We often think of documents and manuals as static content. When you crack open the paper user manual for your new dishwasher, chances are you don’t think, “Wow look at this lively and fluid source of information!” In fact, you probably take the archaic brick and toss it in that drawer where the rest of your manuals live.
Paper might be perfect for origami, but when it comes to SOPs, work instructions, or user manuals, we can do better. Here are five ways your company can immediately benefit from electronic work instructions.
Save Money On Printing Costs
Paper and printing can be costly. With paper-based instructions, every time a revision is made, you incur a cost. Once the costs of paper, toner, maintenance, and more are added up, maintaining up-to-date physical copies of work instructions quickly become expensive. Even worse, every time you need to update an instruction, you have to justify this cost based off the importance of the revision.
Continuous improvement of work instructions shouldn’t require a justification, and revisions don’t need to be costly. With electronic work instructions, continuous improvement and lean operations go hand-in-hand. Publishing new versions is quick and free, making electronic work instructions more cost-effective and lean than the paper-based alternative.
Check out our printing cost calculator to see how much your company could save by making the switch to electronic work instructions.
What does the collaborative process look like for your paper-based work instructions? Suppose an employee has feedback on a procedure that would increase efficiency, reduce errors, and save money. Currently, with paper-based instructions, this employee has the following options:
- Slowly pass the feedback up the chain of command, where it will be discussed and potentially implemented in the next release.
- Share the feedback with co-workers and hope that the improvements will be grandfathered into common practice, but not formally documented.
- Don’t provide feedback at all, due to the static nature of the documents.
The latter is a disaster if your company is adopting a continuous improvement process. Understanding that none of these options are ideal, electronic work instructions can immediately improve the process:
- Comments or suggestions can quickly be made and routed to the right people for consideration.
- Feedback is a shared experience, where all permissioned user have the ability to consider and respond to comments; compounding opportunities for improvement and employee engagement.
- Work instructions exist in a framework where collaboration is not only possible, but encouraged.
Easier Data Collection
Just like collaboration, collecting data isn’t a static process. Data needs to be both up to date and reliable to be useful. With manual data collection, paper-based work instructions present a unique set of obstacles:
- Inputting data by hand or manually tracking cycle times with a stopwatch adds inefficiencies.
- Transcribing data from the field to digital systems is time intensive and often low priority, creating endless data backlogs.
- Storing data across multiple locations requires extensive reconciliation efforts.
- Handwritten records can be difficult to decipher, making interpretation a challenge.
Data should be your friend. When properly and efficiently collected, it provides insights that would otherwise go unnoticed. By implementing electronic work instructions, data can easily be collected, uploaded, and consolidated—all on the same platform:
- With tools like Operator View, data validation is integrated into work instructions, providing time-tracking while employees are working.
- Data is automatically synced to a central database as users move through processes, and can be viewed in real-time by those with proper permissions.
- Essential data is consolidated on a single platform, letting you format and transport the information anywhere.
- Data is secured and backed up regularly to protect sensitive information.
Faster Release Cycles
Each time a new set of documents is released with paper-based instructions, distribution requires the following steps:
- Identifying where changes have been made.
- Sending copies of the revised version to the proper personnel.
- Following up with individuals to verify that changes have been approved.
- Sending the changes to management team(s) for final approval.
- Printing out a new set for necessary departments.
- Distributing the documents accordingly.
- Confirming receipt of updated versions by all responsible parties.
- Collecting and destroying outdated versions.
With an electronic system, release cycles are instantly streamlined—eliminating hours of wasted time in the tasks above:
- Automatically track and identify where changes have been made.
- Quickly push the changes to the proper personnel via custom approval processes that provide real-time notifications.
- Instantly publish and notify operators of new releases, once the proper approvals have been given.
- Restrict and archive previous versions.
Quicker & More Secure Revision Process
In addition to the release cycle tasks outlined above, it is also crucial to verify that all the previous versions of the documents have been phased out. Without ensuring that the previous versions are archived, employees may be using inaccurate and outdated information. Paper based solutions have numerous pitfalls when it comes to restricting the use of outdated documents:
- Paper documents can be duplicated without managerial knowledge.
- Finding and archiving outdated documents is time consuming.
- There is not an absolute certainty that every document has been updated.
Alternatively, maintaining electronic work instructions can save you time and headaches:
- Only users with proper permissions are able to edit or duplicate content.
- Any revision or modification to a document can be controlled through customized approval processes.
- Once a new version has been published, only the current versions are available to your employees.
- Old versions are archived and only accessible to managers and authors, and can be easily redeployed if needed.
Much like a Dozuki, documentation is a tool that works best when used properly. The blade of a Dozuki, for example, is meant for precision and smaller cuts. Sure, if you wanted to, you could get a similar result by swinging an axe around, but it's an unnecessary challenge and a waste of resources. Just the same, using paper for your work instructions and training materials might get the job done, but it doesn't mean that it’s the best method available.