Tag Archives: productivity

What’s the Benchmark?

“So, what do you think?” asked Lenny. “How do you think my team is doing?”

“I don’t know. How do you measure how you are doing?” I replied.

“That’s the thing. We aren’t sure what to measure against. We got some studies of companies that are sort of like us, but the benchmarks they use seem so different. They just don’t make sense.”

“Two things,” I said. “Pick what you think is important. Start measuring now.”

“But, what do we measure against? How do we know if we are doing okay or not?”

“Measure against yourself. So many companies chase each other’s tail around and end up back where they started. Figure out what is important to your customer and measure that. That’s all your customer cares about. What else matters? Measure the second day against the first day. Measure the third day against the second day. Pretty soon, you will see a trend. Before you know it, you will have one year’s worth of data. Start measuring now.”

Just a Little Bit of Truth

One inch higher on the left and the magnetic white board would be level. It had been the subject of much speculation on the shop floor that morning. There were several theories floating around, but no one had correctly guessed what the boss had in mind.

While the shop floor was organized according to a logical work flow, production had gotten further and further behind. The right jobs were late, the wrong jobs were early.

Last Friday, the boss had taken an informal poll. “George,” he said, “tell me, how do you know if we are ahead of schedule or behind schedule?” It was a fair question, but one that George did not know how to answer. “Well, boss, I guess if we were behind schedule, someone would come out here and tell us.”

It was an interesting response, seeing as how the floor was running only 28% on-time delivery. The boss walked over to the foreman’s office, leaned in and asked, “Say, John, when we are behind schedule, which I know is most of the time, do we ever tell anyone out on the shop floor?”

“Oh, no, boss, if we did that, they might get discouraged and quit.” Another interesting response.

You see, the boss had just heard of an experiment in a plant where they simply published production numbers on a daily basis to everyone in the plant. Every time there was an improvement over the previous day, the manager would circulate and thank everyone. No bonuses, no pizza, just a complimentary remark. The slow group in the plant improved from 83% efficiency to 87% efficiency. The fast group, however, improved from 96% efficiency to 162% efficiency (62% beyond predicted capacity.)

One inch higher on the left and the magnetic white board would be level. I wonder what your numbers would be?

The Link Between Morale and Competence

“So, if morale suddenly improved as the speed of the line improved, what changed? What changed inside your team?” I asked.

“Remember, before, we were talking about competence and incompetence,” Emily thought out loud. “I didn’t believe you when you said the problem was incompetence. But now, I see such an improvement, I think you were right.”

“So, what changed inside their heads?” I asked again.

“Before, the team didn’t know the daily target number. That single number became a tool for them to get better. They became more competent.”

“They are on their way to mastery,” I said. That word mastery hung out there like a full moon. Inescapable.

“I never thought of it that way.”

“Put the two together.”

Competence and mastery,” she said.

“Why do people perform at a high level?” I asked.

“Because they can,” she replied. “Give them the tools to become competent and you will see progress.” Emily smiled. It was beginning to sink in.

“At least, that is half the story,” I announced.

“There’s more?” Emily asked.

Not a Problem of Morale

Emily’s white board had been in place for three days when I got the call. The tone in her voice was quite cheery.

“My team is absolutely amazing,” she reported. “The first day was tough because production was pretty much the same as before. The daily target was 175 units and we only managed to produce 86. I thought the team would implode, but when I got to work the next day, they were all there early and the line was already running. Instead of shutting down the line for break, they took breaks one at a time to keep things moving. We still only got 110 units, but they saw the improvement. Yesterday, they changed a couple of more things and we produced 140 units.

“What’s funny,” she continued. “All I have done, as a manager, is post the target number on the board in the morning and make comments about their improvement. All the changes, they have done on their own. It’s like everything has shifted. This is no longer my problem. They are working to fix it like it is their problem.”

“And, what about your morale problem?” I asked.

Emily’s face curled into a smile, “Oh, I don’t think the problem was morale.”

Caught Off-Guard, by Simplicity

Marcus was already in the conference room when I arrived. He had some papers spread on the table. I could tell by the look on his face he already had the answer. We were drilling down on an installation project that was under water.

“I knew when you asked for the production reports,” he started, “that we would find the problem within 30 seconds.”

“And?” I queried.

“You don’t even have to read the reports. The first three weeks, things are very repetitive. So repetitive that, starting in the fourth week, you can tell someone just photocopied the reports from the week before. The only change is the date at the top of the page. Then starting in week six, the reports stop.”

“And what does that tell you?”

“Well,” Marcus grimaced, “the quality of these reports follows exactly the real production curve in the field. We were meeting targets for the first three weeks. Things began to slide in week four and by week six, things went to hell in a hand basket.

“This is a very repetitive job, and it is very apparent that the weekly planning process just stopped. Everyone figured they would just keep working instead of stepping back to check progress and adjust. It seemed so simple, they lost the discipline of planning.

“The managers probably saved three hours per week in planning and checking, but lost more than 180 man hours in productivity. And they didn’t even know it until it was too late.”

“What’s the lesson?” I asked.

“Don’t relax by the appearance of simplicity. You still have to plan and check. In this case, the payoff would have been three hours to save 180 hours.”

How to Troubleshoot Productivity

I don’t know what happened.” Marcus grimaced. “Sure we were working under some tight restraints,” he explained. “During the first part of the contract, things were going well, but by the end, the wheels were coming off.”

“What do you think happened?” I asked.

“The contract called for several thousand feet of installation. We hit it with enthusiasm, high energy, everything clicked. I don’t know, but midway, we began to fall behind. Because of the working conditions, we could only work eight hours each day. Maybe we got sloppy, in the end, trying to finish, our quality got so poor that we had to go back and re-work several sections. First our margins disappeared, then our budget went completely underwater.”

“What do you think caused the erosion?”

“I don’t know. It was like we ran out of gas. I mean, everyone knew what to do. Technically, everyone was trained. The daily punch out was identical from start to finish. In the beginning, it was easy. In the end it was impossible. We just couldn’t keep up the momentum.”

“So, it wasn’t a matter or know-how or training. It wasn’t a matter of external conditions. Was it a matter of incentive or motivation?”

“No, you could see it in the eyes of the crew. They were in it, they were with it. They just could not produce.”

“Tell you what,” I interrupted. “Let’s pull the production records of the crew for the past six months and see what we find.”

Marcus went silent. I could tell he had mentally stumbled upon the reason. Before he left the room, he said he would have the records by the next morning.

Wishing for More Productivity

“They just don’t get it,” protested Kyle. “Why are they so stupid?”

“Why are they so stupid? Or why are you so stupid for expecting them to understand?” I asked.

Kyle did not expect my response and I could see him stiffen in the chair. He didn’t know how to react to the challenge, so he countered with a question.

“What do you mean?” he said, stalling for time. I was quiet. The seconds ticked by. Kyle finally broke the silence. “Okay, they are not stupid. I just wish they could be more productive, and solve problems better, work smarter.”

“You have exactly the kind of team you have designed,” I said. Kyle’s face lightened a bit.

“You know, you are probably right,” he replied. “So, how do I make it better? How can I improve the design?”

I waited. “It’s not a matter of improving the design. It’s a matter of improving the designer.”

How to Find Unproductive Behavior

The team worked for another 40 minutes. They had sixteen ideas on the board, but Julia wasn’t satisfied. “These ideas are good,” she said, “but not sufficient. Let’s take a different approach. I want you to think about yourself. How have you individually, contributed to the lack of throughput around here?”

Ralph was quick out of the gate. “It’s not my fault!” he proclaimed loudly.

Julia smiled. “Ralph. I know, but I still want you to think about it. It’s not your fault, but if it was your fault, how have you contributed.”

Ralph was a little surprised. No one ever dared asked him to consider that he might be the problem.

“I’ll go first,” said Max, letting Ralph off the hook. “When I am bringing materials into the warehouse off the truck, I just start stacking them up in the receiving area. But, we have so much stuff coming in, I stack it too close to the first staging area. Before they can set up the first staging, they have to move everything I just stacked up in the way.

“I had thought about saying something, but I was too pre-occupied with getting the truck unloaded.” Max had just laid it out there. Again, there was silence. Julia let it build.

“Ed, write that up on the board,” she said.

“Who has the next idea?”

Didn’t Leave for Better Wages

The resignation letter stared at Adrian. His best team member, Eric, had just quit. Eric was employee of the year last December and just received a raise two months ago. He was in line to become lead technician in his department. What could be better? What else could Adrian, his manager, have done?

I inquired about the exit interview conducted by the HR coordinator. The form stated that Eric left for better wages.

Adrian was worried. Three years ago, Eric entered the company as an inexperienced recruit among a group of seasoned veterans. Over time, his personal productivity outpaced the entire team. In Eric’s absence, Adrian feared the overall output of the team would falter. Eric often carried the whole group.

I called Eric, already gainfully employed (at a lower wage) in another company. Happy with his decision, Eric shared his story. On a crew of six, Eric had consistently accounted for 50 percent of the output. The other team members were slackers riding on his coattails. I asked what Adrian could have done differently. The advice was quick and simple. “Cut the dead wood. Release the poorest performers and productivity would have increased, even with a reduced headcount.”

Adrian is left with the remnants of a mediocre team. But before he can heed the advice, he has to find another Eric.