Collaborative Development: Tribal Knowledge, Standard Work, and Dozuki at Automation Plastics

Technical Problem Solving at Automation
January 22, 2018

Collaborative Development: Tribal Knowledge, Standard Work, and Dozuki at Automation Plastics

Automation Plastics workers sharing their tribal knowledge

1. Tribal Knowledge – Anecdotes

Xingu Tribe

I know a guy who grew up in the Xingu region of the Amazon. He belongs to an indigenous South American tribe, and as may be expected, he knows all there is to know about surviving in the jungle. As a young adult, he joined the Brazilian army, and they put him through Jungle Training; needless to say, he made a name for himself very quickly. His tribal knowledge made him a celebrity in his army unit.



Rae Expedition

John Rae’s Birthplace in Scotland

In 1846 a British explorer named John Rae undertook an expedition to map the Arctic coast of North America. He departed Hudson Bay with 2 small boats, carrying timber, and even windows for a planned shelter in which to pass the polar winter. According to Wikipedia, Rae was “one of the first Europeans to winter in the high Arctic without the aid of a depot ship.” As winter approached, his party constructed a stone house replete with timber roof and the small glass windows.

The Rae Expedition was equipped with the most up-to-date equipment and technology. Unfortunately, the temperature inside the expedition’s European-style house hovered around or below 0°F throughout the long winter. Rae wrote that his clothes froze solid, and never thawed.

After several months, a small group of Inuit people moved into the area. When Rae visited one of their snow houses his clothes thawed almost immediately. He embraced the igloo tribal knowledge, which contributed to the successful mapping of Arctic North America.

Inuit building an igloo in 1924

Home Phone Co.

Mesopotamia, Ohio

My home town used to have its own telephone service, fittingly called the Home Phone Company. Their exchange was in a small structure in the center of town. In about 1970, they were acquired by a regional provider. One of corporate’s first actions was to send a crew out to paint the old exchange. Unfortunately nobody realized that the scribblings covering the inside walls were the Home Phone Company’s wiring diagrams. Oops!!

2. Definitions

Wikipedia says:

“Tribal knowledge is information or knowledge that is known within a tribe but often unknown outside of it.”

Further application, in the corporate world, from Wikipedia:

“Tribal knowledge is any unwritten information that is not commonly known by others within a company… information that may need to be known by others in order to produce quality product or service. The information may be key to quality performance but it may also be totally incorrect.”

I don’t know about your organization, but ours is a tribal knowledge breeding ground. And from the standpoint of documenting key processes and procedures, tribal knowledge is always ugly: an elusive subculture of the unknowable, documented only in the consciousness of the initiated.

One last definition from Wikipedia:

“The Tribal Knowledge Paradox refers to the belief that business success is dependent upon the knowledge and skills of the people, yet business organization, structure, processes, and management actions… discourage free information flow.”

3. Standard Work

Business success is absolutely dependent on the preservation and documentation of knowledge and skills. How then can we destroy the above Paradox by encouraging and facilitating the flow of information?

Enter Dozuki

At Automation Plastics we have transitioned to a Work Guidance platform called Dozuki.  We have discovered that, in addition to eliminating paper on the shop floor, streamlining documentation control, and institutionalizing Standard Work, Dozuki is also a great tool for tapping, evaluating, and documenting tribal knowledge.

Production operator using Dozuki guide

All production personnel at Automation Plastics have individual Dozuki accounts. When running production, operators log into Dozuki and open the relevant guide on a tablet mounted at the work station. Each step in the guide has a comments section.  Any user can post a comment to a guide; guide authors receive daily notifications of any comments on their guides. Floor personnel are encouraged to comment when they see issues, opportunities for improvement, etc. An example is shown below.

Response from the author:

Eternal gratitude from the user:

Here is another exchange:

And another…

And finally, some tribal knowledge helps us out (note the link to the Item Page for the Charger):

At Automation Plastics we are using Dozuki to enhance Standard Work by taking the “Oops!” and the Ugly out of tribal knowledge. 🙂


It would be very interesting to hear what others have experienced, especially success stories!

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