Is Documenting Your OJT Methodology Worth It?

The short answer is yes!  In this blog post, I intend to share with you how I came to this answer and to make the case for you to also say yes.  I will also explore the challenges of documenting OJT as promised in a previous blog post.

Years ago, during the Qualified Trainers (QT) workshop, I would ask QTs the following two questions:

  • What is OJT?
  • How do you deliver OJT?

Invariably, all would answer the first question the same way: on the job training.  And then I would ask the attendees to form into groups to discuss the second question among fellow peers.  I purposely mixed the groups so that there was equal representation of manufacturing trainers and QC analytical laboratory trainers and a fascinating exchange occurred between the attendees.  During the debriefing activity, we learned that there was a lot of variability in how the trainers were conducting OJT.  How can that be when they all answered the first question so consistently? “Well”, one of them said, “we don’t have a procedure on it so I just go about it the way I think it should be done.  I’ve had success so far, so I keep on doing what I’ve done in the past.”

How many ways is there to train on this procedure?

In the blog post, “When SMEs have too much secret sauce”, I share the story about a Director of Operations who had to find out from an FDA Investigator, that his SMEs were teaching techniques for a critical process procedure that 1) were not written down nor were they approved (aka their secret sauce) and 2) were not at all consistent with each other.  Which lead to a FD-483 observation, a high visibility corrective action project with global impact and a phone call to HPISC.

In order to get consistent OJT, you need to define the process and you need to approve the content from which QTs will be using to deliver OJT.  I’m not proposing a cookie cutter approach for QTs to become all the same.  I am advocating a clear distinction between each step / stage / phase so that both the learner and the QT know exactly where they are in the process, what is expected of them in that step and why it is needed.  This is no longer just go follow Joe or Jane around which is how traditional OJT happened in the past.  

Declaring your OJT Model

I’m less focused on what you call these steps or how many there are.   I am looking to see how these steps move a new hire along the journey to becoming qualified prior to being released to task.  For me, this is what makes OJT really structured.  And that model needs to be captured in a standard operating procedure or embedded in a training procedure so that all employees are informed and aware of how they will receive their OJT.  The last step has to include the final evaluation of performance, not to be confused with demonstrating proficiency as in practice sessions. 

How many times does a learner have to practice an SOP before s/he is ready for the qualification event (Q-Event)? 

The nature of the SOP or the complexity of the task at hand determines this.  But, how do I proceduralize that, you ask?  It starts by not arbitrarily picking the magic number 3.  I have engaged in countless discussions regarding the exhaustive list of exceptions to forcing the rule of 3 times to practice.  And some QT’s will argue for more than 3 sessions especially when the procedure is so infrequently performed.  It’s not about the number of times, folks. 

Documenting OJT sessions presents a challenge for many trainers and document control staff.  Are we required to capture every OJT session or just one?  What is considered an OJT session?  My favorite lament is – “Do you know what that will do to our database not to mention the amount of paperwork that would create!” A workaround to all these questions and concerns is to capture at least one session along the progression of each OJT step as per the OJT Model, thus documenting adherence to the procedure.  For example, the first step is to Read SOP 123456.  As mentioned in other HPISC blogs and white papers, we are pretty good at this already.  Then, the next step is to discuss / introduce the SOP, so capture when that discussion occurred if it’s different from Step 1 READ.  The “trainer demonstrates” portion can also be captured.  Where it gets tricky is when we ask the learner to demonstrate and practice.  Why not capture the last instance when it is confirmed the learner is ready to qualify?  If we keep it simple and document that our learners have experienced each step /stage, then we are complying with our OJT methodology and minimally documenting their OJT progression.

Is one qualification session enough to pass?

At some point in these documentation discussions, we have to let the QT evaluate the outcome of the learner’s demonstration(s).  Does the performance meet “business as usual” expectations?  If it does, the learner is ready to qualify in order to perform independently.  If not, feedback is provided and the learner undergoes more practice.  How many times is enough? Until both the learner and the QT are confident that s/he is not going to have an operator error deviation a week after going solo.  The QT is ultimately the one who has to assess progress and determine that “with a few more sessions”, my learner will get this or no, s/he may never get it and it’s time to have a discussion with the supervisor.

How do you know if someone is qualified to perform task?

Ideally, the answer would be because we can look it up in our LMS history.  And that of course depends on how well the critical steps and behaviors are captured in the documentation tool. The tool is supposed to help the QT be as objective as possible and consistently evaluate performance as demonstrated. In the article, “A Better Way to Measure Soft Skills”, author Judith Hale explains the difference between a checklist and a rubric.

            “Checklists only record whether a behavior occurred, though, and not the quality of the behavior.  Rubrics, on the other hand, measure how well the learner executed the behavior.”  p. 62.

Yes, but was it tolerable, adequate or exemplary?

What I typically see are checklists with varying levels of tasks, steps and/or behaviors with a column for Yes, No and Comments.  What I don’t see is a column to mark how well the learner performed!  Is it enough to mark Yes or No for each item since most Q Events are Pass or “needs more practice”?  Maybe.  But consider the following situation.  A human error deviation has occurred and the LMS indicates the technician has earned qualified status.  The document used to qualify this individual shows all Yeses.  Yes s/he was able to demonstrate the step, critical task, and/or behavior, but what we don’t know is how well?  Are we to assume that No means “No, not at all” and Yes means performed “Well” or it is “As Expected” or “Adequate” or maybe in this case it was “Sort of”? 

An additional column describing what it means to score low, medium, high or in our situation: Poor, Adequate, As Expected, and even Exemplar could provide much needed insight for the root cause analysis and investigation that will follow this deviation.  It provides a level of detail about the performance that goes beyond Yes, No, or Comment.  In most checklists I’ve reviewed, the comments column is hardly ever used.

In future posts, I will blog about what the QT signature means.  Until then, is documenting your OJT methodology worth it?  What is your answer? – VB  

Hale,JA Better Way to Measure Soft Skills, TD, ATD, August, 2018, pps. 61-64.

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