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From time to time you'll read one of us talking about spec sheets. ...and if you follow John Vogt's writings, you'll often see him referring to process management as well as specs. ...as he attempts to single-handedly transform procedures passed down from tradesman to tradesman into a discrete series of repeatable steps. ...steps understandable by anyone, including people not familiar with the equipment. ...at least I think that's part of what he's doing.

...and realize that an instruction as simple as "Fasten the cover plate to the frame" doesn't take into account whether or not the best way to fasten that plate is with a blind nut and a machine screw or with a sheet metal screw. ...or perhaps this component is located in a vibration prone area and needs to be fastened with Loctite or perhaps with a Nyloc nut. ...or maybe it's a something you don't want anyone to mess with and you need to use tamper resistant hardware. ...or what if it is mounted in such a manner that flush mount heads are needed. ...or decorative. ...or whatever.

Built into this type of exercise is the pre-existing data set of the worker: they are craftsmen or artisans who bring to the job a baseline knowledge of the tools used on the job and how they are used on these particular parts. ...and the question becomes, "How do you translate the innate knowledge of how to do the job to someone who is only slightly familiar with the product or the process?"

With Daynotes, you see this all the time. The other day, Jerry had a question that was so general he had no possible way to answer it. ...or even provide a breadcrumb trail into the forest. Others in this venue also routinely receive questions that we try our best to field. ...with the caveat that we should first find the proficiency level of the questioner. Walking someone through a process presumes the ability of the teacher to match the instruction level to the skill and knowledge level of the student. ...although I personally think if the skill level is there, the knowledge level will grow as a part of the process.

Where the heck did that come from? It started a while back as Shelley and I started to teach her how to set up her own shot... You see, you need a beer truck book©Matt Beland or a school bus book©Dan and Janeen at home as well as at work. What if I'm out of position and Shelley is due for a shot? Sure, we have medic friends that would be happy to come over and help. ...but what about the specifics? Flip it around: ...and Shelley knows all about the setup, but nothing about the mechanics of the process (as an EMT, she wasn't allowed to play with sharp objects).

Our particular project took on a whole new dimension last week when my sister received her shot kit and the mandatory visit from the field nurse to show her how to set things up. Things went fine the first night, but fell apart a little when she went to try it on her own. Friday night she came over for a process review session. ...and we spent several hours walking her through the procedure. She watched me handle Shelley's setup; then we walked her through her training kit; then we slowly worked her through her own setup, taking pages of notes along the way. Sunday evening she brought her notes over and we repeated the process, tweaking the notes and her skillset...

...because it was a case of not 'working with the tools' that was causing her problems. The little things that are so unconscious to those who do a process day in and day out are rarely translated to the Seven Step Manual of How to Do It. ...and unless the basics of the mechanics are mastered, the job becomes a most daunting task.

You have doubts??? Do you know how to solder? Do you have someone around who does not know how to solder? Someone good with tools? Take a moment and show them how to flow a clean joint. Better yet, plan on taking considerably more than the moment it would take you to do that joint. 'Cause you'll find you will need it.

...and if you take the time to detail out each step of the process, you'll find yourself with a few more lines on the paper than you thought you'd need when you took on that challenge. That's because the person who showed you how to do it verbalized quite a bit of information as they were working with you. ...and reviewed your work. ...and tested your skills.

It's that information that is hard to trap and get down on paper. ...because you literally have to capture each nuance of each step and document not only the procedure but the reason 'why' we do it this way.

But if you work on it, and take the time to capture the information, you'll find you'll not just have a procedure documented, you'll have a teaching tool that can be used over and over again to establish some consistency in how that process is handled.

...and with that, the work week begins.


I think we'll stay with Monday's topic for another day and massage it a little more. ...and I'll let The Three Johns lead the way:

Going with the leader on this topic, John Vogt checks in with a post and an email on the subject. John's post mentions the lack of craftsmen and familiarity with the tools needed to do the job correctly... Can we expand on that to the current mess with Code Red II? Who would you like running your network? Someone like Mssrs. Beland, Bilbrey or Bar? (No slights intended there; I was going for the alliteration<G>.) ...or the current crop of apparently unknowledgeable geeks whose corporate servers have been joining the personal zombies working over your firewall?

...and John kicks this in from an email:

Thanks, you got it right. The problem is further exacerbated by the "muscle memory" problem. I know how far to bend a contact so that I position it in the right location the first time. How do you teach the "effort" needed to puncture the skin with a needle?

...and that's exactly what we're talking about: If the manual exists, it's likely to say, "Adjust the contact with the contact tool.", never mentioning how to adjust the contact or even that the funny looking piece of steel with the slot cut in one end is the proper tool to use in this application. Trying to use that pair of needlenose in the top drawer simply guarantees a requisition from stores for another relay. It gets back to how the person is taught and if they even know about the tools needed to do the job properly.

...case in point from Monday: I was helping the head geek with my meat memory contribution to a telco re-wire he was working on. He mentioned how he didn't want to tone out that series of lines from the far end as he'd have to pull the wires off the keystone jacks to attach the tone generator. I asked him where the 'banjo' was that was in the telco kit (that tool allows you to plug into a standard RJ-11 jack and breaks out each of the three pair that are potentially there to brass bars that hold alligator clips rather nicely). No dice. No info. No workee... </sigh>

Know your tools and how to use them...

Then John Doucette checked in with:

Dan, I agree with your conclusion "But if you work on it, and take the time to capture the information, you'll find you'll not just have a procedure documented, you'll have a teaching tool that can be used over and over again to establish some consistency in how that process is handled." The problem I see I that few ever make the effort to do so. Or they documented a process for as the job was 5 years ago, and still try to follow it but the business has changed so much that the process is only partially relevant today.

...and I mentioned the household angle:

...and the home thing I alluded to: what happens if a partner dies and the household procedures are not documented? How does the mortgage get paid anyway??? ...or what size clothes do the kids wear?

To which:

The household documentation is one I doubt anyone thinks of. Sure there maybe a will to deal with an estate, and insurance to take care of money needs (being a stupid young bachelor I have neither). I know you are not alone in having a family member with medical issues, a young family and likely a dozen other things I can't think of. A simple list of doctors names, allergies, etc would be a great help I am sure.
Now I don't come from a close family so if I was given custody of my sisters kids I have no clue if the kids have allergies etc. A simple list in the file with the will and insurance papers would be of great help to relatives or social services in the case of a family tragedy.


...and I totally agree: What happens "If"?

To cap the Monday set, John Dominik checked in last night with a story of real world fuzziness meeting the world of computer absolutes. ...in probably the most demanding and sensitive area where human beings are concerned on the job: the paycheck.

I guess this just gets back the themes of "What if?" and "Always prepared". Do you have a contingency plan if you're out of position for some reason? Should you? ...or will things just continue to roll?

Just a thought or two...


A change of pace? Not really... While I was checking out product on a corporate shopping run yesterday, I heard someone calling for a doctor. Hmmm, not me; but perhaps I should drift over that way. Then another voice called out for medical assistance and yet another shouted for someone to call 911. Okay, that's good enough for a look. ...and a quick punch up of the dispatch center's back line on the way over.

It turned out one of the employees was just finishing a seizure. He was breathing okay and in that quiet state that occurs after a tonic-clonic seizure. One of the employees had witnessed the event series and helped him to the floor. Another customer was already with him and identified himself as an ex-EMT; he seemed be handling things well enough so I called our dispatch center to fill them in. ...and ran into process control!

I hadn't run across the latest version of the dispatch center's algorithms until then. The call taker on the other end didn't much care that her EMT instructor was on the line (except by her tone of voice); she had a series of questions to ask to determine the patient's status, make sure we were doing what we could for him; and confirm the correct mix of emergency equipment was started our way.

Process management... Done the same way each time... Nothing left out, nothing varied, nothing left to chance. Get the facts, get the equipment rolling, assist the people helping the patient. ...who happened to be an air conditioner repair guy and a purchasing dude...

Small world...


Well, good morning out there! Ready to start the workday by looking up a motherboard manual on the net? Why, sure; let's go for it. Hey, there's one right here in pdf format the we can just load and print out... Not!

Nope... Never again... Not without thinking about it first.

Yep, someone with a little too much time on their hands and a penchant for creativity (Bubble Boy and Life_Stages) has published a virus embedded in pdf files.

Sure, this particular 'proof of concept' (I just love that line!) only affects systems with the full Adobe Acrobat installation; but hey, I have the full boatload on Wolf (yes, still sleeping that cold sleep of a downed system, just waiting for the first lightning storm of the fall to be raised to the top of the tower to once again... Oh. ...sorry). Ahem. Anyway, I have Acrobat to allow me to put forms up on the web for the church site.

<sigh> As they mentioned, it's only a matter of time: I cannot see Acrobat Reader users not wanting to be able to run scripts and such from a pdf file. My, my, my; what won't we think of next...

Okay, Matt has one answer to that question in his Wednesday post.

...and regarding Code Red and the legion of unknowing vector hosts out there, at least one of the major providers of petri dishes for the incubation of virii on unprotected servers is attempting to throw some bleach into the media: AT&T is blocking access to residential web servers. Interesting...

...also interesting is the Chinese spread. That count seems a little odd to me...

Enough of that... John's gonna' be a grandpa again!


Back on track with this week's topic... JHR mailed in yesterday morning with:

Where are the 'prentices? Where are the resulting journeymen/persons?

Why should it be necessary to detail each and every step in each and every subroutine?

What are the various "Certified Engineers" learning, if anything?

Exactly. Check out John Vogt's post from Thursday; he's trying to get the knowledge back into muscle memory for at least some of his people.

...and that gets back to the detailed manuals: if we lose the trainers, either through attrition (in all its forms) or unexpectedly, we lose the continuity. ...or we may lose continuity through the fallacy that one person who knows it well can train someone else who can train someone else who can......

The problem there is that each level has to be able to not only learn the procedure, but work with the procedure enough to discover the gotcha' or two that will inevitably come along. ...and be able to check back with their trainer or refer to the manual. If that doesn't happen, the training sequence over the years can become very diluted with a 'trained' employee who doesn't have much time in grade training another newbie who trains another newbie with none of them really 'learning' the job or having a reference to fall back on.

...and that reference may be the only thing that keeps your firm afloat: if certain elements are codified, hopefully your critical functions will not be missed. That was the point the other day when I mentioned the dispatch protocols: we do every thing we can to ensure the patient receives the best and most appropriate care possible, even before our people get to the scene. Listening to a dispatch tape where the dispatcher is teaching CPR over the phone, or walking into a house where phone-taught CPR is in progress on a patient is a most sobering experience. Sure, there's some wiggle room once the basics are taken care of, but the basics need to be handled first...

Speaking of basics. ...and processes. Do you have a need for cold one now and again? Do you have a propane tank for your grill? How about a spare turbocharger? (I'm sure Dan the first has one...) Well now, you're pretty much on your way to having the components needed to use a jet engine to cool your beer! From just off to the side of The Land Down Under: The World's First Jet Powered Beer Cooler!

That will get one or two of you tinkering this weekend...


...and the beat goes on. From Mike Barkman:

Hi Dan ...

A wonderful, moving tribute to the ingenuity of us kiwi jokers. Obviously it's only a matter of time before he presses it into service for over-clocking.

Your observation on the vanished apprentice strikes a chord here. About ten years ago, the Gummint (for obscure reasons at the time, but which later proved to be straight budget cutting), stopped funding a myriad of small schemes for encouraging tradesmen to take on apprentices; at the same time switching polytechnic funding away from grubby artificer instruction and into more refined avenues. The sequel, 10 years down the track, is a surfeit of chartered accountants and the like -- and a drought of plumbers, chippies, electricians etc, as the older ones finally got fed up with crawling under houses or working up ladders in cold rain. No young ones to take over.

A lesson learned dearly; and suddenly tradesmen are implored to think about taking on a trainee...

Cheers ... /Mike

Pay me now or pay me later... There's a reason our employee orientations (not the medical training, that's completed before we get them; the company training) have moved from a pure field situation into a two week block of classroom time. Then we cut them loose with a senior crewman and pull a field evaluation in another few weeks. Quite a change from the old days when we just hooked a new hire up with an old hire and let them work together for a while...

Oh, and this just won't work at all...

        Nope, not a chance.

Not even...      

But I am hoping it's not cloudy that evening<g>!

...and I do have my laser pointer from teaching.


At the beach... That probably says it all...

But you know me better than that:

Of course there's a project or two to work on during inside times.

...and for those of you who follow the gospel of Jakob, here's your link to the Making the Web safe for Mediocrity desktop wallpaper (thanks, Eric).

Have a good one!

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