“A solution must reach the level of unconscious application to truly achieve results”

My job involves making sure that plant floor technologies are adopted and embraced by front line operators and production personnel. A new reality, born in the Covid era, is forcing us all to think differently about the development and the deployment of industrial automation solutions.

For example, post project user training and orientation activities that previously occurred on-premises are now often happening remotely. Originally of course, this was driven by necessity of the pandemic, but now many teams are maintaining this approach for cost & convenience. Once a technical automation solution has been developed it must be handed over to the end users and incorporated into their workday routines in order to gain any benefits. The new technology must become so integrated and ingrained in the plant standard work process that it is no longer a conscious decision to use it. It must be a new element of the organization’s collective behavior and reach the level of unconscious application to truly achieve desired results.

So, how does a conscious learning activity of acquiring knowledge and skills magically transform into the new unconscious way of doing routine work? Can it be done remotely? Traditionally, direct instructor interaction was a key part of this process. I would lead a series of workshops and training sessions followed by one on one coaching and on-the-job follow-up. This repetitive  hands-on interaction and classroom group dynamic supported most users during their learning journey. The goal is always to move users from understanding to mechanical usage, and ultimately unconscious adoption. Successfully navigating this process remotely is possible but involves additional challenges, and as a result some new techniques.

Motivation is the foundation in a conscious learning process. The first step is to help the end users understand the benefits associated with any new technical solution. All too often the end users have limited, if any, knowledge, or awareness of why the project was commissioned and what change is coming. They have not been actively involved in design or validation activities. So of course, they are thinking, “the way I have been doing my job currently works, so why change?” Ideally, users would be involved earlier. But if they were not, all is not lost. These objections can be addressed with a detailed, comprehensive communication plan. Getting relevant information about why the changes are being made and the benefits that are expected to accrue is critical. For remote learning, that content can be delivered in advance of group virtual workshops. The more knowledgeable the attendees are the less time will be spent establishing the reasons for the solution or the training and more time for actual instruction. The unasked questions need to be identified and addressed. This communication is vital before any real training can begin since all attendees must be actively engaged in the learning process. The attendees need to want to acquire the skills and knowledge.

Next, we move to understanding the mechanics. The classroom training emphasizes conscious learning by engaging the attendees in bite size modules with spaced repetition and reinforcement. This involves both overviews of functionality and tasks combined with hands-on practice. Attendees learn the why, what and how of each piece of new functionality. Then we quickly move to actively interact with the solution based on their roles and responsibilities. This hands-on segment should be open and dynamic allowing for an interactive discourse between instructor and attendees. A demonstration of skills either thru a virtual walk-thru of activities by the attendees in front of their peers or a quiz is important to determine the success of knowledge transfer and identify deficiencies that should be corrected. A point to emphasize is that since the workshop training focuses on each attendee’s direct interaction with the solution, unconscious learning is starting to take place. We are starting to transfer the trigger processes from the current operating practices to the new requirements. At this juncture, unconscious learning should be occurring in the background and new operating routines are beginning to be ingrained as the normal operating practices.

As I said before, remote learning has many advantages but an additional challenge with any remote learning is getting and keeping the attendees engaged. A PowerPoint slide presentation is not an engaging or effective training method. Watching how a solution functions remotely should only be used as a backdrop for hands-on activities. Remember, the attendees could have their attention focused on non-training material/activities and not really be paying attention. In an in-person classroom environment this could be controlled to a certain extent, but not remotely. We, at InSource, are often working with clients to replace paper-based systems with digital solutions. Now, for example, instead of writing information down on a log-sheet or center-line report, operators will be required to capture it digitally. Often this requires logging-in and keeping portable digital devices charged and in working order. Non application changes like these also need to be covered as part of the adoption training. Repetition build familiarity. This digital capture of information needs to be embraced and empowering for the attendee once they return to the production floor.

Finally, to cement the unconscious learning, the demonstration of the newly acquired skills should occur in the actual work environment. The new skill proficiency can be observed and coached by properly trained supervision. A method to enable the supervisor to have the ability and confidence to do this activity is to conduct these initial observations virtually. By recording the targeted event on the shop floor, the supervisor can then evaluate and critique the activity with the instructor’s coaching and support. This process transfers these skills to the supervisor and they become a part of on-going reinforcement. The unconscious element of the learning is dependent on the preceding process and is demonstrated by the spontaneous behavior of the operator using the established process triggers that a properly trained supervisor can observe.

Deploying a successful technical solution has always been challenging. Now, there are a few more techniques to consider. But as always, it is the integration of People, Process, and Technology that leads to Disciplined Execution and ultimately, Adoption. Today, that process can take place effectively in person or remotely. We have the knowledge and experience to provide support on your improvement journey. Contact us for your next technology solution or to salvage a struggling one. We can help.

To learn more about InSource Technology Adoption services, contact us here.