Timesizing® Associates
©1998,1999 Phil Hyde, Timesizing Assocs, Box 622, Cambridge MA 02140 USA (617) 623-8080

Guest Columnists

1/05/2000  Who's on First column by S.C.G. -

Backgrounder on
Lean Manufacturing, Self-Monitoring & Layoffs
What's hot in manufacturing is "lean" in various forms -- "Just-in-Time," "cellular manufacturing," "Demand-Flow Technology," and of course, downsizing/rightsizing/smartsizing. These revolving-door management fads purport to revolutionize the manufacturing process, and have provided the trade magazines something to write about. They also enrich the canny Seminar-Givers. What else is new?

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. -

Lean Team
Takeovers as football games
A franchise on a losing streak is owned by an overseas corporation. The corporation sends its representative, a European (hereinafter, "Owner") to salvage it. Then Owner calls everyone to a meeting and announces the following:
1. “I've been here a week, so I know the place. I'm hot.
2. I've fired the General Manager who caused your problems. It took us 2 years to realize what you all knew from his first day: that he was a b.s. artist. We were busy with business in Europe.
I've replaced him with the assistant manager, a former kicker, who has been here for 3 months. Nice chap.
3. The quarterback is now a side coach.
4. The team leader is now the kicker. He has no leadership experience whatever, but he does have a good foot. I'm confident that in time he'll learn the players, moves, and rules.
5. The defense team which resigned en masse this month will NOT be replaced.
6. Something had to be done about morale around here. So, I dismissed the second string along with half your starters 2 weeks before Christmas. One man had a month to go before vesting in retirement; another man had only 2 months to go.
I didn't consult with the quarterbacks or coaches to determine who had the best talent and should be retained. You seen one, you seen 'em all, so I threw darts.
7. Your performance is expected to improve. To do this you will institute a package of reforms (better communication, tightened moves, etc.) which will save time, and time translates into money. You dream up the reforms.
8. If you need additional help on occasion, you can borrow from the basketball team I own in Canada. No guarantee of talent or availability, though.
9. We are reverting to a system discarded many, many years ago, before there was such a thing as college degrees in human resources. Personnel activity will now be under the Personnel Director of an entirely different franchise I own. It's in a different state, somewhere on the East Coast.
Your General Manager's secretary will take care of some things. She has no idea of the complexity of local and state rules, but then, neither does your new General Manager. What they don't know won't hurt them. Who cares?
10. There will be no additional compensation for anyone. No raise for the assistant manager who is now the General Manager. No COLA. Nothing to reward hard work this past year.
American industriousness is a myth, you see. In Europe we don't have "annual reviews" or wage increases based on merit.
11. You will no longer be called a team. You are now a "cell," but not of the Communist variety. This doesn't apply for trips to Texas, where "cells" are laughed out of the state.
12. It's been a pleasure meeting the few of you I've met. I look forward to the profit you will bring in.”
And so, with a vague wave of dismissal, Owner left for the airport.
(copyright 1999 S.C.G.)

Comments, questions, suggestions?  E-mail us or phone 617-623-8080 (Boston).

Return to Top | Return to Home Page