Do you have a job in your organization that you’re pretty sure keeps the place running? That you know is valuable and suspect no one else can do or knows how to do? Or, as a manager, do you recognize these roles and jobs in your team or organization?
All organizations are made up of people with different skills and capabilities, but the successful, truly lean organization is the one that knows how to translate these skills and capabilities across the organization and to incoming new team members.
When I was teaching the TWI Job Instruction (JI) module at a medical products manufacturer, everyone in the class talked about the job that “only three people in the whole facility can do.” A young engineer fresh out of college had this job, and she said she was concerned about getting it done after one or more of the three operators (all approaching retirement) left.
“What do we do if only three people in the entire plant can do the job?” she lamented.
“Why don’t you use that job for your JI demonstration in the class?” I suggested. In our TWI classes each participant brings in an actual job they are in charge of to practice teaching.
“But I don’t know how to do it,” she protested.
“So let’s go find out,” I countered.
After the second class, where participants learned how to break down jobs for training, we went to the production floor to study this job that only three people could do. At first the operator seemed a bit disturbed to see us, but after hearing that our intention was for her to teach us how to do the job, she became cheerful and talkative. She showed us how to fold a sterile piece of paper wrap, like a paper towel, snugly around a package of medical instruments and supplies so that when an operating room nurse pulls on one tucked corner, the entire wrap pops open and presents the contents of the tray ready for use.
It was as if no one over all those years had asked her how she did her job. She was flattered that finally someone noticed the skill it required. She explained how in one part of the job, she creased the sterile paper with the lower palms of her hands as she held the outer ends snug in order to make a tight fit. We noted this on our Breakdown Sheet as one of the Key Points for doing the job.
The next day in class the young engineer successfully taught the job to another participant in about 20 minutes. Everyone marveled, some in disbelief. “You staged that!” one person shouted. Suddenly a job that only three people could do had been demystified.
In this plant, as is the case in most organizations, much of the true value of a company resides in the collective experience employees gain over many years of hard work and sacrifice. Companies want new employees to learn these lessons from the veterans without having to spend the time and effort it took the veterans to learn them. This is why job instruction is so important. If we don’t know what we’re looking for in our team members or in a new generation of workers, we won’t be able to recognize these skills in our current people, much less teach them.
The JI Trainer Delivery Manual states: “Knowing what the Key Points are and how to pick them out quickly and easily is perhaps the most important thing…” A Key Point is anything that makes or breaks the job, injures the worker, or makes the job easier to do. Whereas engineers and other technical professionals typically define the “what to do” according to a standard, these Key Points represent the “how to do it” aspects of a job that are discovered, much of the time unconsciously, by operators themselves over time as they work to best complete their assigned tasks.
For example, a job may call for bolting down a lid onto a machine. An experienced operator will know that if he or she bolts too tightly, removing the lid next time will be difficult. So “how tightly” to turn down on the bolts while still adequately sealing the opening is the Key Point.
Good instructors must be able to not only recognize these Key Points but express them in a way that learners can quickly grasp. The trick is to find “few and simple words” that capture the gist of the Key Point. Whereas in a technical procedure you might write, “…twisting the wires so they hold snugly up against the plate,” a good JI breakdown might indicate, “snugly, with a twist.” This crisp and clear point is easier to remember and pass on to others.
Keep in mind that the learner watches a demonstration of the job as the Key Points are being explained, so it’s the combination of what the learner sees and hears that makes for good instruction. Finding the right words is an exercise in effective communication and patience. Even though we’re dealing with machines, tools, and processes, in the end job instruction is about two human beings communicating with each other in order to share knowledge and skill. This is as much an art as it is a science. It is another reason as leaders and supervisors, we must consider the human aspect of the work.
Part of communication, too, is understanding the limits of language. Sometimes Key Points cannot be expressed in words. For example, a foundry applied JI skills successfully to their wax department, which was the first process in making specialty molded parts, such as blades for turbine engines. The initial wax molds have to be perfect replicas of the final products. One of the requirements for preparing the molds is to make sure the surface of the wax is smooth. Operators found, though, that one person’s idea of “smooth” differed from another’s. This led to a lot of scrap material at first. In this case, it wasn’t a matter of finding the right word to describe the action of the job; it was about working together until a new person learning the job found just the right touch.
To do this, the trainer devised a jig (a plastic cylinder) that the learner could touch to understand this correct feel. As you drag your fingertips across the cylinder from one side to the other, the surface goes from “too rough” to “better” to “almost there” to “just right.” When teaching the job, the Key Point then was to feel what a smooth surface should be without having to go through the trial-and-error process.
In or outside of manufacturing (JI’s traditional home), JI skill gives us a method for quickly training people not only to do a job correctly, safely, and conscientiously, but to remember how to do that correctly, safely, and conscientiously. JI helps individuals and organizations retain and build upon skill and knowledge, and therefore value.
Before we try to create value, we first need to study the jobs — looking for those parts of the job that require time and experience to learn. How do we do this? We talk with the experienced people who have taken the time to know these jobs well.