RE: This too is technical communication

Subject: RE: This too is technical communication
From: "Dori Green" <dgreen -at- associatedbrands -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 6 Jun 2007 08:52:35 -0400

Mike Starr wrote:

I merely want to
ferret out all the little details of information that engineers tend to
forget they know because they've never had to explain their work to someone
without their extensive background knowledge.


This applies to any SME. Starting from her cryptic notes, one of our Lead Operators and I solved some very-long-term problems yesterday -- in less than an hour.

Angela (not her real name) has a GED and several years of experience running this particular machine. She gets nervous if I go to the floor and observe -- too many years of "supervisors" who only knew how to criticize. She frequently refers to herself as "stupid" (which I always contradict and move on).

Collecting the info was not a problem, I encouraged her to write down what she does and not worry about format or spelling. I "made it pretty" and invited her to my office to make sure I got everything right, right there on the computer screen so she could see exactly what I was doing and how I was doing it.

As we stepped through the process, I asked deeper questions about setting the "day codes" that are stamped on the food containers. Every customer has a different preferred format and it can be difficult to calculate the printer settings. It doesn't help that everybody is rushing and trying to "make rate" so the procedure -- a good one with double-checks and all good things -- simply does not get followed.

I already knew about this problem area because I had been asking at QC about the most common causes of rejects and rework. What a surprise, the biggest single cause is "wrong day code". So with my trusty SME at my elbow, I swooped in on this critical process point and we dug into the detail to create two steps, each with five sub-steps, and a great big bold "CAUTION" above the first step reminding readers that the next two steps are very important and must not be rushed.

These two steps and their "CAUTION" will also be published as a one-sheet "supporting document" to be posted next to each day code printer.

Time to create -- less than an hour. Savings to the company estimated by the QC Supervisor -- $10,000 per month or more. QC has agreed to carefully measure QARs due to day codes on this line for the next two weeks before the documentation is released, and for two months after it's in place.

Listed on my "objectives achieved this year" report? You bet! With dollar figures from QC.

We will continue to measure the QARs so we can see when people get habituated to the new documents and slip back into old habits. No problem, this just tells us it's time for a training refresher. And we are then managing our quality process instead of just reacting to it.

In that same hour, I was able to push Angela about a simple question: "When do you clean deeply enough for a swab test?" Her first answer: "When it's USDA." At the first, second, and third attempts it continued to sound like the reality was that they clean for a swab test only when they know the USDA inspector is coming. Not the process we want, and certainly not what I would document! Some more pushing achieved the detail that cleaning to swab level is done whenever the scheduled product requires a USDA stamp. After some thought and tweaking some words together, Angela offered the opinion that they _should_ clean to swab level every time they do a full tear-down and wash even though they know QC only comes through to do a swab test once a month. Bingo. This was the right answer, and I knew it before we started. But by having the Lead Operator think of it "all by herself" I achieved that elusive Employee Engagement -- without which this whole transformative process-driven headed-toward-Lean project is doomed. Manipulative? Oh yes. But in a benevolent and respectful way.

At that point I asked Angela's permission to give her official credit on the document as co-author, and explained that I was adding my name just so she could send people to see me if they don't like something about the document.

I saw her on my way in this morning and she's still walking taller.

There are some days I love my job, and all of the above is technical communication.

Dori Green


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