Many years ago (or so it seems) I wrote a piece for TR that explained how I ended up working in the field.  (Sadly, the reason still exists. )


The first time I saw a PC it was a bit of a novelty. It was an IBM twin five-inch floppy unit with no hard disk. We used it to maintain a list of lost or stolen bank books, and each morning we had to load the OS, load the list, and go through each item to see if it was still current, add in new details, and then print a copy for each counter position.

This wasn’t terribly challenging, but remember, there was no GUI, no training, and back in those days few people had seen a PC in the workplace. The instructions for completing the task were written out as bullet points on a piece of cardboard from a shirt box. If you missed one, you were on your own.

I recently saw one of our paper-handling machines at a customer’s site. On the wall behind it was a familiar object: a cardboard stiffener from some shirt packaging with the procedures for using the machine listed on it. Behind it was another piece of cardboard showing the month-end procedures for supplying accounting data to the finance department.

These instructions are carefully written in single steps to allow anyone to complete the exercise, but they are lacking in any kind of trouble-shooting capability. Thus, if you stray from the set list or hit a button by mistake, it is often difficult to get back to where you need to be. A little knowledge of the equipment is all that is needed to use it more intelligently, and I am often called out to deal with a minor problem that could have been resolved with a small amount of knowledge.

Whenever this happens now, if I am able, I get the people involved to gather round and I run a small training session in the hope that next time it happens, I can avoid a visit. A training session allows me to see who are the potential power users who I can talk through future problems and who are the potential “fiddlers” who like to try changing settings and sometimes end up putting equipment out of action through curiosity. A simple thing like explaining the function of a particular button or menu can give enough understanding to the operator to allow him or her to correct the mistake, rather than having to wait for assistance.

There are two ways to end this practice. One would be to contact all the manufacturers of shirts in the world and get them to stop using cardboard in their packaging. The other would be to ensure that every person who is involved with the equipment is shown as much as needed to operate it safely and efficiently.