Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cross Training in the Factory vs the Office – Why one and not the other?

By Al Norval

As I work with clients I note a common theme as it relates to training. In the factory, people are trained with back-ups and a certain amount of effort goes into ensuring there are trained back-ups for people at each position. You can argue there are not enough back-ups or the quality of the training needs to be improved but in any case, the bottom line is that there is more than one person trained to do the work whether it’s for vacation relief, running multiple shifts, overtime or positioning for job postings. It’s a natural way of doing things in the factory.

The opposite is true in the office environment. Rarely do I come across organizations that have trained back-ups for any position in the office. The result – people taking their laptops with them on vacation, working long hours before and after returning from time off sorting through the mountain of email, taking conference calls while they are home sick and stress levels through the roof.

Just last week, I was talking to a couple of young engineers who were on a week’s vacation. Both had their laptops with them. After spending fifteen minutes getting through the required security protocols for remote access each faced over 350 emails. I could feel the tension rise as they got back into “work” mode.

Why did they have to do this? Lots of reasons including staff cutbacks, smartphones, wireless networking, job security (no one else can do my work so I’m OK) but ultimately it boils down to there was no one else trained to take care of the work while they were away. Respect for People, one of the foundational principles of Lean, deals with giving people meaningful work that makes full use of all their capabilities. It means developing people’s capabilities so people become “The best they can be”. I’d suggest it also means giving people adequate time off to recharge, refresh and reflect so they can deliver both the work and improvements that are expected.

To do this we need to treat work in the office just like work in the factory and have stable standard processes with trained, capable people able to execute the work.

TWI or Training Within Industry was developed during the second world war as a method of training new recruits in the work force on specialized skills. It includes Job Instruction, Job Breakdowns, Job Skill Matrices and training plans that are the basis for today’s Standard Work.

I’d suggest we need to apply this toolset to office work to understand:
  • What are the work processes?
  • What Standard Work is required?
  • What skills are required to do the work?
  • How many people are required to do the work?
  • How many people have the requisite skills?
  • What’s the training gap closure plan?

Doing this will bring some sanity back to office work.


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