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Inside I-CAR's Production Management Program

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Photo courtesy Josh McFarlin

In August, I-CAR launched its new Production Management curriculum as part of I-CAR’s Professional Development Program. I-CAR’s director of curriculum and product development, Josh McFarlin says the new courses follow I-CAR’s new “Purpose Built” curriculum design principles, and should provide a boost to shops looking to make performance improvements.


What was the impetus for creating this management-based program?

When our Professional Development Program (PDP) was designed in 2009 and launched in 2010, one of the roles that we planned to go with and that the industry asked for was the production manager. There wasn’t a lot of description around it, just that they wanted that management flavor to come out in what we put together. We took some time to soak on that and determine where the biggest value would be to the industry and what we landed on was production management.

Our strengths aren’t necessarily getting down into the weeds of the soft skills of management styles, it’s more related to process. And we recognized that.


Who is this program designed for?

This is meant to be relevant for any shop, regardless of their size, regardless of whether it’s part of a single-owner location or an MSO. In any shop, there is production work going on and someone is managing that production work. They may not have a dedicated production manager and they may have zero production managers, or four because it’s a giant shop. But someone is still managing the production work. Keeping track of things like when work is supposed to come in, when it is supposed to come out, what are the next steps, are the right parts ordered? They are monitoring that entire process from key to key.


What does a good production manager look like today?

As far as the role in the shop, I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all. That’s something we tried to take into account with the courses. I would say they are process oriented, have a tendency to look at things from a lean perspective. So, how can you reduce waste and improve efficiencies? It’s really about process and going back to looking at that job and understanding what it’s going to take to get through the system and looking ahead for possible road bumps and trying to come up with a resolution before you get there. It’s problem solving, it’s process driven, it’s lean thinking. Those are the types of things that come out loud and clear.

We recognized that different shops manage their production in different ways. What we tried to identify is some of the best practices, what to be on the lookout for, some of the tools that can help you manage the production process, whether it be a white board or a flip chart or an LCD monitor in the shop that shows where each shop is and a timer for when it’s done. There’s a lot of different models out there, but the point is you have to be paying attention. We’re just trying to make sure the industry recognizes the benefit that the role can play for their bottom line.

The other thing is that learning culture really starts to come through with production management. The reason for that is because the production manager is the hub of everything that’s going on. They’re in the best position to help implement the practices of a learning culture; meaning, the value of obtaining and sharing that knowledge. They need to get away from what we typically see out there, which is a shop manager or training manager going out on a Tuesday afternoon and saying, “I’m sorry for the hassle, but there’s this I-CAR class tomorrow and I need you to take it.” Instead, in a learning culture, the approach is, “This is a great opportunity, you’re going to get some information and when you get back, I’d like you to share the top things you learned or didn’t know with the group.” The difference between those two approaches has a tremendous impact on the organization.


How did you take into account industry feedback when designing the program?

Developing a curriculum (DACUM) boils down to going out and collecting a group of subject matter experts and asking them questions related to what they need to know and what they need to be good at in order to be good at their job; the idea being that you can identify within a job or a task what the duties are, what the tasks are that support each one of those duties and what the subtasks are that support each one of those tasks. If you can break it down to a level of detail, what you end up with is a detailed outline of everything that that person needs to know or do to in order to be effective at our job. 


What does the curriculum look like?

The 10 courses we’ve put together are different than courses we’ve put together in the past. The reason I say that is because traditional I-CAR courses are instructor-led in a classroom setting and three to four hours in duration. We broke that mold with this and we’re going to continue to do things differently going forward. We recognized that there are some benefits to blending the curriculum and taking the content that is best served online and moving it online. Other things that require some interaction with an instructor but don’t need to be in the same room are delivered virtually. Finally, if it does require interaction with the instructor and there is benefit to being in the same room, we said those will be instructor-led in a classroom setting because there is going to be some role playing and we’ll get the most benefit having folks in the room.

The 10 courses that make up ProLevel 1 have five that are online, three that are virtual and two are live. None of the courses are longer than two hours. It brings the total duration of the 10 classes to 14 hours for ProLevel 1. If you were to think about 10 classes in the previous model, you were looking at 30–40 hours of content.


What will the next levels look like?

In ProLevel 1, we covered the majority of the topics or skills that need to be driven home. But we did everything at a foundational level. In ProLevels 2 and 3, you won’t see a lot of new topics and skills being introduced, but what you will see is us getting deeper into implementing some of those approaches and problem solving if that approach isn’t working for you. It’s about implementing and making use of those skills and the competencies that are conveyed in ProLevel 1. We expect that ProLevel 2 will come out probably in the middle of 2016 and we expect that ProLevel 3 will come in the middle of 2017. 

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