Category Archives: Control Systems

It’s Late and Unreliable

“Let’s run this timeline, again, looking at your control system,” I nudged. “Monday, your production team shows up for work. They have daily and weekly targets. A machine breaks down and they lose 45 minutes of production before they can get going again. How does your control system capture that?”

“The control system is counting,” Ronnie replied. “And it is sophisticated enough to detect the change in throughput.”

“So, that’s Monday. And on Friday, the control system automatically compiles a report and forwards it to the manager, five days after the machine broke down.”

“Yes, I mean, the manager is busy. We could compile the report every day, but the manager is busy. Besides, it’s not a good idea to have him yelling at his team every day.”

“Why have him yell at them, at all?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Ronnie pushed back. “It’s my manager’s job to hold his team accountable. We are very big on accountability around here.”

“But, bottom line, your production crew is double-passing finished goods under the counter, or skipping the counter, making the whole system unreliable. So, where is your control system? It’s late, it’s unreliable and puts the manager in between the feedback and the production team.”

Ronnie stopped. I could tell he was frustrated. “So, what should we do?”

“First, let’s list the problems and see how we can change the system to make it more effective.”

Teach Each Other

“Alright, so I should have members of my team inspect their own work for accuracy. How do I know they will do the right thing?” Daniele asked. “These files are important and they have to be right. The feds could shut us down if they believe we aren’t in compliance.”

“Does your team know what the standards are?” I replied.

“Well, they should. Every one of them went through an orientation when they started to work here. And we have our quality sessions where I tell them what the auditor found that was wrong.”

I smiled. “Daniele, have you considered that when your team members went through your orientation, they were disoriented and may not remember all the details? Do you think we might go over that again. I looked at your orientation manual, it looks like there are five major sections to these files. You have five people on your team. Do you think you might divide things up?”

“You mean, have the team members teach each other?” Daniele gasped.

Too Busy Working

“You are right,” Daniele admitted. “I have been keeping some quick stats on the mistakes we are finding in the files. Whenever I hold one of my accountability sessions, the mistakes disappear for about a week, then, boom, they are back again, and we find more.”

“So, finding the mistakes is not the problem?” I asked.

“No, and fixing the mistakes isn’t that hard either, but I want to stop the mistakes from being made in the first place.”

“So, tell me, Daniele, can the auditors stop the mistakes from happening?”

“No, they’re auditors, they don’t work on the files, they audit the files.”

“Okay, so who can stop the mistakes?” I pressed.

“Only my team can stop the mistakes.”

“What if you had your team audit the files?” I suggested.

“They can’t audit the files. They are too busy working the files. Can you imagine what would happen if they stopped production to check their work?”

Daniele stopped. A strange look emerged from her eyes as she thought about what she just said.

The System is Being Ignored

“So, you think when I have this conversation about their mistakes, they are ignoring me because I lecture them?” Daniele asked.

“No, they are not ignoring you. They are ignoring your entire control system. Your control system is finding the mistakes, but the mistakes are continuing. Is the purpose of your control system to find mistakes or to find the causes for the mistakes and repair the cause?”

“I know. But I have to find the mistakes. And I have a great audit team. They are very thorough. I don’t know what I would do without them. They keep us in compliance,” Daniele stated flatly.

“How does your production team feel about your audit team?”

Daniele visibly changed, sat back and pulled away from her desk. “Well, they are not supposed to like the audit team. I don’t run a popularity contest around here. There is some friction, but I think it is good friction. My production team knows if they make a mistake, my audit team will find it. I think there is respect in that way.”

“Daniele, here are some things I know based on what you describe.

  • There are mistakes in your files that your audit team is NOT finding, that will put you out of compliance with the Feds.
  • Your production team has no respect for your audit team and is ignoring the results of your audits.
  • Some mistakes are being found, but the causes of the mistakes are not being identified.
  • Your situation is getting worse.

Why Are You Being Ignored?

“You have a control system. Let me list the elements.

  • Your team works on a file.
  • Someone from another team audits the file and finds a mistake.
  • You, as the manager, get the results of the audit.
  • You, as the manager yell at the team member for making a mistake on the file.

Did I get that right?” I asked.

“Yes, well, I don’t really yell at them,” Daniele replied. “I mean, I talk calmly, I don’t raise my voice.”

“You don’t have to raise your voice to be yelling,” I chuckled.

“Okay, but let’s call it a lecture, not yelling,” she insisted.

“Why do you think they are ignoring you, when you have this little talk with them? I know they are nodding their heads, but trust me, the results from the audit team and you, as the manager, are being ignored in this control system. Why do you think that happens?”

Little Rain Clouds

“We are subject to both state and federal compliance. There are important standards that we have to observe. No getting around them. So, I don’t see what all the fuss is about from my team when I try to enforce those standards,” Daniele explained.

“What happens?” I asked.

“We have to maintain files. They have to be up-to-date and complete. Each person is responsible for the files on the clients assigned to them. Once a week, I go and pull five files, at random, give them to someone on my audit staff. They go through the file and find all the mistakes.”

“What happens, then?”

“I bring in the person responsible for the file and we have a very serious discussion. During the discussion, I seem to get my point across. Everyone always agrees with me. But then, they go back and make the same mistakes, again.” Daniele sat back.

“They make the same mistakes, again?” I prompted.

“Yes, and then they get all huffy about it. They walk around the office all day with a rain cloud over their head. I can look over the cubicle farm and see all the little rain clouds. I am just trying to do my job and keep us in compliance with the feds.”

Rearranging Deck Chairs

“When you look at this inventory problem, where should you be spending your time?” I asked.

Bruce looked down. “You’re right. I walk around the store barking orders about removing this display or re-working that shelf arrangement. I have team members to do that, and I have supervisors to make sure it happens.”

“What should you focus on?” I repeated.

“I need to focus on the system. I mean, I can still walk around the store. It gives me a better sense of reality, but I need to focus on the system. It’s the system that provides the predictability in our inventory management. Everything else is simply rearranging deck chairs.”

In Control

“If I had to reduce my inventory by 30 percent by the end of May,” Bruce continued, “I would be able to spend more time analyzing which inventory I wanted to get rid of, adjusting my min/max and re-order points. I would look at inventory turns, lead times and ship frequencies.”

“So, what’s the difference in blowing out 30 percent of your inventory by the end of next week and reducing it by the end of May? You still get your inventory down?” I asked.

Bruce smiled. “If I just blow out my inventory in one week, I will guarantee that within two weeks, my levels would all be back. I might even have more inventory then, because people will be ordering stock outs without any rhyme or reason. In the short term it works, but in the long term, it all comes back.

“By working systematically, I can make permanent changes in stock levels. I will have much more control. We will have the profitable inventory we need, that turns, that makes us money. It gives us more predictability and consistency. It all gets back to the system.”

Early Warning

Vicki was almost laughing. “Do you mean, that if my team can work faster, finish early, they are supposed to tell me? I’m sorry, my team will expand the work to whatever time frame they think I will buy.”

“I understand that,” I replied. “That is actually Parkinson’s Law. Work expands to the time allotted. So, what is it about your system, as a Manager, that has created that circumstance?”

“Well, it’s not me, that’s just the way my team is. I mean, they are not bad people, but if I give them until noon, they will take the whole time. That’s just the way they are.”

“Vicki, I want you to think about the opposite of the same circumstance. Let’s say, instead of being able to finish early, your team cannot get all the work done and will finish late?”

“Oh, well, that is a completely different story. That’s when things get testy around here, that’s when the wheels start coming off. They never let me know, usually until it’s too late, until the deadline is past. Sometimes, unless I am on top of every order, I don’t find out until the next day that an order is still being worked on.”

“So, what is it about your system, as a Manager, that has created this circumstance, that you are not given an early warning about task completion, early or late?”

Supervisor’s Control System

“So, I am with you,” Joyce agreed. “Moving from Team Leader to Warehouse Supervisor is a different role. Talk to me about skill sets.”

“Okay, as Warehouse Supervisor, the role is no longer doing the work, but making sure the work gets done. What tool does the Warehouse Supervisor use to make sure all the work gets done?”

It had been a couple of years since Joyce had spent much time in the warehouse, but she was quick to respond. “Well, there is a daily shipping list containing all the orders available for the day, actually for the next four to five days.”

“That’s one skill set. Checklists. Remember, the role is to make sure the work gets done. A checklist is one of the primary tools of the supervisor. It’s the foundation of many control systems. Yet, how often do we sit with our supervisors and talk to them about how to create effective checklists (control systems) for all the work they make sure gets done?”

“You know, you are right. We just told Phillip that he got a promotion, he was now in charge. Something as obvious as a checklist never crossed my mind. I would bet that Phillip is trying to keep everything in his head.”