Around the block

In my project for fictionally-named Oban Industries, I’ve produced pages of drafts, many filled with placeholders and questions.

Not exactly the best-laid plans…Usually I don’t mind those Ps and Qs; they’re part of the process.  For Oban, I’m working with manufacturing-plant standard operating procedures.  My job is to write on-the-job training guides covering groups of related SOPs.

Eventually, trainers on various work teams will use the OJT guides to train or cross-train team members.

The placeholders and questions arise because I don’t grasp the details or the significance of the source material.  Even if Oban’s instructions say that someone in job category X should practice skills related to SOP Y, I can’t tell what specific skills or to what level.  And so far I’ve gotten very little feedback to fill in those gaps.

After a fair amount of grumbling to myself, I think I’ve found away to overcome this roadblock.

My main contact at Oban, whom I’ll call Margo, has many projects going, including a pending move to a new job. She naturally wants a schedule as soon as possible.  At the same time, she’s not a subject-matter expert, and I’ve only gotten one hour with an expert, plus two emails so far.

Nancy, my partner on the project, is working on a different cluster of SOPs.  She has more experience with Oban and isn’t optimistic about our getting more useful feedback quickly.  So I’ve felt conflicted — I don’t mind producing some material with placeholders and questions, but I feel… sheepish, maybe… about pages of it.  And I’ve balked at trying to build a schedule when I have no idea how long something will take.

In an email, Nancy reminded me of the pressure that Margo’s under.  Margo and her peers are clearly overworked.  They rarely have the luxury of stepping back to see if there’s a different way to organize their work or the way they go about it.

Margo would like to provide the feedback Nancy and I need, but Margo’s not the person to do that, and has only indirect influence over those who do.

So I’m finally shifting focus from my problem (“not enough feedback”) to one of Margo’s problems: how to make a good case to the groups that will end up using the OJTs.  I’m building a worksheet to track progress on the OJTs, but it’ll reflect the stages in the project.  Something like milestones for:

  • Initial version produced (my task)
  • Initial version reviewed (Oban’s)
  • Second version produced (my task, incorporating the feedback)
  • Second version reviewed (Oban’s task, checking to make sure I got everything in)
  • Final produced (me again: here you go, guys)

You could make the case for milestones to cover a tryout period and a review once the OJT has been tried out, but that’s probably version two of this tracking system.

Sometimes a block is more than a block.I suppose I “ought to” have had this insight earlier — look at my needs in terms of my client’s needs — but I didn’t.  Maybe I was hung up on appearing unhelpful because my drafts, at least in places, had lots more questions than answers.

I might be able to make educated guesses at some of the answers.  Some SOPs are straightforward, so I can set down what I think are the key objectives, and I’m happy for a subject-matter expert to show where I might have gone wrong.

Still, sometimes I know what I don’t know, and I didn’t want to simply make up stuff.  All I could see, until my exchange with Nancy, was stumbling blocks.

Now I’ve going something to build with those blocks. I’m hoping an easy-to-use schedule that highlights the exchange between me and my client (I do this, then you do that) helps strengthen the partnership and produces the results we both want.

Oban communication, if you will…