Break down tasks

Get people up to speed and avoid mistakes

August 6, 2015   by Hugh Alley

Sub-tasks teach employees faster and make them more efficient. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Sub-tasks teach employees faster and make them more efficient. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

I need a new engineer in my plant. She’ll know the core engineering stuff but odds are, even if she has worked in this industry, she won’t know the details of how things get done here. How do I get her up to speed quickly, without her making lots of expensive mistakes?

By breaking the tasks down to small, manageable bites.

Preparing a quote that involves reverse engineering a part might have several smaller tasks such as: measure as-is item; record critical measures; correct any identified flaws in the sample; validate measurements against a knowledge-base; create a solid model; apply standard tolerances… and so on.

With a more detailed view, you will easily determine whether someone already has the skills to do a sub-task. This has three direct advantages:


• Training time is more efficient.
• As sub-tasks are learned, the new employee is handed productive work without having to know the whole procedure.
• Once the trainee can do some of the sub-tasks, the most skilled person is freed.

In a recent case, the manager broke a job down into more than 50 discrete tasks ranging from specifics using the ERP system to handling a customer’s inquiry. At first blush it all seemed overwhelming, but since a new person would have to learn all these tasks one way or another, the value of listing them was clear. The manager could choose which tasks to teach first. Other tasks could build on established skills. And in each case, the manager knew the new employee would do the job correctly.
When someone moves into a new job, ask yourself a few questions:

• What tasks must be learned?
• Which ones do I expect the new person to do on arrival, and which ones require instruction?
• Which ones should be taught first so the person can become productive quickly?
• Which ones are consistent sources of error that need more attention?
• Are there tasks that rely more on experience?

The answers will help shape a training plan that prepares new employees to become productive faster.

Hugh Alley is operations manager of Westcan Industries, an industrial pump services provider in Port Coquitlam, BC. Previously he was president of First Line Training Inc. Call (604) 866-1502.

This article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of PLANT.

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Business Operations General Operations Production Manufacturing engineering manufacturing training

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