Job Instruction, Art or Science?

Recently I watched an interview about the Art vs. Science of writing Job Breakdown sheets. I am highly suspect of the Art vs. Science pitch when it comes to leadership consulting. Why? Because even the greatest artists practiced and perfected their brushstrokes before they painted their masterpiece. This tells me that with practice, perseverance and opportunity - anyone can learn.

What I learned from this interview is that writing Job Breakdown sheets is not necessarily a technically precise exercise, but is about combining words and concepts rearranging them into sequences that work for the learner, so that it is easy for the learner to capture and remember all of the important steps and key points of the job. That it doesn't really matter if it is a key point or an important step, but what is important is that we are figuring out a way to make the job digestible for the learner.

While this sounds nice, I couldn't disagree more.

It's funny, pretty much every interaction I've had with people on the shop floor evolves into a discussion around things like sequence of work, subtleties of the job, the nuances and history of the work which that person takes pride in. If I were to suggest that those subtleties are not subtle, or the sequence is out of order, or their history is fiction, I can guarantee a somewhat visceral reaction. After all, they have the experience of the value-add work, whereas I do not. All I can do is help them learn new skills, show them where we need to go and encourage them to make their value-add better.

I was recently trained by somebody on how to assemble a component of a product we make. After watching the person do the job, I tried it myself. When I started the job out of sequence, the person immediately corrected me, "Don't forget to grease your part first!" Clearly, this person wanted me to remember something important before I moved on. In this case, I can probably say that the Important Step is, "Grease Part".

Now let's use our experts example: what would happen if I arbitrarily decided to put the greasing step as a keypoint, and I put it as 3rd on the list because I think it may be easier for the person to remember the 3rd keypoint because there is a #3 on the grease tube? If I write that as a key point, what is the Important Step?
Is it the same? I probably don't need to explain to you how this example alone invalidates the argument that keypoints and important steps are interchangeable.

But that may not be enough...now lets go one step further: how would I know that they can't remember it as the first step? I must have had the experience of observing the person fumble through the steps in order to realize this problem and then subsequently rearrange the steps in order to move the 1st to the 3rd, or was it the 2nd? What is the likelihood that this unpreparedness would undermine the training effectiveness, if effective at all?

Oh, you test the breakdown sheet first. O.k., let's say it was tested first, but we can go deeper with the flaws of this approach. Now, three weeks later, a different trainer must train a new person using the same breakdown sheet with the 1st keypoint located in the 3rd, or may be the keypoint is now the Important Step. What is the likelihood that they will be confused when they see me grease the parts on the 1st step and then skip over it on the 3rd? What is the likelihood that I will even use the breakdown sheet since it really isn't accurate in the first place?

And further still...what happens when the two trainees talk to each other? How well will they communicate about this job? What problems can you imagine, in the context of your workplace? Now imagine how many key points you may have in your workplace? Is it 100? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? More? How many people work with these keypoints? It doesn't take much math effort to explain how this turns into a nightmare probability problem  - which is the primary purpose for putting standards in place to begin with.

I was somewhat surprised to see Important Steps and Key Points treated this way. It is my contention that this muddled thinking is the primary reason why people have difficulty in training to begin with and subsequently, problem solving at higher levels.

I think what he was trying to say is that you want to give people the right amount of information, in the right sequence so that they remember the job easily. That I can agree with.

So, let me kindly remind everybody here about the anatomy of a Job Breakdown Sheet:

WHAT - Important Steps - Advance the work - this is the sequence of the steps. The sequence of work can be rearranged for kaizen, but not for training, that would sort of defeat the purpose of standard work.

HOW - Key points - things that could hurt a person, make or break the job, or make the work easier, a trick, or a knack for something. I suppose you could make a key point an important step, but an important step it does not make. Example: Safety - you can do any job in an unsafe manner, and still advance the work. Key points are HOW you advance the work.

WHY - Reasons for the key points. Don't you want to know why we do things this way? Don't you want to communicate these things to people so they do not take shortcuts? You may better understand how your work relates to individual progress, team goals and business growth objectives if you include this info on your breakdown sheet.

When it comes to art vs. science, Job Breakdown Sheets are mostly science and little art. Yes, you need to know how to approach people. Yes, you need to know how to work with people. These are artful skills needed in dealing with people, but those skills alone will not make you successful at building a continuous improvement culture and they are not to be confused with technical skills.

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