Sunday, November 24, 2013

Getting Family Members to Work - Work Instructions

Work Instructions - Not Just At The Plant

Follow the Work Instruction

In my manufacturing career, at a variety of different companies, there is one common element - Work Instructions. Whenever there is a series of steps that an operator must follow to make something, in a properly managed company the steps are clearly documented, in a controlled document. Documenting this ensures that everyone, on every shift, at every machine, makes their product in the same way. Without this consistency, you won't have consistent product. Having these documents also ensures that new hires have step-by-step instructions to follow and are all trained on the exact same procedure.

So Work Instructions ensure that multiple people can do the same task, at the same quality, often just by reading and following the steps.

Large companies I've worked with do this either with a centralized network drive with MS Office documents on it (usually read/write access being restricted to the Quality group) or through an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system like SAP. These giant computer systems, store documents on what materials are needed (Bill of Material - BOM), how do we combine/use them (Master Recipe) and what recipes are used with what ingredients, on what equipment (Production Version).

What If You Want Someone to Do a Task, They Rarely Do?

Most of us, myself included, dislike doing things that we aren't very good at. If someone asks you do something you don't know much about you may become anxious, and refuse. At my home, this often applies to cooking. I very much enjoy cooking and preparing food to be cooked, but easily become uncomfortable when asked to make something I've never done before. Often, my wife does the cooking, so the recipes that I do remember, fade from memory. After a long day at work, arriving home tired and hungry, it's hard to think but easy to follow instructions.

I alluded to this slightly in a previous article, Paper, is it worth another look? - In the kitchen, but we've found the solution to engaging a family member to cook, when they want to help but feel anxious about it, is by providing instructions. Providing clearly written instructions, custom tailored to the exact audience, eliminates anxiety and let's the other family member be productive.

We have had great success with this, by storing a list of recipes in a shared Google Documents folder. For the novice cook (me), this folder is the single place to go to for known good recipes. By having one single place to go, there is no need to determine which cook book, or where a recipe might be. By having the recipes shared in a Google Document, they can easily be edited or annotated should instructions need to be broken down further or changed in any way. Printing these "Work Instructions" out, and bringing them into the kitchen, I'm empowered to create a magnificent meal.

A list of a few of our recipes follows:

The following are some of the best practices I've observed when writing recipes for a FindingOptimal type:

  1. List all ingredients first, ideally listing items that are used/added together next to each other on the list.
  2. With the list of ingredients, include any initial preparation steps that are required (ie. peel, chop, dice, etc.)
  3. Add in any chance to pre-weigh any dry or wet ingredients together that are mixed at the same time. It's handy to have all spices in one bowl/cup that can be tossed in at once when needed, rather than fuss about with many smaller measuring implements.
  4. When listing the actual recipe steps, insert a new line after each step that requires waiting or time to complete. Without doing this, you may (or at least I have) jump to the next line after completing the "long" part of this step, neglecting the trailing end part of it. For example, having:"Simmer for 10 minutes" on the same line as "Stir in the salsa" may cause you to skip to the next line when you come back after 10 minutes.
  5. If there are special, custom things to making this at your house, why not write them into the recipe? For example, I edited a lasagna recipe to say:  "In the 2nd largest pot we have, heat pot and add oil" and later "add 9 noodles into largest pan, do not break". When I first prepared the recipe, I misjudged which pot to use, but now with these detailed instructions that won't happen again.

Other Applications?

Are there other applications to this? Are there chores, that only one family member does because that individual knows how to do it and others don't? Is this really because that family member has highly developed skills that others don't? Or could simply documenting the steps allow anyone to do it, and allow delegating it to any family member? Would this work with children? Isn't this a better test of their functional literacy than anything else?

Other ideas that come up include:
  1. Simple automobile maintenance
  2. Periodic larger household cleaning tasks (gutters, windows, etc.)
  3. Pool maintenance
  4. Yardwork, etc.
  5. Laundry, including the finer points you're picky about: separating, when to add softner, etc. 
  6. How to load the dishwasher, since most people seem to have some exact way they want it done

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lessons From Industry - Rolling Blackouts

This article was originally written in the summer but has sat in my drafts...

Last week was the 10th anniversary of the great black of 2003. So this week, we're taking a strategy from the electricity industry, and applying it my personal life.

Rolling Blackouts - When There's Not Enough To Go Around

Wikipeida Defines a Rolling Blackout as follows:
A rolling blackout, also referred to as load shedding, is an intentionally engineered electrical power shutdown where electricity delivery is stopped for non-overlapping periods of time over different parts of the distribution region.
When there's not enough power to supply the system, power companies will do this. Another option is to lower the voltage, or what's called a brown out. Think of lowering the voltage as the power company still supplies everyone but spreads out the power, so it's weaker. The problem with brown-outs is many electrical devices only work when the power is at normal voltage (or "regular strength"), a brown out can cause machines to stop working or even damage them.

So, a rolling blackout is a useful strategy if you don't have enough of a resource to do everything, but when you do assign the resource somewhere, it's better to use all of it, some of the time, than spread it around.

At Home: All of a resource, some of the time?

There are numerous examples at home where this might work.

Instead of spreading your Christmas present budget around amongst all family member, you could only buy one present for one family member. Every year, one person receives one really good present instead of everyone receiving a mediocre present.

If you give to charity, why not make one big donation to one charity rather than spread it around to many little charities? Giving one large donation in one year versus spreading smaller donations out across multiple years in Canada has tax advantages.  Since in 2013,  the tax credit is 15% on the first $200 and 29% on the amount over $200.

Rather than having children share a common resource (video game system, TV, family car), why not give them assigned blocks of time that they are allowed exclusive use of it. This way instead of either of them getting a partial share of the action, they each get their own time at full power, with no squabbling and clear access rights. By scheduling this time (like a scheduled blackout), each family member can schedule themselves to make most efficient use of their allotted time. We don't have children now, can any parents tend to comment?

What about vacations? Is it better to take one big vacation every 2 years? Or every 5 years? Rather than smaller vacations more frequently. How memorable have your smaller vacations truly been?

These are just a few examples, can you think of any?