Free Course Video #4:

This video is from Lesson 2 of Module 6 of the course, Developing and Improving Preventive Maintenance Programs (PM100).

Key points

In this Lesson, we’re going to talk about creating well-written work instructions and why they are critical to driving quality in maintenance. And that’s because effective work instructions are an important tool in managing human error. But also because they reduce variability.

The key points I want students to take away from this lesson are:

What you’ll learn

This lesson is part of Module 6, which addresses the importance of documenting your maintenance tasks through sufficiently detailed, and properly controlled Maintenance Work Instructions. With effective work instructions, you will reduce variability in task execution and improve the effectiveness of your PM Program. We’ll explore the amount of detail you need to include, how to structure your work instructions, and even touch on the importance of standardising your writing style and vocabulary using an international standard like ASD-STE 100 – Simplified Technical English.

Some of the other things we discuss in this module are:

  • How to create work instructions that work
  • The level of detail required when creating work instructions
  • The importance of standardised language when creating work instructions

Please note: if you are interested in the course in one of these languages either with subtitles or with a voiceover in your native language, please contact me directly. We are working hard on getting the course translated into all these languages, but this will take some time.
Video Transcript - LESSON 6.2

Work Instructions That Work

All right. Welcome to lesson two of module six, which is titled Work Instructions That Work. Now, there are two key points that I want you to take away from this lesson. The first is that to create work instructions that work, there are a number of rules that you need to follow. And in fact, in this lesson, we’re going to go through 10 of those rules in more detail. And the second point is that work instructions that work are developed for the benefit of the end-user, not for the ease of the creator. Now as we saw in our last lesson, well-written work instructions are critical to driving quality and maintenance. And that’s because effective work instructions are an important tool in managing human error, but also because they reduce variability. And as we discussed, if you ask 10 technicians to execute a task that is described in a single sentence, you’ll likely find that task is then executed in 10 almost completely different ways using different tasks sequences, possibly different tools, and you’ll likely have 10 quite different quality outcomes.


Now, that variability in outcomes means that it becomes very hard to determine if the maintenance task you’re doing is actually effective in managing the associated failure mode or not. So what you need is a maintenance work instruction that not only avoids human error, but also ensures the task is executed in the same repeatable manner each and every time it is executed. And that each and every time you executed, it yields the same outcome. And of course, a well-structured work instruction will also ensure that the job hazards are identified and effectively managed thereby increasing the safety of the job.


Now, first of all, let’s be clear about what maintenance work instructions really are. They are a written set of instructions that specify how a maintenance task is to be performed. And a work instruction should be specific and detailed enough that a competent maintenance technician who is new to your plant can do the work successfully by reading and following the instructions contained within the work instruction. So they need to be detailed enough, but also concise. And a key concept behind the value of work instructions is that there is one most efficient, most effective and safest way to perform any given task. However, it may well take some time for you to identify this one best way to perform that task. And therefore, work instructions will naturally be subject to a continuous improvement cycle. At a high level, maintenance work instruction should contain the following. A clear identification of the equipment that you’re going to be working on. The equipment number, the tag number, the description at the lowest level in the equipment hierarchy. Everything you need to know to make sure you’re working on the right equipment.


Obviously, the maintenance task, the actual task that needs to be completed. You also want to list the failure mode. That is the failure mode that the task is aimed at preventing. And I believe that really helps for the technicians who are doing the work to understand why they’re doing the work and to keep their eyes open while they’re doing the work to see whether there is any indication that failure mode might actually be developing. You need to have acceptable limits defined. Any task that requires a measurement or a comparison against the desired state should include clear acceptable limits, determining when the condition or the performance of the equipment is no longer acceptable and some kind of corrective action is required. Resources, work instructions must list the required materials, consumables, special tools, or rental equipment that you need to safely complete the task.


You want to identify non-routine risks. Good work instructions are very clear on non-routine risks associated with the execution of the task at hand. And you want to have a focus on the non-routine risks. Work instructions must identify the risks associated with executing the task, but be careful that you don’t get stuck in just regurgitating standard safety hazards that are dealt with on a day to day. You want to focus on the risks that are specifically associated with the task at hand. Good work instructions also address access requirements. Special access requirements like scaffolding, the use of an elevated work platform, a cherry picker, et cetera.


And then finally, follow up actions. The work instruction really should be outlining the follow-up actions that should be taken if a condition or performance of the equipment requires corrective action. And you want to be clear about what that corrective action needs to be. Now, the corrective action could be carried out immediately as part of the work instruction if it’s a simple adjust or replace task. But for other task that require additional safety considerations, maybe resources, or tooling, or spares, et cetera, chances are you will need to raise a new work request that will then get eventually planned and scheduled and executed. Now, the work instruction needs to be clear on what the correct follow-up action is.


All right. With all that said, let’s go and have a look at 10 rules that help you create work instructions that work. Rule number one, work instructions that work are easy to read. They are clearly written. They are concise and they use simple and consistent language. And when I say consistent language, think of things like using a select group of verbs each with a specific meaning and definition within the context of maintenance. And we’re going to talk more about that in lesson five of this module. But the idea is that when somebody reads for example the verb, replaced, they know immediately that it means a like for like replacement. Using standardized verbs and standardized nouns makes the maintenance language across the business more standardized and will over time increase repeatability and the quality of the work. A good source to check out for this is the simplified technical English standards, which you can download for free online. I’m going to include the link to it in the resources section of this lesson.


Another important point is that you need to keep your work instructions easy to use. Work instructions are developed for the end-user and that is an maintenance technician. So cut down on all the pretty cover pages, table of contents, introductions, and general preambles. Adding those is simply adding waste. Sure, the documents need to have a title and they need to have a unique document number, et cetera, but there’s no need to turn a two page instruction into a 10 page document just because of all the clutter we typically add into these documents. Just don’t do it because this is all about usability and not about aesthetics.


And lastly, you need to make sure your work instructions are also easy to find, or else they’re not going to be used. Now, typically you would want to make sure that your maintenance planner includes the correct work instructions in the work pack that is handed to the technicians. But if your electronic filing system is all over the place and the planner can’t find the work instructions easily or may end up having to keep his own copies, then you run the risks that usage is not as good as it should be. So when it comes to work instructions that work, they need to be easy to read, easy to use, and easy to find.


Now, to follow on from the fact that you want to keep your work instructions easy to use with concise templates for the format and layout, you also need to ensure that once defined that template is used across all work instructions. Work instructions that work are consistent in format, so that they are easier to follow. Layout, content, formatting, and writing style should all be consistent across all your work instructions. If an employee needs to look up a single step or a part of instruction, then he will be able to just look it up much easier and act on it a lot faster. And please don’t tolerate variations. It’s very easy for an engineer in the office to argue that his case or her case is special. And therefore, the template can be adjusted just in this one case. Don’t do it. Don’t allow it. Stick to the template. Make your work instructions consistent to make life easier for your frontline maintenance technicians.


Rule number three, work instructions that work are sequential. You see when thoughts are organized in a sequential manner, we remember them easier. So you want to group complex work instructions into phases, and then each phase consisting of multiple related tasks. And remember, losing one’s place in a sequence is actually a frequently find human error. And you can reduce that likelihood by grouping work in logically related phases. It’s much easier to remember that I’m at step eight in phase four than it is to try and remember that I’m at step 48 or 49 in an entire sequence. Now, if certain steps must really be performed in a specific order and there is a risk that they could be performed in a different order, then you need to make sure that is really clearly communicated and that your work instruction specifies this out in detail. So remember, work instructions that work are sequential.


Rule number four, work instructions that work are value adding. And with that, I mean that the technician using them is going to be reminded of important steps and is going to be given details that he or she would never remember, but that are actually essential for achieving a quality and safe job. What you don’t want to do is fill your work instructions with lots of generic lump rambling texts that adds no value. Technicians know that they need to wear their usual PPE, so don’t tell them to put on a hard hat or wear gloves, unless they maybe need specific gloves because of a specific hazard. For example, they may be working close to a hot surface. Now, that is value adding. So keep your work instructions concise and focus on adding value by providing information that is essential to the safe and quality execution of a job.


Rule number five, work instructions that work are current, complete, and continuously improved. When work instructions are not kept current, they will lose their value. And it’s not a matter of bureaucracy. It’s just a matter of trust. If a technician out there follows a work instruction and it turns out to be wrong, he or she is not going to trust the other documents that’s put in his hands. So don’t issue incomplete work instruction, because it does undermine the confidence in the system. That said, you do need to impress on your technicians that no person and no system is infallible, so chances are there will be some mistakes or some things missing from your work instructions. And you need to use a feedback loop to make sure that those things when they’re discovered are fed back to the maintenance planner or to the engineers and the work instruction is corrected as required.


Rule number six, work instructions that work are visual, and they’re visual when required. Now, you know the saying that a picture says more than a thousand words, and that’s where rule number six comes in. Work instructions that work are visual. That means you make appropriate use of pictures and graphics. You see some things are just far more quickly and easily communicated with a use of a diagram or a photo than using lots of words. And I don’t think there’s a CMS out there anymore that want and let you embed or link documents. So, there really is no reason to do this. Now, the only thing you need to watch out for is that you don’t fall in the trap of adding pictures and diagrams everywhere in every step. There is no need for that. There is no point in doing that. You need to make sure your work instructions are visual when required. And we’re going to talk a little bit more about that later in this module.


Rule number seven, work instructions that work flag critical steps. And that means they focus on the key risks that may prevent the job from being performed safely or to required quality standards. So, you want to incorporate appropriate conspicuous reminders in order to ensure that critical steps are not forgotten. So you could consider using a yellow warning sign, or warning box into text, or maybe a red danger box somewhere in your work instruction to clearly flag specific critical steps. And if required, you may have physical signs in the workplace that relate back to these work instructions. For example, think of aircrafts. Aircrafts have pitot tubes that measure velocity, right? And they’re typically on the ground. These pitot tubes are covered. But if they’re not removed before flight, that can actually have fatal consequences. So these covers are fitted therefore with a really large, brightly recovered, remove before flight flags that make it really obvious to anyone on the ground that there is a cover on the pitot tube and it needs to be removed before the aircraft is made ready to fly.


Rule number eight states work instructions that work require verification. And with that, I mean that you may need to incorporate adequate independent verification steps at key points in the work instruction. Particularly for high risk task, it may be worth ensuring that someone else, someone independent, someone other than the person performing the task verifies that the task has actually been done correctly. Now, you need to make sure this is done at an appropriate break point in the procedure. And look, this is common practice in the military as well as in a nuclear industry.


And in other industry, it is also becoming more common practice, especially when you, for example, applying verification steps like these when modifying settings in safety systems like PLCs. So verification and requiring a sign off by a second person are important tools to use, but you need to use them very sparingly and only where it is really required. Because remember, that second person is likely not going to be on the job, or if he or she is only there to verify the tasks. So for large part of the duration of that job, that second person is actually not very productive on the job. So verification and sign-off are important, but use them sparingly.


Rule number nine, work instructions that work are controlled documents. And with that, I mean that they are formally issued documents with a document number, where revisions are controlled and they’re assigned off by someone for approval and they are subject to formal change management. Again, this is not about bureaucracy. This is about creating a system that minimizes mistakes and errors and creates a system that people can trust. Ultimately, these work instructions are going to drive quality and safety. And so, these work instructions need to be controlled properly.


All right. We come to the last rule, rule number 10. And rule number 10 states that work instructions that work are used in the competency development of your staff. And with that, I mean that your technicians are trained in the use of these work instructions. And when new technicians arrive in your plant, start at your plant, you would want them signed off as competent on the basis of someone, an assessor or a supervisor witnessing them doing the job as detailed in a work instruction. That assessor or supervisor is then verifying that they’re competent in doing that task, in doing that work. And obviously, you can only start doing this once you have suitably high quality work instructions in place. But this is really an excellent practice to ensure that you have a competent workforce in place and to sustain that competence in the longer run.


So, we’ve talked about what you need to develop work instructions that work. But there’s a fundamental concept that I want to touch on before I finished up this lesson. And that is a work instructions that work are developed for the benefit of the end-user, for the technician that is going to use them, not for the ease of the creator. You see, a common problem with work instructions across many companies and many industries is that these work instructions are written by engineers or planners sitting in an office. And very often they’ll be inclined to write something like the following in a work instruction. Torque bolts to required setting. And then they put in brackets, refer to OEM manual. Well, that’s easy, right? Job done.


But guess what? The engineer or planner has just made life really difficult for the technician. Because the technician either chooses to stop the job to go and find that OEM manual somewhere, wherever it may be, and then identify the required torque setting and go back to the job site and then finishing off the job to set the right torque, or the technician can simply choose to tighten the bolts the best they can. Well, guess what’s more likely to happen in most plants and most industries? Indeed, the technician is going to do his or her best to get the job finished, which means those bolts would likely not be set to the right torque. And that’s a defect waiting to happen. So, make sure you don’t let this happen. Don’t allow it.


Make sure that the people writing work instructions understand the importance of the work they’re doing and that they are expected to do the hard work to get all the information that’s required into that work instruction. Because if they don’t, they are introducing a defect through careless work habits. And remember that 84% of defects are the result of less care than required. And this will be a great example of how those careless work habits create defects in our maintenance process. So make sure that the work instructions that are created are created by people who understand the importance, by people who will put in the effort to do a good job, and people who understand that they are serving an end-user. And that end-user is a technician in the field.


All right. So, that brings me to the end of this lesson. And in this lesson, we talked about the fact that to create work instructions that work, there are a number of rules you need to follow. And we talked about 10 of these rules in quite some detail. And we also just talked about how work instructions that work are developed for the benefit of the end-user, for the technicians in the field, and not for the ease of the creator. Now this is not so much a rule, but it’s more of a mindset. But it is so essential to getting high quality work instructions. And it is an area where a lot of companies, a lot of organizations go wrong. So be warned, don’t make this mistake.

PM100: Developing and Improving Preventive Maintenance Programs

Achieve higher reliability and availability whilst doing less maintenance. Acquire the knowledge and tools you need to create a highly effective and efficient Preventive Maintenance Program.

This course includes:
Leave a comment below telling us what types of maintenance you use and why. Have you had great results with one specific type of maintenance let us know: