Training Within Industry: Everything Old is New Again

May 15, 2008
U.S. manufacturers are aiming for lean gains using TWI techniques originally developed in the 1940s.

A training program dating back to World War II is gaining renewed life these days among lean aficionados in the United States. Called Training Within Industry, the program was once widely deployed in the U.S., and is said to have influenced the development of the Toyota Production System. While some companies -- like Toyota -- never forgot about the program, it largely faded from practice among U.S. manufacturers.

Today, however, Training Within Industry, or TWI, is enjoying something of a resurgence in the U.S. among proponents of lean. Successfully implemented, TWI aims to deliver a better-skilled workforce, improved labor and management relations, productivity improvements and a focus on continuous improvement.

"TWI helps a company or an organization change its culture to that of lean. It doesn't give all the lean answers [but] what it does do is get everyone thinking the same way," says Don Dinero, principal of Round Pond Consulting Service and author of Training Within Industry: The Foundation of Lean. "TWI gets to the fundamentals that allow you to start thinking in a lean way."

The history of Training Within Industry is an interesting one. The U.S. government created the program during World War II to support the war production effort, when millions of civilians needed to be quickly trained to do production jobs as soldiers went off to war. The program was directed at supervisors. While TWI largely faded away in the U.S. following the war and the shutdown of the government program, it was introduced to Japan and took hold at Toyota -- as well as other non-U.S. firms -- where it became the basis of Toyota's core training. John Shook, senior advisor for the Lean Enterprise Institute, says components of TWI remain in use by Toyota even now. Central to TWI are three "J" or "Jobs" programs called Job Instruction (JI), Job Methods (JM) and Job Relations (JR). The programs address the processes of instructing people on the best way to perform jobs, continuous improvement, and improved communication and leadership skills (see "TWI: The J-Programs," for greater detail).

"Times have changed and technology has changed and advanced, but people are still the same and we're still having the same kinds of problems," says Patrick Graupp, senior master trainer at the TWI Institute. "It shows that these TWI programs are based on fundamental principles that are as applicable and appropriate today as they were then."

Kinetico is Introduced to TWI

Kinetico's introduction to TWI came by way of its lean journey. Kinetico, a manufacturer of water treatment systems, began introducing lean principles into its operations in the early 2000s. In 2005 the conversation turned to standardized work, which promotes the creation of a single best way to perform a manufacturing process. The lack of process variation should not only improve quality, but also make it easier to track down the source should an issue arise.

It's a discipline Kinetico wanted to add to its repertoire. "We had some operator instructions in the molding area, but in other assembly areas we haven't had much documentation," explains Linas Biliunas, director of manufacturing operations. "It's been more word-of-mouth, tribal knowledge. As new operators came on, the more tenured employees would teach them and you would get variation even from one tenured employee to another."

A co-worker's attendance at a lean enterprise presentation brought TWI to Kinetico's attention, and within a year the company began receiving instruction on the training program. Today, Kinetico is introducing Job Instruction in several areas. For example, a recent new product introduction presented the manufacturer with an opportunity to set up assembly procedures from the start and introduce job instruction "rather thoroughly," Biliunas says. Assembly managers also are at work developing job instructions for product models and processes. In addition to the proactive implementations, the manufacturer also is introducing job instructions reactively, such as when an issue arises.

Kinetico has observed positive results from its early efforts. For example, "The job instruction helps the trainers think about how to break down the training into digestible chunks," says project engineer Janet Fish, who developed the job instructions for Kinetico's new water delivery system. "There's a lot of parts in this new product. In terms of training, it helped keep the assemblers comfortable at the training pace and the amount of knowledge they were learning."

Biliunas also points to a packaging issue in which JI helped create the solution. The issue: Some product components were not making it into the appropriate packaging. "We ended up creating a JI," he says, as well as requiring operators to assemble in increments of 12 and setting up kanban box sizes in multiples of 12. "I don't think we've had field calls on that problem again. I would point to JI as being very successful in solving that problem."

At Energizer Battery Co., TWI is in pilot mode at three locations. "The participants bring real problems into the sessions in order to practice the four-step method and in creating job breakdown sheets," explains Bryan R. Lund of Energizer's Global Lean Office.

Lund says the firm has seen positive early results, including a 70% decrease in one defect. Moreover, he says, "Management also now has a way to follow-up with people and understands what is happening on the job. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to grasp the situation on the shop floor. The job instruction program helps managers with this critical skill."

Another facility, a custom gear grinding shop in Syracuse, N.Y., employed the Job Relations component of TWI to address a standard work challenge. Graupp, who provided the example, spoke of conflict that arose as the shop was trying to create standard work procedures. The skilled workers couldn't agree on what the "best" method should be. Ultimately, they called upon the JR component of TWI to discuss everyone's feeling and opinions, and to sort out the facts, including customer demand and specifications. "Together they were able to select the one best procedure," he explains. "They were able to use this [JR] procedure in a very unique way."

Of course, implementing TWI is not without its challenges. One of the obstacles to achieving standard work through job instruction, Graupp notes, is getting people to use the method. He points to what can be a typical scenario for supervisors: Once you get back onto the busy-ness of the plant floor, it's easy to slip back into the old ways of doing things, even when you have had JI training.

Lund says existing training can be a roadblock. "Job Instruction is seen as simply a training program. Of course, once someone goes through the program, they realize it is more of a thinking process that helps people work through the problems of their job," he notes.

Today a modest cottage industry devoted to TWI has begun to emerge, including Web sites (such as, which hosts the original training documents put out by the Training Within Industry Service), a TWI blog and a TWI Summit.

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