Technical Documentation


Step-By-Step Processes

The step-by-step procedure is the heart of any operational process. It is a description of exactly how your organization turns inputs into outputs. While turning inputs into outputs is the primary function of an operations manager, procedures are often given a very low priority. This may be acceptable if your procedures are very simple and are easily communicated. However, if your operational processes are numerous and complex, formal documentation is most likely a necessity.

You also may be required to develop formal process documentation if you are producing a product regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or your organization is seeking ISO certification. Just having such documentation does not mean that it is suited for your needs or that it is effective. Remember everything in your operation should be geared toward achieving the goal of a quality output. It is quite possible to spend a lot of time and money on process documentation that is ineffective.

Identifying Ineffective Process Documentation

Ineffective process documentation can be identified by following symptoms:

• New operators make a lot of mistakes. • The operators never use the documentation. • There is a wide variation in time to perform an operation from employee to employee. • Certain problems reoccur every 3 to 9 months. (You keep solving the same problems over and over.) • The documentation does not match the actual process.

If you really want to know how things are done in your organization, interview your most experienced operators. They are the ones who know what can be done out of sequence, what needs to be done in a specific order, and where to kick a machine to get it to work.

Take a audio recorder and ask the operator to show you how a process is done. Ask them to explain it as if you were a new employee. In about 2 to 4 hours you will have almost all the information you need to document the process.

If you follow this suggestion, you will note that there is a substantial difference from person to person in the ability to train a new person from memory. Often you will find that you will have to play the tape several times over before you gain a clear idea of what needs to be done.

Presentation Matters

When writing a process it is best to avoid a paragraph style.

For example:
1. Click on the new part icon then enter the part number from the job jacket. Load the parts on the pickup tray making sure rounded edge is toward the front and the stack is straight then press the start button.

This should be converted to;

1. Press the esc key until the main menu appears on the monitor.
(Define what the operator should see at the start of the process.)

2. Click on the new part icon.
(Use simple sentence structure. This makes it easier for employees with limited reading skills.)

3. Enter the part number.
(Try to match your numbered steps to the steps the operator must perform. This makes it easier for a new operator to perform the operation. Read a step then do.)

3.1 Refer to the job jacket for the part number.
(If the operator needs some information tell them where it can be found.)

4. Load the parts on the pickup tray.

4.1 The parts should have the rounded corner to the front of the tray.

4.2 The parts should be stacked as straight a possible.
(Define the things an operator must look for to make sure they are doing the operation correctly.)

5. Press the Start button to begin the loading process.

If you take the time to begin to write out the process you will notice that what originally appeared to be a single operation is in reality a series of short subprocesses. This is how your process documentation should be broken down.

Generally speaking, these subprocesses or chapters in the story of how to complete the process are less than 12 steps long.

Creating "Chapters" in your Story

Breaking down process instructions into sub-processes is like creating chapters when telling a story. Using this technique has many advantages.

• You can train a new hire to the content in a single "chapter" and have them be productive almost immediately.
• It is easier to access information on processes that an operator doesn’t do on a regular basis.
• It provides a structure for an experienced operator to train a new person.

Technical Documentation