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Wanted: ‘Thinkers’

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Andy Crook of GotBoost Training discusses the value of thought process when faced with complex diagnostics.

In April 1928 a journal called “The Forum” published an interview with Henry Ford who commented on the apparent increase in the complexity and pace of life, saying: “There is a question in my mind whether, with all this speeding up of our everyday activities, there is any more real thinking. Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why, so few engage in it”. 

Henry Ford’s words spoken over 90 years ago are as relevant now as they were then, as the increased complexity and pace of life continues, especially in the automotive industry. As we prepare to enter the brave new world of autonomous cars, it seems as if the only constant is ‘change’. 

If thinking is such hard work, it should come as no surprise that the equipment we use tries to simplify the tasks we are required to perform. I have spoken and written about this subject throughout the year, as I believe we are losing key competencies due to the increasing amount of intelligence in the gadgets around us – mental arithmetic is replaced by the calculator and the ability to recall phone numbers replaced by the contacts list on your mobile phone. 

In the challenging world of automotive diagnostics, the tools are starting to do the thinking for us; the manufacturer tooling has guided diagnostic functionality that contains increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence. Aftermarket tools are also following this trend with ‘tech help’ built into the software. Allied with increasingly specific fault enabling criteria, plus the vast amount of information available via the internet, technicians appear to have never had it so good. 

LEVELS OF THINKING 

Where does knowledge rank on your ability to carry out complex diagnostic tasks? 

Pretty high I would guess, and the value you place on this knowledge is also reflected in the charges you apply to the customer. I hear the same old mantra time and time again, ‘you pay for what I know, as well as what I do,’ or words to that effect. Benjamin Bloom was an American educational psychologist whose taxonomy is used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity from 1 to 6. He has influenced the practices and philosophies of educators around the world.

SIX LEVELS OF LEARNING OBJECTIVES: 

1. Knowledge 

Knowledge involves recognising or remembering facts, terms, basic concepts or answers without necessarily understanding what they mean. 

2. Comprehension 

Comprehension involves demonstrating an understanding of facts and ideas by organising, comparing, translating, interpreting, giving descriptions and stating the main ideas. 

3. Application 

Application involves using acquired knowledge – solving problems in new situations by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques and rules. 

4. Analysis 

Analysis involves examining and breaking information into component parts, determining how the parts relate to one another, identifying motives or causes, making inferences and finding evidence to support generalisations. 

5. Synthesis 

Synthesis involves building a structure or pattern from diverse elements; it also refers to the act of putting parts together to form a whole. 

6. Evaluation 

Evaluation involves presenting and defending opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas or quality of work, based on a set of criteria. 

Bloom’s Taxonomy rates knowledge as the lowest level of thinking and evaluation as the highest. So, if workshops already have a value for their ‘knowledge,’ how much is their analysis or evaluation of presented data worth? I’d argue more…much more in fact. Higher Order Thinking Skills (level 4 and above) or HOTS as they are known, are of great value to any organisation and are critical when solving complex problems. 

These skills need to be developed, practised and honed. I monitor my ability to use HOTS during diagnostic tasks with a simple self-evaluation check, carried out at the end of every month. I simply compare my first hypothesis with the actual fault found on more complicated diagnostic tasks. I’m trying to get above 50% (not as easy as you might think). This also forms the basis for reviewing the charges made for this more complex work. Some more complex faults run into several hours, many of which are uncharged, due to underestimation of the time taken, embarrassment and lack of confidence in the final diagnosis. This is the value of developing Higher Order Thinking Skills. Let us take a recent example from the GotBoost Workshop and try to rank the thinking employed using Bloom’s Taxonomy. I’ll give you the answer to the first one, just by attempting this you are thinking at level 4 analysis). A 2007 2.5 TDI VW T5 Transporter is presented for a lack of power diagnosis. 

The customer has completed the fault questionnaire and says “The fault is always present. It began about a month ago and is more noticeable in 6th gear. It doesn’t pull up hills as well as it did before.”The only fault code stored in the Engine Management System is: 

5697 (P1641) Read fault memory of air conditioner control unit (Sporadic) 

During the initial test drive, it was noted the vehicle lacked power at low rpm’s; the basic data gathered during the drive showed that the actual manifold pressure was lower than specified at low load, and low speed driving conditions. At high (above 3,000rpm) engine speeds and medium loads the specified and actual manifold pressure were much closer but the actual pressure was 300mBar below specified. During high load (WOT) and high engine speeds, the actual manifold pressure was slightly higher (150mbar) than specified. 

From this primary data capture, technicians should use HOTS to: 

  1. Theorise a probable cause
  2. Design a test plan
  3. Execute that plan
  4. Present their findings to the customer in a non-technical communication. 

 Task: Rate the 4 steps above using Bloom’s Taxonomy 

Where are the Higher Order Thinking Skills employed? If you are a technician, you’re probably already working through this conundrum and desperate to find out if you are correct; possibly skipping the next paragraphs looking for the answer. I urge you not to – stick with it for a bit longer. If you are right, and your initial theory is correct, the time taken to diagnose the fault will be much less than if your initial hypothesis is way out there. If you charge for the diagnostic work by the traditional workshop method of time taken, the reward for superior HOTS is less remuneration. The better you become, the less you charge? That doesn’t seem fair. For this reason, measuring the accuracy of your initial diagnostic hypothesis is important, becoming accountable for that hunch, guess, feeling, seen it before, the decision of what to test first improves performance. I was shocked at how ineffective I was before I started to monitor my performance. 

If you are a manager of a workshop that undertakes diagnostic work, I hope this is food for thought. What skills do you actually value most? Is your diagnostic training effective? How is it measured? Will that new tool improve diagnostic ability/capability? What is your process? How do you evaluate success? Let’s hope it is not based on time taken. 

Most, if not all, ‘Diagnostic training’ focuses on the technician’s knowledge, the ability to perform tests and prove satisfactory operation of a system – the three lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension & application). Higher Order Thinking Skills are what differentiates the capable from excellence, in my opinion, especially the evaluation of presented data. It is reported that law firms and accountancy firms regularly recruit engineering graduates because they place such a high value on this thinking ability. 

5 STEPS TO IMPROVE INITIAL HYPOTHESIS;

1. Capture more accurate primary data
2. Step back and ‘Think’
3. Keep accurate records
4. Practice, practice, practice
5. Hold yourself/your team accountable through monitoring

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts, silver bullets or magic wands. 

Andy Crook has designed a new course ‘The Business of Diagnostics’ that investigates the impact of business systems on diagnostic procedures. The next course is due to run on Saturday 9th of November and there are limited places available. Contact andy@gotboost.co.uk to register your interest. 

Using a table or other visual diagrams (Venn for example) can be useful in root cause analysis, by evaluating the data, technicians can place ticks in the boxes which match the likely cause to the symptoms. The more primary the data, the more accurate the table. If there is some doubt, sizing the tick is useful, a larger tick indicates the greater the likelihood of a match. This should be carried out away from the vehicle (prevents technicians looking for clues) to validate the quality of the primary data capture. 

In this case, the initial hypothesis (or the best guess at what is wrong) is a problem with the turbo control mechanism and the primary suspect is the ability to modulate the correct vacuum to obtain the desired manifold pressure. A 50-50 chance of an electrical or mechanical fault is reduced to 80-20 in favour of a mechanical fault, as no codes were stored for the boost control solenoid (N75). 

Testing using a vacuum gauge proved this to be the case. The EGR cooler diaphragm was split reducing the vacuum signal to the turbo. The limited control allowed close to desired pressures under some driving conditions (medium and high engine speeds and loads) and the reason for no codes being triggered. However, during low engine speeds, ‘6th gear,’ the manifold pressure was much lower than specified. Blanking off the output to the EGR cooler diaphragm restored normal performance, proving the diagnosis before any parts were ordered. 

Time taken was around 50 minutes including customer interview, test drive, evaluation of presented data, simulation of repair and presenting the findings to the customer to obtain authority for repair.

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy, I have classified the task: 

1. Theorise a probable cause (Evaluation level 6)
2. Design a test plan (Synthesis level 5)
3. Execute that plan (Application level 3)
4. Present findings to the customer in a non-technical communication (Synthesis level 5) 

It is important to note that the actual testing requires the lowest level of thinking during this task, the activity most automotive professionals value most. Theorising and not guessing the probable cause requires the highest level of thinking. If we agree with Henry Ford, this is why it doesn’t happen very often as it’s the hardest work there is. The final part of the task, presenting the findings in a non-technical way, requires synthesis, level 5. Making the complex appear simple without using jargon requires HOTS, breaking the task down into chunks like this allows a manager to recognise the skills required to perform these tasks effectively. Fixing modern cars, it’s never been easier has it? 

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