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The Human Element of TWI (Training Within Industry)

by Patrick Graupp
May 20, 2014

The Human Element of TWI (Training Within Industry)

by Patrick Graupp
May 20, 2014 | Comments (6)

A consistent critique of Lean in the U.S. is its overarching emphasis on processes, techniques, and tools at the expense of, or even ignoring, the most critical aspect of all, the importance of people in making it all work – what Toyota likes to refer to as Respect for People.

Running an organization that truly respects its people and works on company culture first, before trying to implement tools that work on the production system, is a lesson that most organizations miss. Without the enthusiastic participation of people, in particular those people who actually do the work, we will not get the “buy-in” necessary to see that needed changes actually take place and are sustained.

Lean practitioners will tell you that the philosophy of engaging people directly in how they do their work came to us from Japan when interest in Japanese management took off in the early 1980s. At the time, the notion of asking operators their ideas and opinions was quite revolutionary. My colleague, Bob Wrona, tells of how as a young supervisor at GM in the 1970s he was disciplined for talking with the workers and being “too friendly.” The funny thing is that when I got to Japan in late 1980, the Japanese managers I met were dumbfounded at all the attention being given to their management practices. “Why is that?” they asked, “You taught us everything we know.”

In their groundbreaking research reintroducing TWI into the American arena, Alan G. Robinson and Dean M. Schroeder, in an interview from August 1951, reported that the “concept of humanism in industry” was “one of the most appreciated ideas transmitted into Japan by TWI.” (Training, Continuous Improvement, and Human Relations, California Management Review, Winter 1993.) The notion that good management included a respect for individuals was not, at that time in history at least, a part of the Japanese style. Robinson and Schroeder claim that, in addition to developing an appreciation for a more rational approach to management, TWI was able to teach the Japanese that “good human relations are good business practice, a message that is given credit for helping break up the tradition of autocratic management prevalent in Japan before and during the war.”

Whenever I teach the first session of the Job Methods module of TWI, in the demonstration example of Assembly of the Microwave Shield, I point out how the supervisor worked with the operator to include his ideas for improvement as well as her own. I mention that this is exactly, minus the gender changes, how the demonstration was presented in the 1940s when the program was first taught. The dialogue in the training manual actually has the trainer say, “Operators have good ideas, too; often just as many as we have – sometimes more!” In other words, this is an approach which we as Americans have always known works well, but lost somewhere along the way. “It’s the American Way,” I tell them with as much bravado as I can muster, “born right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.” (It doesn’t really matter that it was Made in the U.S.A. – I just say that to tap into their pride in order to encourage them to use the method). In fact, all of the TWI methods contain this spirit of respect when it comes to dealing with frontline people.

When I’ve taught the TWI courses in countries all over the world, from India to Malaysia to Mexico to Germany, everyone understands and embraces these concepts because the focus on humanity is universal. These concepts transcend culture and economic barriers.

Unfortunately, though, most front line supervisors and managers I meet today still resist or reject anything they consider “touchy-feely”. For them, this is something that may sound good but, in the end, does not produce results. They may not have faith in the sincerity and work ethic of their people or, more likely, they just may not have the skills to lead their people in a way that would be truly motivating. The underlying values of all the TWI programs, indeed what the Japanese found so appealing when they were first introduced to TWI, encompass these leadership qualities.

So, what are the human elements of TWI? And why, if applied, do they lead to the ultimate success of the methods? Oftentimes in a Job Instruction session when I introduce the core concept of “If the worker hasn’t learned, the instructor hasn’t taught,” a skeptical participant will speak up and say, “Now wait just a minute! You can’t put that on me. If you only knew the kind of people I have to supervise…” When I challenge them on this they almost always fall back to the position: “Even if I had a good instruction method, they still wouldn’t listen to me.”

This may be true. But when this happens, it isn’t a problem of instruction, it’s a problem of leadership. The Job Relations module of TWI defines a leader as a person who has followers. If people are not following your instructions, you are not leading them. The goal of good Job Relations is to gain the dedication and cooperation of people in getting the work done. When we apply the JR method of developing and maintaining good relations with people, only then, when people want to do their jobs correctly, can we expect good results from our instruction effort.

Moreover, Step 1 of the JI method, Prepare the Worker, is dedicated completely to putting the learner in the proper frame of mind to learn. By calming their anxiety over doing something new and letting them know why the job is important, supervisors can get the learner interested in the job and to care about learning to do it right. By finding out what they already know about the job, even from a skill in a hobby, we put it into a context that fits their life. Then, in Step 2, Present the Operation, by telling them the reasons for the Key Points to the job, we pay respect to their mental ability to understand the significance of the job details so they can do them conscientiously. It takes considerable practice to use this skill properly because supervisors are not accustomed to paying attention to the human element of learning, in addition to all the technical aspects to the work.

People are not machines and TWI teaches supervisors how to engage both people’s hearts and minds for each job, no matter how simple or small.

TWI skills are aimed at helping supervisors get quality work done on time and at a competitive cost by recognizing and engaging the vital element of people in this equation. “As proof of that,” the JR manual preaches, “Try sending all of your people home. How much work will you be able to accomplish then?”

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  culture,  respect,  training,  TWI
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kevin kobett May 20, 2014

My theory is national culture is the difference.

Our nation was settled by immigrants looking for a better life, both religiously and economically. Hard work will lead to a better life, the American Dream. That culture seems to persist today. "What's in it for me?"

Do Japanese workers ask, "What's in it for me?" Their culture is more group oriented. Is there a "Japanese dream?"

I started my lean journey in the 1980s. I cannot see any overall progress. That was over a generation ago. Many believe once we get a new generation in power things will change. I do not believe this is true if no changes are made to the education system.

What do you think?              

Reply »

Patrick Graupp May 21, 2014


The Japanese may ask, "What's in it for US?" as a motivation to work hard. But even the Japanese have struggled the past two decades after making tremendous progress rebulding their country after WWII.

Life is a journey with many ups and downs. Even though we may not be today where we thought we should be, if you look back thoughfully at how far you've come, I think you'll find you are further on than you give yourself credit. Progress is a gradual arch that takes continuous effort.

The truth of TWI is that we can relearn lessons from the past. When we build on fundamental insights and wisdom, we can make progress moving forward. And we don't have to wait for a new generation to make that happen.

Reply »

Frank May 21, 2014

I think the points you make are good ones.  My question would be, "How does Toyota impliment TPS in their facilities, in other countries, and have success with it?"  I believe they try to use the workforce from the local areas they are in.



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kevin kobett May 21, 2014
2 People AGREE with this comment

I believe the difference is set during childhood. My dad was always angry at the dinner table; mad at his boss. This was everyday. Never remember him coming home in a good mood. How does hearing this everyday affect a young boy? Is he learning, "All bosses are bad."

What does a child hear at a Toyota employee's dinner table? "Boss really likes my new idea." "My coworker hit a home run today." "That meeting was fun!" "i already been involved with 73 kaizens so far this year." 

In my opinion, US lean will never rival Japanese lean until US children are raised thinking lean is the normal work practice; just like Japanese children.

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Mike Davis May 30, 2014
Kevin ,

You almost hit the nail on the head, todays children will NEVER reach those terms. My thought on lean has always been that its just common sense. That is something that people are trying to teach in todays time. If you think about it , that exacly what you yourself are trying to do. I was able to attend a lean conference in Jan, and caught myself wondering why the people at this place was so excited? Then it accured to me, someone has figured out that we neen to teach common sense! Dont have enough time to get into it as much as I would like , but I truly hope that it works. For the better of man kind! lol

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kevin kobett June 01, 2014

Couldn't agree with you more about common sense. Actually, after I caught the lean bug, I went back to school for a couple management degrees. It was a waste of time. That being a given, common sense needs to be coupled with the scientific method. My first degree was science, so I use the term scientific method. Others like PDCA or PDSA. I am not into terminology, lectures, etc.

I am into stories. I use this story to teach the importance of using a Pareto chart. The Pareto chart lecture, after this story, should take 60 seconds. Stories are easy to remember and retold; lectures are not.

"One summer, paint was peeling off gym floors at an abnormally high rate. Lab work is basically comparing bad product to good product. Comparing the bottom of paint peelings to the bottom of paint still adhering to the floor was impossible. This problem did not appear to be solvable.

Finally, we noticed red paint never peeled off customers’ gym floors. This gave us the ability to compare good paint to bad paint. The lab’s paint adhesion test was inaccurate. Red paint did not always adhere to wood in the lab. We needed a substrate that would give accurate and consistent results. We applied red paint to everything we could get our hands on: steel, glass, ceramic tile, aluminum, concrete, etc. 

Red paint always adhered to glass. The colors that peeled did not adhere. Our adhesion test was used to add the necessary amount of very expensive bonding agent to the paints that peeled. Our adhesion test became the new Quality Assurance adherence procedure and was shared with paint manufacturers. Our customers’ biggest problem went away. They received quality product at the lowest possible price."

 All the steps of the scientific method are present.

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Search Posts:
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By Toshiko Narusawa and John Shook
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