Black, white, and read — all over

I recently went through a contractor orientation session for a client I’ll call Oban Industries (because that’s nothing like their name, and because they’re not in Oban).

Four of us showed up at the local community college at 7:30 a.m., where the instructor told us to plan on a two-hour session. I glanced at the display screen where the slide show was cued up, and I saw:

1/ 105

Sweet mother of pearl: 105 slides for two hours?

Yes. In fact, we took less that two hours, and there weren’t any slides during the four assessments (quizzes on sections of the material), nor during the final assessment.

And, as I feared, the instructor read each slide. Virtually word for word. With no variation, expansion, or enhancement.

I could pick at minor defects — the layout didn’t always make the key points easy to grasp, the capitalization was Highly Inconsistent, that sort of thing.

On the other thing, this is a major manufacturing facility. Oban’s plant has a number of buildings organized around a few product lines, and the nature of the products is such that if you’re in the Iliad area today, you can’t enter any of the Odyssey area until tomorrow. Fences, passes, signs, and security help to control this.

And so a major focus of the training was to make clear what Oban expects of someone like me. Things like:

  • Oban writes dates European-style, spelling out the month: 19 March 07, not 3/19/07 and not 19/3/07.
  • If you sign or initial any document, you’re stating that you’ve read it, understand it, and have complied with any of its requirements or statements. (If it says you saw 2 liters of ingredient X added to product Y, then you’re saying, “yeah, I saw that.”
  • Pay attention to signs and security. If you don’t have specific business in some area, stay out of it.
  • If as a contractor you’re asked to work in a new area, check about requirements for things like protective clothing or restrictions on access to other parts of the palnt.

If you make an error in completing some document, you follow a specific procedure:

  • Draw a single line through the error (so it’s still legible).
  • Enter the correct information.
  • Add a notation explaining the error and correction.
  • Include your initials and the date with the notation.

None of this will surprise anyone who’s working in a manufacturing plant. Oban, like any successful company, has an extensive set of standard operating procedures. The manufacturing process — and the processes that support it — aim at delivering products that are safe, effective, and consistent in their quality.

I’m deliberating not stating what Oban’s business is. That doesn’t really matter. One point that does matter, at least to me, is how different Oban is from what might be the more internet-dependent world of free-form organization, open-source, innovative, entrepreneurial activity. Not that Oban isn’t innovative, but some of its products must meet strict outside standards. Not that Oban isn’t entrepreneurial, but the nature of its manufacturing work means that you can’t transform something overnight.

Instead you work within a nexus of procedures, documentation, reviews, updates, tracking of dissemination.

To conclude this post, I don’t have any great moral or insight. The small one might be that I’m glad I didn’t get too judgmental about having slides read to me. I could think of other ways to handle the orientation, but I’m not sure how vast an improvement they’d be. And I understand more about the larger milieu in which Oban has to work. So, not a bad session.

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