT inspectors were required to have our procedures there and open at all times during our inspection and evaluation processes)
  • Education level of operators
  • The organization's maturity
When I wrote the paper When Employees Don't Follow Procedures, it implies the procedures were documented but that does not necessarily need to be the case.

Anyhow, When Employees Don't Follow Procedures can be accessed in the Reading Room, in my Stealth Quality series.
 

kzachawk

Involved In Discussions
#44
Don’t throw out the baby!

Work instructions CAN be great for knowledge transfer, for training and for improvement. They are a document. Documents are where knowledge becomes explicit. If you don’t like “work instruction”, use procedure, tutorial, training note, manual, standard or recipe. Whatever you do, do not live with tacit knowledge only. That would be a work instruction for poor quality.

Documents are seldom written well initially, even when the author is the most knowledgeable person about the relevant process. Not only is one brain’s knowledge always incomplete, but such brain is likely to be much better at doing than at writing.

If you want useful documents, you’ve got to let them evolve (improve continuously). Provide the systems to do so: software, training, culture. Encourage and empower your employees to edit (improve) your documents. Provide accountability. Recognize valuable contributions. After a while, your documents will be nuanced rather than rigid and they will continue to improve beyond anyone’s expectations.

A work instruction will never become engrossing aeading, but no novel will give you the satisfaction of discovering stuff you didn’t know about your processes and your organization from perusing good, collaborative documented information in your mature system. Only competition in that regard may come from shipping good product and making money.
.........................

The ideal of work instructions stems from academic theory, where the academic process of reading books has been applied to business operations and every other from of learning, (common understanding, observation or gaining a skill etc) is completely ignored. As a mater of fact the focus upon skill has been removed from the current version of ISO 9001.

The academic ideal that work instructions are more necessary the more complicated the task is inept, as many thousands of complicated tasks take place successfully within each day without the first work instruction existing (aircraft flights, surgery, infant care, welding, congressional bills etc.). Yet in the management system arena, its assumed by academics that no task can be performed successfully without a work instruction.

I did not come to this opinion lightly, I have been auditing for over 30 years. It is my observation that the continual drift toward reliance upon documented information for everything is a boondoggle for most organizations, which when measured against the ideal of "value add", fails miserably. Where and when does the existence of the academic construct called a work instruction add either value or control to a process? Compare the academic ideal of a work instruction to that of visual management and or mistake proof and determine which ones provide the most value to your organization. I think you will find it to be the latter and not the former.

When do I find the existence of documented information (aka a work instruction) to be valuable to an organization?
1- When the task is performed by robots who rely upon code (work instructions)
2- When the activity is not bound up in commonsense or basic understanding (Visual management or I have done this sort of thing before)
3- When the activity is not a learned and practiced skill (I know how to weld or diagnose failure with my volt meter etc.)
4- when an activity can take place by any variation of personnel and only occur so infrequently as to be dismissed from memory over time and have the necessity to be performed in a specific sequence, and where no other source of information exists about said task (aka no youtube video)

I say these things not to be mean, I state them out of experience and for the consideration by those who refer to themselves as "Quality professionals". How many times did Deming state "you can solve that problem or control that process by using a work instruction" ???
 

Marc

Captain Nice
Staff member
Admin
#45
I have been auditing for over 30 years
I mean no offense in saying this, but auditing is quite different from doing. How many successful businesses have you built over 30 years? How many assembly lines have you designed and brought online, including decisions on where work instructions are important and where they aren't?

many thousands of complicated tasks take place successfully within each day without the first work instruction existing (aircraft flights
The next time you fly (as an example) you should the pilots have completed their check lists (which are a form of work instruction) and did so in the order the check list is in. This is not to mention the many procedures, especially emergency procedures such as engine out and wheels not locked. They exist for a reason. People often can not be trusted to remember often complicated sequences of actions which have to be done in a specific sequence especially during a critical, dangerous, potentially life threatening event.

There many instances where work instructions are not necessary, but most successful companies identify necessary ones. And just because Dr. Deming did not specifically say something doesn't mean <whatever> isn't important.

its assumed by academics that no task can be performed successfully without a work instruction.
I doubt that it is "academics" that are pushing for work instructions.

I am posting this because painting with such a broad brush with regard to work instructions is, in my opinion, a dis-service to understanding the value of many work instructions.

Work Instruction for Writing a Work Instruction for some thoughts.
 

Jim Wynne

Super Moderator
#46
.........................

The ideal of work instructions stems from academic theory, where the academic process of reading books has been applied to business operations and every other from of learning, (common understanding, observation or gaining a skill etc) is completely ignored. As a mater of fact the focus upon skill has been removed from the current version of ISO 9001.

The academic ideal that work instructions are more necessary the more complicated the task is inept, as many thousands of complicated tasks take place successfully within each day without the first work instruction existing (aircraft flights, surgery, infant care, welding, congressional bills etc.). Yet in the management system arena, its assumed by academics that no task can be performed successfully without a work instruction.

I did not come to this opinion lightly, I have been auditing for over 30 years. It is my observation that the continual drift toward reliance upon documented information for everything is a boondoggle for most organizations, which when measured against the ideal of "value add", fails miserably. Where and when does the existence of the academic construct called a work instruction add either value or control to a process? Compare the academic ideal of a work instruction to that of visual management and or mistake proof and determine which ones provide the most value to your organization. I think you will find it to be the latter and not the former.

When do I find the existence of documented information (aka a work instruction) to be valuable to an organization?
1- When the task is performed by robots who rely upon code (work instructions)
2- When the activity is not bound up in commonsense or basic understanding (Visual management or I have done this sort of thing before)
3- When the activity is not a learned and practiced skill (I know how to weld or diagnose failure with my volt meter etc.)
4- when an activity can take place by any variation of personnel and only occur so infrequently as to be dismissed from memory over time and have the necessity to be performed in a specific sequence, and where no other source of information exists about said task (aka no youtube video)

I say these things not to be mean, I state them out of experience and for the consideration by those who refer to themselves as "Quality professionals". How many times did Deming state "you can solve that problem or control that process by using a work instruction" ???
I think this entire post could be condensed into six words: Competent people don't need work instructions. Surely that's obvious, though. We know that competent people don't (or usually don't) read or need instructions while performing the tasks that demonstrate their competence. The misapprehension is that only competent people operate processes. The path to competence is a continuum, so there are varying levels of it as learning progresses, and the time it takes to become competent is not the same for everyone. Furthermore, a given process might be comprised of some individual tasks for which a novice operator is already competent. For example, a new operator might have years of experience in operating a punch press, but that doesn't mean that there aren't other tasks associated with the process which are unique to a particular company or larger system.

Processes don't design and optimize themselves. If a conscientious effort has been made to ensure that a process, properly executed, will continually yield the best possible output and general results, it would be foolhardy to not document the requirements that will have the best results. Of course there will be contingencies and exceptions, but they should never be invoked without a firm understanding of the inherent risks.
Of course many companies fail to understand the multiple purposes of work instructions and take the term literally and over-document everything. Not good, in the sense that all unnecessary work is not good. A quote ascribed to Peter Drucker sums it up nicely: There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. The fact that some work instructions are useless doesn't mean that they all are.
 

John Broomfield

Staff member
Super Moderator
#47
Cookbooks help competent cooks to create tasty dishes. At some point we stop consulting the recipe but this does not invalidate the cookbook.

Indeed, cookbooks comprise a $4bn global market.
 

kzachawk

Involved In Discussions
#48
I mean no offense in saying this, but auditing is quite different from doing. How many successful businesses have you built over 30 years? How many assembly lines have you designed and brought online, including decisions on where work instructions are important and where they aren't?


The next time you fly (as an example) you should the pilots have completed their check lists (which are a form of work instruction) and did so in the order the check list is in. This is not to mention the many procedures, especially emergency procedures such as engine out and wheels not locked. They exist for a reason. People often can not be trusted to remember often complicated sequences of actions which have to be done in a specific sequence especially during a critical, dangerous, potentially life threatening event.

There many instances where work instructions are not necessary, but most successful companies identify necessary ones. And just because Dr. Deming did not specifically say something doesn't mean <whatever> isn't important.


I doubt that it is "academics" that are pushing for work instructions.

I am posting this because painting with such a broad brush with regard to work instructions is, in my opinion, a dis-service to understanding the value of many work instructions.

Work Instruction for Writing a Work Instruction for some thoughts.

Who made the statement that I was an auditor exclusively for the past 30 years? I know I didn't.
My perspective comes from being involved in all aspects of automotive and munitions manufacturing and servicing of said same. Therefore I have both a hands on perspective and an academic perspective,

Your response to air travel indicates a check list which pilots use upon each flight, however that check list is not a work instruction which tells the pilot how to operate or prepare and aircraft. The check list is an inspection record, basically a go no-go device used to determine if the aircraft should be flown. Pilots do have the autonomy to override specific check list items, based upon what they determine to be critical.

I know challenging a paradigm can be a defensive activity .... look at what occurred when people challenged the earth is flat theory hundreds of years ago. Insubordination of the King or Queens orders or assertions could result in a very stiff penalty. Therefore I am not all offended .... its just a discussion related to a paradigm which has been (in my opinion) become overblown to assume it provides far more process control than cann be factually supported....

Lets take a different perspective.
I will be the point person for armed troops which are trained to use their weapons effectively
and
You can be the point person for troops who read a work instruction about how to operate their weapon

Hypothetically who do you think will ultimately survive and accomplish their objective ?

The paradigm of possessing documented information needs to be challenged as to its validity and capability. In nearly every audit I perform, its not uncommon to find one or two procedures which currently do not match work being performed. Even though such procedures are approved and reviewed by management. Most written documentation, becomes obsolete the moment pen is put to paper (so to speak), especially when manufacturing attempts to describe fluid activities with such documentation. My experience has been there is always a caveat identified by the management during audits in relationship to their written documentation..... The "Yes But" response occurs every time management is audited to documents which are supposed to describe their processes.

Academia seem to not understand what Deming taught .... All processes contain Variation, therefore attempting to define such processes with a structured work instruction is
 

kzachawk

Involved In Discussions
#50
I think the initial question was how to deal with operators who don't follow work instructions, a conversation I digressed into the validity of work instructions. While I still stand firm on my observations over time as well as my formulated opinion based on those observations. They only answer one of the causes related to employees not following work instructions.

To answer the initial post there simply is not enough evidence to make a valid decision as to why the employee(s) were not abideing by an organizations operational requirements. The only thing that is obvious is that most employees understand the relationship between their employment and unemployment. Few employees would therefore desire to cause harm to that relationship to the point it no longer exists, especially in times when jobs are difficult to find. Operating from that assumption one would need investigate both sides of the equation so the issue might be fully understood and therefore resolved. I would assume each situation related to the statement "how to deal with employees who fail to follow work instructions would most certainly require a case by case investigation as to the underlying circumstances.

Here are some pointers
1) Don't assume the work instruction is an accurate point of process control.... ever
2) Ask the employee or employees .... these are people who perform the task each and every day ..... therefore they are the experts of the process
3) Question how the employee or employees were trained ... many times I discover they are trained by another operator and they never actually see the work instruction related to their tasks.
4) Observe the employee(s) performing the work task and write a simple process flow diagram of what they are doing then Determine if there exist any product or service failures which can be directly attributed to the how the employee is performing the tasks opposed to the written work instructions.

If there are no product or service failures occurring as a result of how the employee is performing the work task, then the whole situation is probably is simply an inept manager or technical person who assumes (incorrectly) their work to exemplary and finite which is obviously not the case. Suck it up you engineers an managers, you don't know everything, accept a few shots from the employees every now an again especially when it comes to some non value add tool such as a work instruction, you won't believe how much ground you can gain with employees by actually being human.

If there are product or service failures which are directly attributable to how the employee performs a work task. Then attempt to determine with the employee why they are performing the work in such a manner (what is the benefit to the employee?), What I often find in such situations is that employees assume they are performing work tasks faster if they attempt to stage work ahead (not focused upon or don't understand lean principals). In this case its important to teach employees lean principals and why the focus on one at a time is important.

A failure I discover among most employees and a failure I attribute to Management, is the fact it never trains its employees concerning the financial process of the organization. Every employee in an organization should be able to understand the organizations P&L and be fully familar with financial concepts such as assets (both liquid and illiquid) , gross profit, net profit, losses, and profit margins. Employees should be able to watch a presentation on the organizations P&L statement and understand generally what is being discussed. Employees with this level of financial understanding can not only improve the organizations bottom line, they can improve their own financial situation, making themselves and their families more secure.

The final two cases are HR cases
The first is a disruptor who will do things just to challenge management. These are usually people affected by outside situations, such as change, or political or religious ideological subversion, or some type of addiction problem. People who have been ideologically subverted are both unreasonable and irrational and will not listen to reason, in most cases. Its best to either get mental assistance for such folks or cut ties with them completely, for the benefit of all the other employees in the organization.
People struggling with addiction can be helped with outside mental health programs, however no kid gloves for these folks they need to be fully aware the addiction in the work place will not be tolerated. The batting average for successfully dealing with addiction is unfortunately not very high
People who are struggling with change related to their job can be helped through such situations with education and positive reinforcement and lots and lots of patience.... Generally, properly handling this situation (change) produces very effective employees.

The second case is related to people who are an ill fit the position they are attempting to fulfull ..... its easy to forget in today's world that not all people are born with the ability to understand every subject. For this reason its easy to wind up with people who are a mismatch to the work they are attempting to perform. I observe this phenomenon often in manufacturing, where common opinion is that any warm body can perform manufacturing shop floor tasks however, nothing could be further from the truth. Ill fit individuals are usually the most miserable employees in an organization. Where they might make a poor employee in one aspect they might be of value in other tasks the organization needs performed. Keeping these employees in their current situation however is a detriment to the business and the employee. Maybe the organizations HR function can assist such employees in finding a position elsewhere which is a much better fit to the skills sets, understanding, and abilities the employee possess

These are some common methods for dealing with employees who don't follow work instructions (or any other employment rule for that mater)
 

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