The TWI Blog for the Training Within Industry Community of Practice

Patrick and I were just a little intimidated when approaching Steven Spear at the 2010 TWI Summit for him to write the foreword for our new book Implementing TWI: Creating and Managing a Skills Based Culture that was published by Productivity Press in November 2010. Who wouldn’t be? We learned so much from his articles and books, especially from his 1999 classic article Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System, Steven Spear and H. Kent Bowen that is posted on our web site. We could not have been more pleased with his timely message that is worth reading as a reminder of why we are all so passionate about getting the TWI Program back into the mainstream of training today.

Bob Wrona, Executive Director TWI Institute

 Companies are under ever increasing pressure to remain on the competitive cutting edge.  A fully engaged workforce is essential for doing this successfully, and Training Within Industry (TWI) is a powerful approach to creating and maintaining this engagement.

 The increasing competitive pressure comes from a variety of forces. 

  •  Economic development in Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe has increased the number of potential rivals challenging for customers loyalties.
  • Incredible improvements in communication and transportation have converted those potential rivals in actual ones.
  • Scientific and technological advances compress the half-life on any market offering’s viability, increasing the demand for ever faster improvement and innovation in development, design, production, and delivery.

 These three forces are significant under any circumstances.  Add to this the fallout of the world wide economic recession the last few years.  All organizations have to rapidly reconfigure how the bring value to market as customers have become more circumspect in terms of how they are going to satisfy needs that have changed in significant, discontinuous ways.

 That workforce engagement is essential is also without question.  A naive view might be that increased technological sophistication has increased the capacity for a select brain trust to do the hard ‘thinking’ of what to sell and how to make it, leaving the remainder of the organization to do nothing more than be button pushing monkeys for automated equipment and processes.

 This belief that mind and muscle are separable is simply wrong, at least as wrong now as it was in the past.  In the heyday of scientific management, it was thought that a select few could do the time motion studies to reveal how the remaining masses could work most effectively and efficiently.  This missed incorporating in work design the subtleties of circumstances known only by those involved in actually doing work, and it missed incorporating the additional critical perspective other people might have brought to the design.  Separating mind from muscle had no basis other than the elitist social construct of the day.   

The need for broad engagement has only gone up, not down.  Walk into any work environment–manufacturing, healthcare, and any service sector–and the number of distinct professions needed to accomplish work has gone up by many multiples and the sophistication of the equipment people use to complete their work has increased exponentially as well.  Creating value is ever more a team effort, with the skills required of individual team members ever more challenging in their acquisition and demanding in their expression.  Manufacturing is no longer the physically hard work of wrench turning–like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times or a character in Diego Rivera’s fresco, Detroit Industry.  It is cutting edge physics, chemistry, and increasingly biology brought to bear in creating products useful to society.  The amount of required know how is considerable.

Which brings us to training.  Success depends on staying ahead of the curve, and staying ahead of the curve depends on engaging the minds and the muscle of everyone in the organization.  How then, to get that engagement?  It is unrealistic to expect that people will arrive with the skills already intact.  Even were they products of the most successful education, and we know not all education is so successful, they’ll lack the job specific skills and knowledge to succeed.  People could acquire skills through experience alone, but that is both time consuming and unreliable.  How do you ensure people get the right experiences at the right time?  Or, people could be developed in a mentored apprenticeship fashion.  But that too takes considerable time and produces uneven results.

Therefore, an essential ingredient in being competitive is having a reliable system for developing skills.  This is where Training Within Industry comes in: Job Instruction training to bring novices up to speed, Job Methods training so they could be active agents in improving what they did and how they did it, and Job Relations training that teaches the foundations of positive employee relations.

Graupp and Wrona bring many examples of companies that embraced these elements of TWI, improving their competitiveness by improving their capacity to fully engage their workforce productively.  These examples can serve as inspiration and models for years.

With best wishes for continued success,

Steven Spear

Sr. Lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management, Author, The High Velocity Edge–How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition.

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