Welcome to First Line Management at S-II

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was a technician in my company, they called me a lead technician, eight years on the job. Whenever there was a problem, most of the guys would come to me. If I couldn’t solve the problem, then we would go to our supervisor. Now, I am the supervisor.

No one really explained the difference between a lead tech and a supervisor. I always knew my supervisor did something different in his role than I did in my technician role, but now that it’s me, I’m not sure what the real difference is.

Response:
Good question. A supervisor is a first line manager, so welcome to the world of management. You are no longer directly doing the work, you are now accountable for the output of other people. It is your role to make sure the production (technician) work is getting done.

As a technician, you were always focused on two things, pace and quality. Were you working fast enough to produce the expected output? Did your output meet the quality standards set for the work? At times, if you worked too fast, a quality standard might be compromised. You might notice that in the reject rate, re-work, warranty complaints. To compensate, you might slow down, pay attention to each of the quality steps, so the output met the quality spec. But then, the pace might be too slow and you might not produce the expected output. It was a constant battle, pace and quality, pace and quality.

And, now, you are the supervisor. The issues are still about pace and quality, but the time frame is different. As a technician, your struggle with pace and quality was all about today, maybe this week, but not much more. Even as the lead technician, your struggles with pace and quality may have been about this week, maybe this month, but not much more.

As the supervisor, what are the elements that can impact both pace and quality?

  • Right technician assigned to the right project
  • Safe working environment, proper safety equipment
  • Right training for the right skill required by the project
  • Right tools used by the technicians required for the project
  • Right materials, in sufficient quantity, to be used for the project
  • Right equipment, in working order, properly maintained, to be used for the project
  • Conducive environment, proper lighting, working height
  • Corrective feedback for mistakes
  • Encouragement for performance

These are the levers that impact pace and quality. And, these are the levers for the supervisor. As you look at this list, to put all these in place requires a longer term outlook. Personnel has to be scheduled. Workload has to level amongst the team. Equipment has to be scheduled, maintained. The workplace has to be clean and maintained. Safety equipment in place, in perfect working order. Materials have to be ordered, accommodating lead times for certain materials. The time span outlook for this coordinating role requires thinking and working 3-12 months into the future.

The tools you will be using are no longer real tools, but schedules and checklists. You will conduct short meetings, huddles to make sure your team is all on the same page.

As a lead technician, you were the go-to-guy. When one of your team mates got stuck, you would quickly try one solution or another, based on your experience, and typically solve the problem. Until, of course, you got stuck.

Then, you would go to your supervisor. Your supervisor may or may not have as much experience as you, but your supervisor was relying on another set of problem solving tools. While you were trying this or that, your supervisor checked to see if we had solved that problem before and documented its best-practice solution.

S-II – Supervisor – Documented experience, best practice solutions

S-I – Technician – Trial and error problem solving

In the past, you relied on your skill at trial and error problem solving. You used your intuitive judgement to quickly test alternatives to solve the problem. Someone noticed and gave you a promotion.

Now, your world has changed. You will still solve many problems through trial and error, but you will begin to see the patterns in problems and connect them with tried and true solutions, elements in your standard operating procedure or best-practice manual.

As a technician, your value-add was quality. As a supervisor, your value add is accuracy, completeness and timeliness of output. Welcome to the world of first line management. –Tom
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As a side note, role designations may be different from one country to the next. The real calibration for the role is determined by the identified level of work in the role. In the United States, supervisory roles are typically S-II roles (3-12 months time span). In Australia, I am told supervisory roles may designate a high S-I role (3 months time span). Check your local listings. Film at eleven.
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Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
Public Presentation
October 6, 2016 – 8:00a – 12:00 noon
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
Fort Lauderdale Florida
More information and registration

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