1/05/2000 Who's on First column by S.C.G. -
At the bottom of the pyramid are the peons, e.g. general laborers, assembly-workers, machine operators -- entry-level jobs which traditionally are (1) low-paying and (2) filled by immigrants, illiterates, and others who will work for little more than minimum wage, paid for brawn, not brain. Next up are the trades -- those who pride themselves on journeyman skills with machines. In the old days, these folks were unionized.
Traditionally, in manufacturing, each area in each shift has a lead (historically, "leadman") who is paid a bit more but is still blue-collar, an hourly worker with no authority to hire/fire/discipline. The lead keeps things going on the floor, such as referring to written instructions, and acts as an assistant to the supervisor. The supervisor level is where management begins. The supervisor reports to a middle manager, who reports to the V. P. Operations. Titles may differ and there may be more or less middle-management, depending on the size & technology of the company and the products manufactured, but basically, that's been the design of the traditional manufacturing process. This is what "lean business" designs aim to revolutionize.
A company which forecasts fewer profits comes up with a shrunk budget for the coming year. The budgets covers uncuttable things like capital equipment payments. The only place where a CEO can cut, i.e., meet his/her numbers (if he doesn't "happen" to think of the workweek), is the workforce. So, while in the past employees received raises as rewards for a year of good work, no such merit increases are given when the budget shrinks.
Too often the cuts come in big layoffs. This is where the "lean business" designs apply. The workforce is rearranged to cut down-time by extending the job duties of individuals and extending the use of technology. In software companies, engineers who were once frustrated at the narrow perimeters of their assignments can take on other tasks. The rules are changed. Other players learn how to defend the net (the goalee was laid off). The old-fashioned style of having a supervisor over a group of engineers is replaced with a "cell" which "monitors" itself. Intelligent, salaried people don't need a nursemaid.
And when TPTB (the powers-that-be) make up a new matrix of the workforce, they zealously superimpose this plan, cells and all, on the entire facility. Foolishly, they even remove hands-on supervision from production.
The peons and the trades won't do the same work in self-monitoring cells.
The shop floor is known as the "street," and a mean street it's become. People have started -
(1) scams to get more money, e.g., fudging on time-cards -- taking unauthorized overtime, leaving early & having a friend punch out for you; taking funeral leave for a grandmother who died twice the same year;
(2) wasting worktime, e.g., extending breaks, leaving early, playing computer games;
(3) dealing in something in the parking lot;
(4) leaving the place open at night, including where precious metals were stored.
Withdraw supervision from these employees, and you can imagine what they'll do. Morale will drop. Ordinarily decent workers, frustrated at seeing others waste time and pull scams, undeterred, would have no reason to remain conscientious. Peons and trade employees are not in a career-ladder mode. They're not rewarded for creative ideas to reduce waste. The guy in charge is an engineer who doesn't understand them and vice versa; he frowns at bad language, besides. The company shows no loyalty to them: they've seen others laid off with only a short time to go before vesting in retirement. Clearly, the company cares little about them and their work. So, why should they care about products and productivity?
That's why self-monitoring cells are a joke for shop floors -- and
expensive, in terms of scrap or even the loss of customers whose deadlines
weren't met. If "lean" manufacturing has succeeded on the "street," it's tough to find.
(c) 1999 S.C.G.
12/26/1999 Who's on First? column by S.C.G. -
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