Collaborating on product documentation: The power of buy-in

Collaborating on product documentation: The power of buy-in

Collaborating with workers to develop work instructions increases productivity, efficiency and quality

Patricia Hume
June 20, 2023

I read an interesting study the other day that examined the efficacy of worker guidance systems on the assembly line (who doesn’t love a little light reading on a Sunday afternoon?). One of the findings that really stood out to me was that the adoption rate of these technologies is greatly increased if workers are involved in their development, and their use is voluntary.

This got me thinking – how often are we asking for input on product content from the people who really matter? I’d be willing to bet that, for many manufacturing and MRO operations, the answer is, well … never.

This is a major oversight.

Consult the most important stakeholders

Far too often, either by force of habit or omission, we fail to consult the most important stakeholders when it comes to work instructions – the people who actually have to use them. Because who is better positioned to assess the quality, efficacy and accuracy of any work instructions, no matter what form they take, than the people who spend their working lives carrying out the exact tasks and processes those work instructions are intended to describe?

Far too often we see a disconnect between the teams who create and the teams who execute. Unauthorized workarounds are common – people always find hacks, and those hacks tend to be passed peer-to-peer among the community of people who actually have to do stuff. And those workarounds often exist purely because of shortcomings in the officially sanctioned instructional material.

Collaborative feedback channel

Work instructions should be the material workers rely on to be successful. So by inviting your workers to collaborate on the development of the material, you’re allowing them to help shape the tools they’ll be using every day, making them stronger, more effective, and more invested. A walled-off approach to work instruction development represents a major missed opportunity to incorporate the expert skills vested in the workforce into work instructions which actually, well, work.

If you enable a collaborative feedback channel between workers and content developers, you can extract and include realistic best practices, increasing efficiencies and performance not only of the present workforce, but of the future workforce, who will use these work instructions in training, on the floor and in the field for years to come.

Retain institutional knowledge

Collaboration also gives content developers the chance to capture and incorporate critical institutional knowledge in work instructions, before it’s lost as experienced employees retire or move on. It creates a sense of ownership which will lead to greater adoption rates, and it gives you the buy-in you need to ensure that workers are voluntarily using the work instructions you supply them, improving consistency and quality throughout the product lifecycle. If you give workers a tool that actually helps rather than hinders them, you’d be surprised to find how much they want to use it!

Important points to consider

Here are a couple of issues worth considering:

  • How do you capture feedback on instructional content that’s already in circulation.
  • Do you have an established channel? Does feedback disappear into email threads or chat channels?
  • Does your documentation delivery mechanism enable supply and capture of feedback?
  • How easy is it to modify content based on user feedback?
  • Are you able to track usage and even dwell time on individual steps? Because that data can offer great insight into content quality.

All of these capabilities can help you capture essential feedback, make your operational teams more invested and aligned, and drive serious improvements in success rates.

So here’s my question to you: when last did you ask your workers about their experience with the work instructions available to them? Don’t you think they may have something to say?

About the author
Patricia Hume
Chief Executive Officer

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