Best practices for factory worker/plant personnel documentation?

Subject: Best practices for factory worker/plant personnel documentation?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2002 13:00:12 -0500


Dianne Moscrip wonders: <<What's the best format to use when documenting
operating procedures inside a plant?>>

Depends entirely upon the type of plant; the kind of documentations you'd
use in a clean-room environment such as that used in manufacturing chips
would differ enormously from that in a metal foundry, which would in turn
differ from that in an assembly line for stereos. Before you can answer your
question, you need to do a bit of contextual inquiry to find out about the
work environment and how workers function within that environment.

<<Would workers read a manual?>>

If they have the kind of job where they have leisure to read through a
manual. Otherwise, manuals typically get consulted _after_ (in)formal
training to resolve specific problems. You also have to ask whether a paper
manual would survive the work environment (which may be wet, greasy, etc.)
and whether an online manual could be used at all (e.g., in an environment
hostile to computers).

<<Would you recommend setting up a kiosk where workers could access the most
recent operating procedures via an Intranet?>>

Not if they need the information close at hand during their regular
operations.

<<Should the operating procedures be printed out and mounted on the wall?>>

I've seen some very effective documentation mounted directly on machines
(e.g., photocopiers) or "embedded" in the process itself (e.g,. onscreen
programming of VCRs); similarly, warning messages are most likely to be read
if they occur right on the machine rather than hidden away in a manual
somewhere. "On the wall" documentation may be read and referred to, but you
can't guarantee that will happen if the wall isn't right next to the machine
unless the plant has a formal process for reminding workers to read this
information.

All of this is the long way of saying that each situation has unique
elements, and without a clear understanding of how the audience will use
your information in that context, you won't be able to produce truly usable
documentation.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada

"Writing, in a way, is listening to the others' language and reading with
the others' eyes."--Trinh T. Minh-Ha, "Woman native other"

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