Why Only Teaching Shop Floor Staff “How” Things Are Done is Not Enough

Where manufacturing processes require manual intervention, it is vital that the operators of those processes do so consistently. This means that all operators should follow the same procedure. It is also important that the procedures being followed lead to the best results, and are hence reflective of “best operating practice”.

Achieving best practice requires subject matter expertise and benchmarking along with the continuous review and improvement of the work practices employed in each unique manufacturing environment. This extends beyond work instructions to include the settings and specifications used when operating machines. The concept of standardisation extends also to how machines are maintained. The feedback used to guide improvement efforts should be the measured performance outcomes for the process concerned, and here approaches such as visual control are useful.

If your factory has developed detailed work instructions and procedures and high-quality records for capturing process performance, you have already made a step in the right direction as far as performance improvement is concerned. But why is it that despite organisations receiving accreditation with respect to quality management systems, and employees receiving training on standard work practices, many organisations struggle to achieve consistent levels of performance?

The answer is that most organisations view shop floor training from the perspective of ensuring that individuals and teams understand “how” things should be done. Operating practices are therefore drilled into employees, and tools such as job observations are used to ensure that all employees are following procedure to the letter. This is good, but just not enough.

Continuous improvement is achieved by combining problem solving skills and subject matter expertise, and this means that if this improvement is to be delivered by the operators of processes, those operators need to not only know “how” things are to done, but also “why”. This is often missed by organisations hung up on standardisation. Standardised sub-optimal processes will yield consistently sub-optimal results. And the personnel best placed to effect the continuous improvement of manufacturing processes are those operating them.

It is therefore vital that you invest heavily in shop floor skills development, and that all plant operators and maintenance staff have a deep understanding of the processes they operate and the machines they maintain. They can then make the link between performance outcomes and the inputs to the processes they control.  The training materials must be pitched at the level of the target audience, and will have to be customised to your unique operation.

Managers can and should play a role in improving work practices on the shop floor, but should not have a monopoly on the technical details of core manufacturing processes. When staff understand why specific tasks are important, they will also be more apt to follow procedure. Their increased ability to contribute will also make their jobs more meaningful, and create increased opportunities for career advancement.

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