Early in my consulting career, working with Kei Abe, I was surprised to hear him make seemingly contradictory recommendations about the organization of maintenance in a small auto parts plant and in a large car assembly plant. In both, the managers were thinking of splitting the maintenance group into smaller teams, each dedicated to a production line. In the parts plant, Kei Abe talked them out of it; in car assembly, he supported it. When I asked him why he just said: “the parts plant is too small.”
To what extent should managers be able to do the work of their subordinates? And, if they are, how should they use this ability? This is not a topic I have seen addressed in the management literature, perhaps because there are no generic answers. The manager of a car repair shop is typically a mechanic who can do everything the technicians can, but the manager of an opera company usually can’t sing.
It is a recurring expression in forums, conferences, and papers about Lean Leadership, but unclear because of the ambiguity about both leaders and standard work.
I have recently been involved in discussions of methods to teach adult learners and the ways if differs from teaching children or young adults. My personal experience is exclusively with adult professionals in a continuing education mode, and I provided examples from my recently most successful course, on New Plant Design, developed in 2005 at the request of the Hong Kong Productivity Council, and given more than 15 times in China since, and twice in Russia, although never in the US or Western Europe.
It is a seemingly simple question, but one that is not asked as often as it should be. It challenges managers to consider the responses of other stakeholders and think beyond immediate consequences. It checks their “bias for action,” and makes them take a pause to think farther than one move ahead.
If you outsource an item, for example, will the new supplier eventually morph into a competitor? What know-how might you lose? How will it affect employee morale? Are you putting your quality reputation at risk? The question is an invitation to work through multiple scenarios of responses by your suppliers, your work force, and your customers, reaching into the future.
France is implementing a new law requiring “hardship accounting,” for the purpose of giving special pension benefits to employees whose jobs impose physical, environmental and rhythm constraints beyond a given threshold in 10 categories. This is causing a dispute between employers, who balk at the detailed record keeping required, and the government, which insists that a duly voted law must be obeyed. What I find disturbing in this tug-of-war is that I hear no voice saying that the existence of hardship jobs is abnormal and that they should be eliminated. Giving special treatment to the holders of these jobs is better than nothing, but it is an immediate countermeasure, not a long-term solution.
In How Google Works, on pp. 163-165, executives Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg give rules for running meetings, that are worth pondering, because they clearly know the topic. They rules are for a software organization, but it doesn’t mean they are not relevant in Manufacturing.
Question put to Michael Ballé in his Gemba Coach column:
Management wants us to start lean in product development, but refuses to consider the difference in roles between our current project manager and a chief engineer – how important is that?
Project Manager and Chief Engineer are job titles covering different roles in different organizations. Before commenting on whether management in the questioner’s company should switch titles, we should know how they select their project managers, how much authority the project managers have, and what they are accountable for. Some companies do an outstanding job of product development under project managers; others don’t.
The following video was recorded yesterday:
I will be presenting on this topic at the Summit on Lean Leadership in Charlotte, NC on June 22.
Seen today in the New England Journal of Medicine, under the signature of Harvard Medical School professors Pamela Hartzband and Jerome Groopman:
“The TPS is a set of principles designed for the manufacture of inanimate objects in a factory. We accurately depict two essential elements of this system that are directly derived from Taylorism: standardization and time efficiency. In his classic study of the application of Toyota principles to the manufacture of cars in the United States, Paul Adler describes how ‘Each job was analyzed down to its constituent gestures, and the sequence of movements was refined and optimized for maximum performance. Every task was planned in great detail, and each worker was expected to perform that task in the prescribed manner.’ Adler refers to ‘the intelligent interpretation and application of Taylor’s time and motion studies’ as key to its success. He states, ‘The reference to Taylor may be jarring, but it fits.’[…] Other medical professionals who, like us, have experienced the toxic effects of obsessive standardization and time efficiency in the care of patients have expressed concerns similar to ours. In an era of accountability, we believe that those who advocate the application of Lean principles to medical care must take responsibility for the unintended consequences resulting from these elements shared by Taylorism and Toyota practices.”
The authors base their claim that the Toyota Production System (TPS) is “derived from Taylorism” from the writings of Paul Adler, a business school professor at USC who has written many papers over the past 40 years, a few of which touched on TPS and NUMMI, the first plant to apply this system in the US and now operated by Tesla. I met Paul Adler at Stanford in the late 1980s, and found his insights on NUMMI quite valuable. It was also clear to me that Paul Adler was not an engineer, that TPS, to him was one interest out of many, and that his knowledge of the subject was only at the business school level, as reflected, for example in an expression like “Taylor’s time and motion studies.” Taylor did time studies; Frank and Lilian Gilbreth, motion studies with, as stated in other posts, very different objectives.
This distinction, perhaps too subtle for business schools, is of paramount importance to anyone who wants to understand TPS, which owes much more to the Gilbreth’s work than to Taylor’s. Taylor wanted to prevent workers from slacking off; the Gilbreths, to observe the way work was being done and make it easier. And the medical profession has a good reason to remember Frank and Lilian Gilbreth: the way operating rooms function today is based on the analysis and recommendations they made 100 years ago.