See how you can improve your Standardized Work

  • by Russell Watkins
  • 6 min

SOP production line

Lean manufacturing expert Russell Watkins explains the use of eye tracking to reveal where and how you can optimize SOPs to increase safety, quality, and delivery.

Why Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) matter

Standardized Work documents have a lot in common with children; many of us in manufacturing have got them, they can be tricky to manage, and all seem to have different names — Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), Standard Operating Instruction (SOI), Standardized Work Instruction (SWI), or Operation Manual Sheet (OMS). Whatever you call them, I’m certain you’ve seen and felt their value while also experiencing the pain of weak SOPs (I’ll stick with that acronym for this blog).

First, to ensure we’re on the same page, we need a definition. The SOP is the best current method that safely combines people, machines, and materials to produce the quality, cost, and delivery required. It bestows all kinds of benefits beyond good quality parts, safely and on time. It provides a home for recording improvements and special abilities (knacks) and helps your team leader with training so they can move people around the line without jeopardizing operations. A well-conceived SOP allows your operators and team leaders to spot abnormalities quickly by defining ‘normal’.

SOP excel sheet - case study

This blog highlights an innovative way to capture, understand, and improve your shop floor SOPs using eye tracking — one of the best tools available for identifying improvements in future manufacturing. Eye tracking captures what your operators see and hear as they perform their job by simply having them wear a pair of lightweight and unobtrusive eye tracking glasses.

Tobii Pro Glasses 3

The beauty of it lies in being able to unlock a level of detail hidden from traditional methods such as observation or video recording. The eyes are a window to the mind, and eye tracking allows you to see and understand what operators focus on and equally as importantly, what they don’t focus on. Helping you identify key areas of improvement and pinpoint distractions and dangers. The short video clip below shows how an entry-level eye tracking analysis yielded deep insights into the ways of working of operators in an aluminum smelter.

Typical SOP problems

Each of you will have toiled through problem-solving activities using fishbones or 5 Why’s that end up tracing a dark path back to a root cause titled “SOP problem”. From my experience training over a 1,000 people in 100 companies across the globe, I see the same quality and delivery problems arising from three common SOP weaknesses:

  1. No SOP exists.
  2. An SOP exists, and was followed, but is weak.
  3. An SOP exists. It’s ok but wasn’t followed.

A deeper look often reveals that SOPs give vague, ambiguously worded instructions (without decent photos) opening room for mistakes. Often, they don’t reflect the actual operation as the creator has either:

A) Rushed to create the SOP. 
B) Copied and pasted from another.  
C) Not looking closely enough at the operation. 
D) Written from the comfort of a desk.

The root cause connecting all the above is that the expert (your operator performing the work) wasn’t involved or consulted. Fundamentally, the question is: How do you make the SOP more robust by using the time-earned expertise of your operators in an effective way?

How eye tracking helps

Using eye tracking to capture, understand, and improve SOPs can help avoid many of the problems outlined above. To understand exactly how, consider the lifecycle of an SOP in four stages: creating, training, confirming, and improving.

Eye tracking perfectly supports each of these stages in the following ways.

1. Creating a strong SOP

Eye tracking allows you to capture the knowledge of your best operators and understand why others struggle to maintain safety, quality, and speed. Expert operators often struggle to articulate the depth of their skills beyond a frustrating “that’s just how I do it”, but eye tracking ‘speaks’ for them. By reviewing the eye tracking recordings with operators, they can gain a better understanding of their own expertise.

As a result of all this, the design of the SOP can be improved to highlight key points better, enhance instructions, and improve visuals such as illustrations, text fonts, and colors.

2. Training in the SOP

Even the best trainers can’t know exactly where a trainee’s attention is focused or if they’re overwhelmed or distracted, which makes eye tracking a great partner for structured Job Instruction Training. Because you can see where the operator’s gaze is fixated, you can easily tell if they’ve understood the process and are doing the job systematically.

The eye tracking recordings let you compare all operators to your best operators to highlight strengths and areas for improvement and create a library of ‘expert operator’ videos for future training. This is particularly useful for upskilling contract workers to quickly achieve the safety, quality, and cycle time required.

3. Confirming the SOP

Eye Tracking is ideal for confirming the effectiveness of and adherence to the SOP. It makes visual inspection a lot easier to assess as you can see and accurately measure visual attention. Eye tracking will also highlight less obvious issues with the workstation layout and the presentation of parts and tools.

4. Capturing improvements

Eye tracking captures differences between operators which prompts the question “Why did you do it that way?” and unlocks hidden Kaizen ideas. Whenever operators are truly involved, Kaizen ideas flow and you’ll release a raft of continuous improvements and cost reduction ideas.

The future of manufacturing

Standardized Work and SOPs are at the heart of lean manufacturing in guaranteeing safety, quality, delivery, cost, and engaged people (SQDCP). Eye tracking can support SOPs by leveraging scarce expert skills throughout the shop floor. In our increasingly competitive sector, the strongest manufacturers will use valuable tools like eye tracking to unlock the hidden insights of their best workers to create, train, confirm, and improve SOPs.

Written by

  • Russell Watkins from Sempai

    Russell Watkins

    Co-founder of Sempai®

    Russell Watkins is the co-founder of Sempai®, which assists organizations that are serious about improving the performance of their business. He has held operations, materials, and lean positions within the automotive, aerospace and construction equipment sectors. Russell’s lean transformation work has taken him to shopfloors and boardrooms in the UK, Europe, the US, China, India, Japan and South America. He is also leading a digital startup around lean skills, whilst helping manufacturers with his keen eye for identifying and supporting Industry 4.0 opportunities. Russell is the author of “Adventures in Leanland” a speaker, and awards judge.

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