In the manufacturing workplace good pictures, schematics, blueprints, and detailed specifications are all essential and routine requirements of the work. I need to distinguish these documents from what I am about to talk about. You see I’ve been a bit worried lately by the trend toward written step by step directions and pictures in nicely prepared, colorful, laminated “work instructions” being used a substitute for good training. These documents have never been easier to produce and store electronically. Anyone with a computer and digital camera can design, save and print endless work instructions. There is also excellent software available to support that activity and produce professional quality documents at the push of a button. Yet these documents, time and time again, fail to produce the desired results. I can almost hear the supervisor, who put many hours into the work instructions, saying: “Why can’t they read what’s there? The instructions are perfect, if they just follow them.” I had a discussion about this with a very sophisticated operations manager at a major international company. His goal, he said, is to make the work instructions so crystal clear that, after reading the instructions and looking at the pictures, anyone with a modicum of skill with the tools of the trade could come in and do the job . He lamented that he hadn’t gotten there yet. After-all they were still finding defects in the work and they needed to inspect, rework and repair whenever a new operator came on board. Therefore, it must be the documentation that needs improvement.
At the TWI Institute we know detailed, illustrated work instructions work poorly because they engage the learner only on a visual level and rely on their reading and spacial relations skills. We know the best practices in training require engaging the learner on all levels: seeing, hearing and touching. Or as the old Chinese proverb said: “When I hear, I forget. When I see, I remember. When I do, I understand.” We know: one on one dialogue with practice yields the best training results. So, yes I’m a bit worried about the fate of companies that are spending their scarce training resources on detailed illustrated work instructions that neither work nor instruct. They ought to be providing sound proven training which clearly takes more effort at the start, but, pays out great dividends in error free work and customer satisfaction at the finish.
Steve Grossman, Director