Kaizen and Digitized Video Structured OJT

I looked up kaizen in the Romanized English-Japanese Japanese-English Dictionary by Dr Morio Takahashi, Taiseido Shobo Company, Tokyo Japan. Dr Takahashi gives the English words improvement; betterment; a change for the better.

Words in the dictionary that have the same root are: kaizo = reconstruction, rebuilding, reorganization; kaishu = repair, improvement; kaishun = repentance; kaisei = revision, amendment, reform, alteration; kaisei = change your family name; and rather astonishingly, kaisatsu = the examination, punching and collecting of printed tickets, e.g. railroad tickets (insatsu means printing, whether its tickets or anything else.)

You get the idea. Kaizen just means improvement. In English, we can say "an improvement," as in "that's an improvement" or "that'd be an improvement"; or we can speak about making "improvements", which is generally better yet than just one improvement or a little bit of improvement. But when we start talking about "improvement" in general, or "Improving things around here," that's generally pretty serious talk. Something's gonna change, probably bigtime. Why? Because Japanese takes a longer view of most words. So when you say "kaizen" in Japanese, the "tsuzukete" part is pretty much understood. Of course improvement is continued or continuous or continual. If it were just a short term thing, it would be just a fix. After a lot of work and a substantial investment in the system that had broken, and a lot of thought and many meetings, and a system in place to assure its continued performance, a Japanese speaker would report that there was improvement.

That's where the Japanese system of OJT comes in. When my wife, Professor Clair Brown of the Univ of California Economics Department, went to Japan to study Japanese manufacturing practices, she noticed that the line workers wear badges with quadrants. The first quadrant is a novice; the second quadrant is a worker who can work with supervision; the third quadrant is a worker who can work without supervision; and the fourth quadrant is someone who's qualified to train others, on specific tasks. (A big part of Structured OJT/kaizen is havng a directory of tasks. A power plant probably already has done this task analysis. If not, it will arise naturally from the routine naming of movie files, a natural benefit of using any digital media.) A young worker is assigned to one of these fourth quadrant sensei and the older worker is then responsible for his development, both as a worker and as a person.

When my wife asked what the deal was with the badges, the workers (who generally don't speak much English, although they can read and write English just fine) said, "OJT", pronounced as a Japanese word, kind of oh'-jay-tee. When the time came to write up the results of their research, the researchers needed a way to report, in English, on the Japanese practice of instructing workers through daily experience with an older teacher, and the older teacher was responsible for keeping track of the younger worker's improvement on specific tasks, and on doing "intelligent work."

The researchers called these Japanese practices Structured OJT. They were trying to differentiate it from American OJT, which is totally unstructured. In fact, the researchers had usually referred to the American practices as "haphazard OJT" or "half-assed OJT" in discussions amongst themselves, but for purposes of publication they referred to US practices as "unstructured OJT". The term "unstructured OJT" has not caught on, by and large. The term "Structured OJT" has caught on a lot. It gets used both by a lot of folks who use it correctly, referring to a situation that has a plan for training and specified times for training on specified tasks at the workplace during work hours; and by other folks who think it means something like "train-the-trainer", or some procedure conducted by someone other than sempai or sensei, and not "on the line" at the plant.

But just like "kaizen tsuzukete," the phrase "structured OJT" sounds strange if you say it with a Japanese accent. Of course its structured. Everything's structured.

What we've got with FrogOJT digitized videos is a structure. The structure is built in to the instructional materials. It's deployed right on the job, just like the fourth quadrant older worker is. But speaking as the person who invented this system, it seems to me it has all the advantages of the Japanese system of structured OJT; none of the disadvantages of the American lack-of-a-system for OJT; and it's got the great advantage of being digital. (N.B. Wal-Mart Stores independently discovered digitized video skill acquisition and has been using it since 1992. I have not unearthed any other organization which has done so; this is just fine with Wal-Mart, who will readily tell you that it's the "secret" of their success, and that their competitors are so far behind that "They'll never catch on, and they'll never catch up." -- personal communication from Herb Harper, Mgr of Info Strategies, Wal-Mart Stores in Bentonville Arkansas.) Digital information has a way of reorganizing the information that surrounds it. The benefits of going digital can't usually even be foreseen. By this time, though, we've come to take it for granted that there will be benefits. I can easily point to one benefit of using the digital system: The demo'ing is done not just by the sempai, or senior worker; it's done by jukuren-ko, a totally dedicated expert worker, a person devoted to his work, who will demo his skills infinitely and repetitively. And the other universal benefit of most any digital system: It's faster. That is ironic, for something that I just said was continuous, or long term, in nature. But then again, faster better cheaper is ironic, always, and we are used to that by now.

What you'll get from our digitized video system of kaizen is that an employer will be able to assign mentors; and the mentors will just have to be mentors, not demonstrators, and not low-level instructors. The workers will get to see as many reps as they want of any technique. Watching short videos is interesting, even after the novelty wears off. These workers will get to watch themselves, or people just like them; they'll be stars. There will be a structure for improvement, and for making continual improvements. Because movies like these are cheap enough and easy enough to make, they can always be changed to make them better; and to reflect any improvements in job practice. For changes that don't affect the way you physically do the job, you can change the text track without even using a camera. And that all-important issue of version control, of only having one approved version in the hands of users, becomes a non-issue. No problem. You can change the information, but you can only change the information with proper approval -- a password/permission.

Skill Acquisition and Skill Development through repetitive digitized video represents a long term way of thinking. Very zen; kai-zen, honto ni. It's an improvement on the method of institutionalizing improvements. And as our methods and understanding of digitized video improve, our deployment of digitized video for Skill Development will improve right along with it, the second derivative of kaizen.


A note on this topic:


I put the WSJ article about Westinghouse Air Brake Co. up on the FrogOJT webpage mostly as an example of what not to do for OJT, of what's perhaps not so right with American OJT. My impression was that the new worker's experiences were somewhat hellish. I thought at the time, and I think now, that Westinghouse could make a few short movies of the steps in their fabrication procedures; and their learning curve would steepen quite a bit. It was remarkable that the mentor relationship between the inexperienced worker and the older worker developed despite the rocky road they travelled together, with language difficulties, and the older man punching the student in the arm due to culturally derived differences about what's okay to do as a teacher. Note that in Japan, where kaizen is naturally a part of the language, everybody is Japanese. rk

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