Work Direction FAQs

How Effective is Your Work Direction System?

Many of us come to work each and do our jobs without giving much thought to the approaches and tools we use to tell our people what needs to be done. Effective work organization and work direction are needed to help prevent human error and increase process reliability. The following questions represent those that I have been asked to comment on in recent months.

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What is the best approach to effectively recruit and retain qualified personnel?

Too many organizations, consultants, and experts believe that money is the main factor that affects a person’s desire to join or stay with a company.  My experience has shown me that money is more a de-motivator if the organization’s compensation is not fair.  A perceived lack of compensation will encourage people to pursue other options. If the organization’s compensation practices are fair, people will recognize and respect this.  I feel that work environment is the primary factor that attracts and retains key people. Your work environment includes how people are treated on the job, the degree to which their jobs are challenging, how their performance is measured, and how they are recognized for doing a good job.

To attract and retain qualified people, you have to begin by addressing ‘fair compensation’ concerns. Show your team how your organization’s compensation package meets or exceeds what they can get elsewhere.  Once you have done that, you also must ‘sell’ them on the other three key aspects of compensation – benefits, work environment, and recognition.  Keep in mind that in this day and age, people are giving as much, if not more, weight to benefits as they are to hourly pay rates.

EXPLORE MORE: Team Engagement FAQs

What is the best way to identify and address maintenance personnel “skill gaps”?

In short, the best way to identify skill gaps in essentially any role is to have each person demonstrate performance of the skill to someone who really knows how to do the job.  Before this can happen however, you have to identify what all of the requisite skills are (often called competencies). You also must define realistic ways for people to demonstrate their degree of proficiency in each area.  Too often in organizations, we consider passing a written test as being a demonstration of proficiency.  Too many people carry one or more certifications that were obtained by passing a multiple choice test, but struggle to demonstrate consistent skill application on the job.  Skill gaps can also be identified by looking at process performance results. Where are mistakes consistently being made?

A well-designed certification process is the best way to address skill gaps, once they have been identified.  Such a process contains a written test that requires certain key skills to be committed to memory, one or more ‘on the job’ skill demonstrations that can be scored, and successful completion of work over a period of time in the workplace.  Employees at all levels – not just craftsmen – should also be expected to re-certify using this same process on a consistent basis.

LEARN MORE: Qualified, But Not Competent

Should a production supervisor be able to set-up and operate all equipment in their assigned area of responsibility?

The answer to this question depends significantly on what you feel the role of a supervisor should be in your organization.  There are distinct advantages to having a supervisor in place with these skills. Having said that, you may want to use this more expensive labor for project development, team training, individual coaching, and data analysis.  At a minimum, a supervisor needs to have a basic level of understanding relative to how equipment is setup and operated.  They should be able to produce a standard product or perform the maintenance job when things are running well, but you might not want to expect them to be able to set up and run all product types or troubleshoot all types of problems.

I feel that supervisors should know the basics. 75% or more of their time however should be devoted to project development, team training, and data analysis.  Non-standard maintenance skills cannot be retained over time if they are not practiced. Unless your supervisor is a working supervisor (they don’t do the training, project, or analysis stuff), they won’t get enough practice to be remain skilled ‘in all aspects of the job.’

I am a big advocate of peer-based training – what some people call mentoring or job shadowing programs.  I have seen the best results when people are trained in a ‘hands on’ manner by someone who both knows the job and can work well with others.  Production and Maintenance supervisors can help provide a significant percentage of this training. I also feel that you should develop a group of peer trainers who can focus specifically on certain skill sets and devote more of their time to training and performance evaluation.

How much detail should be included in a “Standard Operating Procedure”?

In general, the level of procedure detail should vary with (1) the complexity of the process, (2) the skill level of the user, (3) the purpose of the procedure, and (4) documentation requirements.  Complex processes and lower skilled users require more detail on average.  Some procedures are actually used to perform a job (more detail needed), while others exist merely to document the general requirements of the job.  When a lot of procedure detail is needed, make sure that it is added in a manner that does not make the procedure difficult to use.  In general, all procedures should be written at a sixth to eighth grade reading level.

A step-by-step procedure should exist for each process job. Procedures should include setup, shutdown, normal operation, and basic troubleshooting sections.  Also, procedures should be written to cover all of the key skills that a person needs to successfully perform a job.  It might not be reasonable to expect a supervisor to know how to do all jobs from memory, so write your procedures in a manner that would allow a supervisor to do any job with a procedure in hand.  Keep in mind that today’s technology makes it much easier to include photos, and even video, in your procedures. Technology can also be used to make procedures more accessible in the workplace.  Visual aids use helps illustrate how to do a job in a much more understandable and memorable manner versus using only plain text.

DISCOVER MORE: A Brief History of Procedures

Many jobs in our facility involve manual tasks that require little training or skill.  There are jobs, however, that involve the set-up and operation of a machine or group of machines.  What have you seen in terms of having designated equipment operator positions?

Having worked in a variety of organizations myself, I disagree somewhat with the first statement.  Manual tasks that appear to be easy can still require a lot of skill and thought to be performed correctly (fast, safe, and damage free).  Personally, I am hesitant to say that a job requires ‘little training or skill’ unless I have done it myself and I know that essentially no quality or safety factors come into play.  If a job truly does require little training or skill, it should be automated. You may have done this already, in many cases.

Personally, I do not favor designated equipment operator positions.  I have witnessed many benefits over the years because my people were both cross trained and practiced job rotation. This is not possible with the designated position approach.  Additionally, absenteeism will occur to some degree. Certain jobs are so fatiguing that it only makes good sense to rotate people through them.  In sports, we use designated positions primarily due to the physical and skill requirements of a given position.  Typical workplace jobs are much more mental in nature, and people are normally less conditioned for the physical aspects of their work.

I am a big advocate of position certifications.  In other words, any person can do a given job IF they have been certified to do that job.  I believe in pay for skills programs where people learn progressively more difficult jobs (acquire certifications) over time as they progress with the company.  Also, if you want your people to remain challenged on the job, as many do, you can’t simply assign them to do the same work all of the time.  A well-designed certification process gives those who want to grow a defined career path. This approach also gives the supervisor much more flexibility for covering absenteeism, vacations, and increases to product and service demands. Finally, it helps reduce the performance impact of fatigue, cumulative trauma, and repetitive motion.

How critical is it to have all work documented on a formal “Work Order”?

The answer to this question depends on how well you want to keep track of how you spend your maintenance time and money each day.  I would advocate streamlining the work order process itself (reducing the cycle time required to document a work order) long before I would advocate saying it was ‘OK’ to not document certain types of work.  PM work in particular can be grouped together to help minimize the number of work orders. A variety of PDA and PC-based work order systems exist to reduce the time required with a traditional paper-based work order process.

Formal work orders are my key mechanism for tracking who does what work on what equipment each day. My work order database is my foundation for maintenance planning, activity-based costing, and budgeting.  As soon as I begin to tell people that certain types of work don’t have to be documented, I begin to open the flood gates for work that falls outside of the “you don’t have document it” boundary to fall through the cracks.  Maintenance labor and materials are too expensive, and today’s technology is too affordable, to allow people this type of ‘out.’  Improve your existing work order system before giving people the option of not documenting the work they are responsible for doing each day.

What size of maintenance task justifies a formal job plan? What defines a “well planned” maintenance job?

Criticality and degree of risk (failure risk and failure severity) should be the primary factors that determine the degree of formality that a job plan contains.  One can assume that criticality and risk both increase as the scope of the job increases, but this is not always the case.  Similarly, the degree to which different workgroups, both within and external to, the organization are involved in the work should figure into determining plan formality.  For example, if contractors are involved, a formal plan is essentially mandatory.

A well-planned maintenance job defines the tools that will be required, key timing issues that must be considered, the expectations (roles and responsibilities) that exist for all parties involved, and the set of metrics that will be used to determine if the job was successful or not.  All of these items should be included in the work package that is distributed, along with all applicable permits, drawings, and procedures.

How should the daily maintenance work scheduling meeting be conducted?

There are a variety of formats that a daily scheduling meeting of this nature might contain.  At a minimum, the meeting should cover (1) key needs for the day, (2) key tasks that may have been leftover from the previous days, (3) contingent actions to take if certain findings emerge or if work is completed sooner than expected, (4) key safety and permit-based factors that need to be adhered to, and (5) current process performance trends in all key areas of importance.  All employees should be involved in the conversation, and efforts should be made to facilitate the meeting in a manner that encourages open conversation and conflicting viewpoints to be expressed.

Efforts must also be made to determine what written documentation (i.e. the work plans) need to be reviewed in detail in the meeting versus only being referred to.  A lot of valuable meeting is often wasted reading to people, instead of using the meeting time for dialogue and questions.

Keep improving! Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

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