LEGO makes knowledge cross borders


By Sara Rosendal, Source: Mediehuset Ingeniøren A/S, Marts 2011

Translated by: Mette Slavensky Bro, Foto: Das Büro

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LEGO makes knowledge cross borders
A rapidly growing production has forced LEGO to systematize knowledge sharing in the factories in Billund, Hungary and Mexico. This will cost man-hours, but the production will accelerate.

For the employees at the LEGO factory in Mexico it has always been a habit to take the broom and sweep the floor several times a day. This has prevented the employees from falling in the dropped bricks, but still this simple rule of thumb has not been a custom at the other production sites in the LEGO Group. Until now.

Since May last year the LEGO giant has put all efforts into systematizing knowledge sharing and creating global standards in the production to ensure that the organization can keep up with its own growth rates, which have been extremely high the last couple of years. Therefore it is crucial that knowledge can be moved around quickly and new employees can be educated in no time. This requires a completely new and thoroughly systematized training program, says engineer and HR-manager John Vellema.

"We have had a huge problem with transferring knowledge between the different production sites fast enough. At the same time we have had bad experiences with instructors, who have stepped on the local employees' toes because they did not have the necessary cultural understanding. It was clear that we had to rethink our training", says John Vellema.

Previously the employees flew from the factory in Billund to the different production sites and trained the local staff. Today LEGO has appointed a 15 person global team with people from Denmark, Hungary, Mexico and HR employees from the different countries.

The global team has taught ca 50 local instructors in the 3 countries, who then have the responsibility to train the colleagues in the different production sites. Furthermore the global team has the responsibility for gathering input from the local production sites and implementing it in the best-practice-standards of the production.

"By doing so, we secure the best ideas from all employees across the world, and at the same time we get a uniform production,
which we can change quickly and speed up", says John Vellema.

What, how and why
The global and local Job Trainers have been carefully selected according to professional and human skills. They have undergone a week long teaching program, where they have learned to train after unique principles inspired by the American theory Training
Within Industry (TWI).

Briefly TWI consists of four steps: 1. prepare the employee. 2. present the operation. 3. Try out performance. 4. follow up (see fact box). This method ensures that the employee can carry out the job correctly and understands why the job has to be done. The learning principles sounds simple, but for LEGO it is important that the training follow the same model all over the world, says vice president in LEGO Hungary Jens Peter Clausen:

"One thing is to think that you are training. It is something else to know that you are training, and that is what we are doing today. Thus, it is much easier to harmonize the expectations between managers and employees, and that has given a much greater stability in the production", he says.

Among other things he mentions that the Change-over time in the production has been reduced from close to 200 minutes to approximately 60 minutes. At the same time the employees' learning period for the individual processes has gone down from a year to 3 months. The employees have become faster in learning new things, and that accelerates the production time.

Earlier the processes were described much less detailed, and sometimes it happened that the employees forgot to put the plug in the machine, which grinds the excess plastic from the molding machine. Without the grinder the molding machine does not work and this delayed the production.

Today every part of the process has been thoroughly described, and the standards are updated regularly, just as both instructors
and employees are evaluated every quarter to make sure that they know the newest processes.

"I have met employees, who were insecure when they had to turn on the big engines because they did not understand how they worked. Today they tell me that they feel much more secure", says John Vellema.

The investments will be re-earned
However it has been expensive in man-hours to complete such a systematic knowledge sharing program. The pilot project until now has required 8.000 hours, and in the future every local Job Trainer will use up to 35 % of his work time on training and the rest of the time in the production.

"There are no quick profits here, but still we already see that the Job trainers earn their own pay through improved productivity. Besides that it is a pleasure to experience that the employees have become far more engaged because they are more involved in the development of new standards as earlier", says Jens Peter Clausen.

During 2011 these new training principles will also be transferred to other areas of the LEGO Group such as the mold production, packing areas and warehouse.



 Source: Gitte Jakobsen, HR Manager, The LEGO Group


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SOURCE:War Production Board, Bureau of Training, Training Within Industry Service, 1944,
Job Instruction: Sessions Outline and Reference Material (Washington D.C.: U.S.
Government Printing Office), inside back cover.

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