October 7, 2022 is National Manufacturing Day in the United States. It is a day of special events introducing future professionals to myriad career opportunities in a variety of manufacturing industries. One day isn’t really enough, though, is it? The entire month of October is dedicated to promoting the impact manufacturing industries can have on a region’s economy, quality of life, and individuals’ career satisfaction.
Thus far, the “Making Decisions” series has presented tools and processes used primarily for prioritization or single selection decisions. Decision trees, in contrast, can be used to aid strategy decisions by mapping a series of possible events and outcomes.
Its graphical format allows a decision tree to present a substantial amount of information, while the logical progression of strategy decisions remains clear and easy to follow. The use of probabilities and monetary values of outcomes provides for a straightforward comparison of strategies.
Training the workforce is a critical responsibility of an organization’s management. Constant effort is required to ensure that all members are operating according to the latest information and techniques. Whether training is developed and delivered by internal resources or third-party trainers, more efficacious techniques are always sought.
Learning games, as we know them, have existed for decades (perhaps even longer than we realize), but are gaining popularity in the 21st century. Younger generations’ affinity for technology and games, including role-playing games, makes them particularly receptive to this type of training exercise. Learning games need not be purely digital, however. In fact, games that employ physical artifacts have significant advantages of their own.
Many organizations adopt the “Safety First!” mantra, but what does it mean? The answer, of course, differs from one organization, person, or situation to another. If an organization’s leaders truly live the mantra, its meaning will be consistent across time, situations, and parties involved. It will also be well-documented, widely and regularly communicated, and supported by action.
In short, the “Safety First!” mantra implies that an organization has developed a safety culture. However, many fall far short of this ideal; often it is because leaders believe that adopting the mantra will spur the development of safety culture. In fact, the reverse is required; only in a culture of safety can the “Safety First!” mantra convey a coherent message or be meaningful to members of the organization.
Regardless of the decision-making model used, or how competent and conscientious a decision-maker is, making decisions involves risk. Some risks are associated with the individual or group making the decision. Others relate to the information used to make the decision. Still others are related to the way that this information is employed in the decision-making process.
Often, the realization of some risks increases the probability of realizing others; they are deeply intertwined. Fortunately, awareness of these risks and their interplay is often sufficient to mitigate them. To this end, several decision-making perils and predicaments are discussed below.
Every organization wants error to be kept at a minimum. The dedication to fulfilling this desire, however, often varies according to the severity of consequences that are likely to result. Manufacturers miss delivery dates or ship faulty product; service providers fail to satisfy customers or damage their property; militaries lose battles or cause civilian casualties; all increase the cost of operations.
You probably have some sensitivity to the effects errors have on your organization and its partners. This series explores strategies, tools, and related concepts to help you effectively combat error and its effects. This is your induction; welcome to The War on Error.
Given the importance of decision-making in our personal and professional lives, the topic receives shockingly little attention. The potential consequences of low-quality decisions warrant extensive courses to build critical skills, yet few of us ever receive significant instruction in decision-making during formal education, as part of on-the-job training, or from mentors. It is even under the radar of many conscientious autodidacts. The “Making Decisions” series of “The Third Degree” aims to raise the profile of this critical skillset and provide sufficient information to improve readers’ decision-making prowess.
It is helpful, when beginning to study a new topic, to familiarize oneself with some of the unique terminology that will be encountered. This installment of “Making Decisions” will serve as a glossary for reference throughout the series. It also provides a preview of the series content and a directory of published volumes.
Uses of augmented reality (AR) in various industries has been described in previous installments of “Augmented Reality” (Part 1, Part 2). In this installment, we will explore AR applications aimed at improving customer experiences in service operations. Whether creating new service options or improving delivery of existing services, AR has the potential to transform our interactions with service providers.
Front-office operations are mostly transparent due to customer participation. Customer presence is a key characteristic that differentiates services from the production of goods. Thus, technologies employed in service industries are often highly visible. This can be a blessing or a curse.
Some of the augmented reality (AR) applications most likely to attract popular attention were presented in “Part 1: An Introduction to the Technology.” When employed by manufacturing companies, AR is less likely to be experienced directly by the masses, but may have a greater impact on their lives. There may be a shift, however, as AR applications pervade product development and end-user activities.
In this installment, we look at AR applications in manufacturing industries that improve operations, including product development, quality control, and maintenance. Some are involved directly in the transformation of materials to end products, while others fill supporting roles. The potential impact on customer satisfaction that AR use provides will also be explored.
When we see or hear a reference to advanced technologies, many of us think of modern machinery used to perform physical processes, often without human intervention. CNC machining centers, robotic work cells, automated logistics systems, drones, and autonomous vehicles often eclipse other technologies in our visions. Digital tools are often overlooked simply because many of us find it difficult to visualize their use in the physical environments we regularly inhabit.
There is an entire class of digital tools that is rising in prominence, yet currently receives little attention in mainstream discourse: augmented reality (AR). There are valid applications of AR in varied industries. Increased awareness and understanding of these applications and the potential they possess for improving safety, quality, and productivity will help organizations identify opportunities to take the next step in digital transformation, building on predecessor technologies such as digital twins and virtual reality.
The use of digital technologies in commercial applications is continually expanding. Improvements in virtual reality (VR) systems have increased the practical range of opportunities for their use across varied industries.
As discussed with respect to other technologies experiencing accelerated development and expansion, several definitions of “virtual reality” may be encountered. Researchers and practitioners may disagree on which applications qualify for use of the term. For our purposes, we will use a simple description of virtual reality:
“Virtual reality” is an experience created, using a digital twin or other model, where
Digital Twin technology existed long before this term came into common use. Over time, existing technology has advanced, new applications and research initiatives have surfaced, and related technologies have been developed. This lack of centralized “ownership” of the term or technology has led to the proliferation of differing definitions of “digital twin.”
Some definitions focus on a specific application or technology – that developed by those offering the definition – presumably to coopt the term for their own purposes. Arguably, the most useful definition, however, is the broadest – one that encompasses the range of relevant technologies and applications, capturing their corresponding value to the field. To this end, I offer the following definition of digital twin:
An electronic representation of a physical entity – product, machine, process, system, or facility – that aids understanding of the entity’s design, operation, capabilities, or condition.
Reviewing past installments of “The Third Degree” in preparation for the update post “Hindsight is 20/20; Foresight is 2020,” I realized that there had been a significant oversight. This post is aimed at correcting that oversight and filling the void I’m sure we have all felt.
In “Of Delegating and Dumping,” a compare-and-contrast exploration of the two managerial styles, I referenced “The Dumper’s Creed,” but had not presented it. Until now!
Given the amount of time people spend in meetings, organizations expend shockingly little effort to ensure that these meetings have value. Rarely is an employee – much less a volunteer – provided any formal instruction on leading or participating in meetings; most of us learn by observing the behavior of others. The low probability that those around us have been trained in optimal meeting practices renders this exercise equivalent to “the blind leading the blind.” The nature of these meetings is more likely to demonstrate the power structure of the organization than proper protocols.
Typical meetings suffer from a raft of problems that render them inefficient or ineffective. That is, they range from a moderate waste of time, while accomplishing something, to a total waste of time that accomplishes nothing. This need not be the case, however. Though an immediate overhaul may be an unrealistic expectation, incremental changes can be made to the way meetings are conducted, progressively increasing their value and developing a more efficient organization.
Troubleshooting a system can be guided by instructions created by its developer or someone with extensive experience operating and maintaining similar systems. Without a specific context, however, a troubleshooting process can be very difficult to describe. There is an enormous number of variables that could potentially warrant consideration. The type of system (mechanical, power transmission, fluid power, electrical, motion control, etc.), operating environment (indoor, outdoor, arid, tropical, arctic, etc.), and severity of duty are only the beginning.
The vast array of systems and situations that could be encountered requires that troubleshooting be learned as a generalized skill. What tool set could be more general, more universally applicable, than our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and the most powerful of all, common sense?
Always on the lookout for useful or clever analogies that facilitate understanding of complex systems or ideas, some discoveries are made with great pleasure and some disappoint. The law of averages demands it.
The jigsaw puzzle is no stranger to analogy-building. One example appeared earlier this year in Plant Services’ “Human Capital” column (“The Jigsaw Puzzle of Reliability,” March 2019). Unfortunately, this is one that left me underwhelmed. Perhaps space limitations precluded full development of the analogy; the author’s forthcoming book may correct this. In any case, this installment of “The Third Degree” is my attempt to redeem the venerable jigsaw puzzle analogy.
Entertainment, Education, Marketing, or Benchmarking? Yes!
The summer vacation season is under way. If you have openings in your vacation agenda, or are looking for mini-vacation ideas, you may want to consider “tourism factories.” These include plant tours, participatory agricultural and culinary experiences, and other tourist services that connect consumers to products in unique ways.
Tourism factories serve varying interests of visitors and hosts. Whether it serves to open a new communication channel between a company and its customers, reinforce a marketing message, provide an educational opportunity, or simply satisfy the curiosity of inquisitive types, a well-designed tourist experience can be an incredibly valuable asset for many types of businesses. Increasing numbers of these tourist experiences are available as business leaders around the world recognize their potential.
Companies, universities, athletes, hospitals and physicians, municipalities, and any other entity that can be compared in any way often claim to be “world-class.” Is this a quantitative or qualitative assessment? Can “world-class” be objectively determined, or is it subject to the biases inherent to the assessor? Does it mean, simply, that the entity – whatever type it may be – is “good enough?”
The first definition of world-class on Dictionary.com is “ranking among the world’s best; outstanding.” This sounds like a grand achievement and a worthy goal. Unfortunately, it is completely meaningless.
The ability to formulate relevant, probing, often open-ended questions and present them at opportune times to appropriate individuals is incredibly valuable. Honing this skill will secure your reputation as a thought leader among product development, process development, or other project team members.
Many laud those who seem to have “all the answers,” but to what questions? Solving problems in your business is not a trivia game; having all the answers to questions that do not expose the underlying causes of issues or reveal improvement opportunities is of little value to your team. In most cases, it is much easier to find an answer to a question than it is to construct a question in such a way that maximizes the value of the answer.
Successful managers are – or need to quickly become – effective delegators. Many managers convince themselves, and sometimes others, that they are effectively delegating by assigning many tasks and giving many orders. Unfortunately, however, this is most often indicative of an antithetical situation. Effective delegation is a skill, like any other, that can be learned, practiced, and honed. To do so, managers must understand the difference between delegating and dumping.
To thoroughly develop this understanding, it is useful to consider the differences between delegating and dumping as they relate to five phases: Assignment, Support, Follow-up (or Progress Check), Feedback, and Recurrence.
Comparison of Methods and Results
In this final installment, we will compare the process and results achieved by the TPD method to that presented by Parker and Kleemeier in Human Relations in Supervision. Parker and Kleemeier present a qualitative approach adapted from the “Training within Industry Report” published at the end of World War II. Despite the time elapsed since its publication, it is quite similar to the approach to training plan development taken by many to this day. Contrasted with the TWI approach is the pseudoquantitative method of Training Plan Development via Task Assessment. Development of a truly objective, quantitative assessment process is not practical, if it is even possible; the rating method of TPD provides the next best thing.
Training Plan Development
In this installment of Training Plan Development via Task Assessment, we will turn the example task assessments created in Part 2 into training plans, each customized for an individual employee. A sample training plan document is presented and used as a vehicle for discussion of important aspects of training plan execution.
Some may question the need for a separate document, preferring to reference only the task assessments during training. A separate document is advantageous for the following reasons:
Example Task Assessments
Part 1 of Training Plan Development via Task Assessment covered the basics of task assessment. In this installment, example task assessments will be presented to demonstrate application of the method to manufacturing and service operations. The manufacturing example is taken from Human Relations in Supervision by Willard Parker and Robert Kleemeier for purposes of comparison. The service example presents a small subset of the possible tasks that may require training in an automotive repair shop.
Introduction to Task Assessment
Onboarding sets the stage for an employee’s experience within an organization. Done well, onboarding gives a new employee all the tools and information needed to succeed in a new role. Done poorly, incompletely, or totally ignored (all too common!), an employee can be set on a path of chronic frustration and underperformance. The positive or negative effects generated by the onboarding process – or lack thereof – are experienced by both the employee and the employer or manager. Thus, it is beneficial to the organization and all individuals within it to have a thorough and effective onboarding process.
Thorough onboarding of a new employee consists of many elements and varies according to the role of the employee and the nature of the organization. This post focuses on one element in a specific context: the Production Associate Training Plan. The Skills Gap Fallacy – Part 3: Skills Gap Assessment and Closure outlines a seven-step process to create the skilled workforce your organization needs; step six is develop a plan to achieve the “future state.” Training Plan Development via Task Assessment is one tool that can be used to accomplish this.
Many manufacturing and service companies succumb to competitive pressure by embarking on misguided cost-reduction efforts, failing to take a holistic approach. To be clear, lean is the way to be; lean is not the same as cost reduction. Successful cost-reduction efforts consider the entire enterprise, the entire product life cycle, and, most importantly, the effects that changes will make on customers.
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