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Training without a Trainer – Designing Fool-proof Job Aids

When someone can learn how to do something without having to complete a training course, it saves them time. It saves you time. Everyone is happy. Unless it’s done poorly. Then it’s just frustrating. Unless, of course, you design fool-proof job aids.

Last week I wrote about how our IT guy devised a way to reduce the amount of “help” calls and emails he received simply by putting two photos on the LCD projector in our conference room. It turns out, this idea was actually the brainchild of our office manager, not our IT guy – this goes to show that learning can come from anyone and happen anywhere. It goes back to the idea that 70% of learning doesn’t happen through a training course or an elearning course or even through conversations with a manager or mentor… it happens on the job.

What Doesn’t a Fool-Proof Job Aid Look Like?

And this sort of “on the job training” can be all around us – at work and in life in general. This past weekend I went Christmas shopping with my 3-year-old son and when I went to pay for parking, I used this machine:

Training without a Trainer (2)

You put the ticket for parking in the slot with the arrows, and you put it in so that the metallic strip is up and on the right side. All of these instructions are very visual and easy to read.

Then I had to pay. As long as you can read English, you’ll know from the big letters at the top of the machine that this machine only takes credit cards. The visual images of the cards along the right side of the machine also helps make this point.

I stuck my credit card in the slot, and the machine, after seeming to chew on it for a few seconds, spit my card out and told me it wasn’t readable. So I tried inserting it another way. More chewing, then the card was again ejected with the same message. As the line of Christmas shoppers queued up behind me, waiting less and less patiently for their turn, and as my 3-year-old kept running away from me and toward an open elevator door as I tried to figure this machine out, my embarrassment (and frustration) began to mount.

Then I looked for some sort of fine print on the machine. Perhaps you can find it too. Along the right side of the machine. Underneath where it says “Credit Card”. I realized I had to slide my card into the machine upside down.

Fool-proof Job Aids are Visual, Intuitive and Obvious

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick at the Maverick Institute, recently wrote about this with several other examples of creating everything to be visual, intuitive and obvious. Perhaps the way I should have slipped my credit card into the machine should have been obvious, since the parking ticket needed to be inserted with the metallic strip facing up. But I’m just used to sliding a credit card through a machine with the logo side up, anything else seems counter-intuitive to me.

Herein is the lesson for anyone who wants to design effective job aids: design fool-proof job aids because you never know when someone like me will come along and not be interested in reading the fine print.

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