Tag Archives: stratum III

Missing Stratum III

“I am not sure what is happening,” Monika said. “We have three supervisors, all of them have been here for five to seven years. Up until about six months ago, they were all doing just fine. Now, they are struggling. Not just one supervisor, but all three of them.”

“How so?” I asked.

“We have a meeting to discuss a new problem area. Our work order volume through the shop has increased from twenty work orders a day to fifty work orders. We promise our customers a delivery time, then we find out there are problems with their order, delays in getting some of the special items. We put people on to fix those things, but then that delays other work orders. The white board we use for scheduling can’t handle all the things that change during the day. There is an industry scheduling software, within our budget. We decide on a course of action to find out more about the software, if it will work for us. Each supervisor has their assignment to examine the software. We break the huddle and nothing happens.”

“What do they say?” I pressed.

“We get together a week later. We still have the same problem. One supervisor says they talked to their team, but got push-back. Their team likes the white board. Then they got busy, and here we are, a week later. Another supervisor just stares and says there is too much work to get done, to spend time looking at the software. All three supervisors admit that it is very important to solve this problem. They suggest we hire some assistant supervisors.”

“What happens if you don’t solve this problem?”

“Nothing immediately, but we have some signature projects coming up and if those get delayed, we could lose the projects. And if those projects push other work orders, we could lose other customers.”

I let Monika slow down and stop.

“Have you ever considered that the level of work in your operations department has increased,” I asked. “The way you handle one project, or two projects or twenty projects is different than how you handle fifty projects or sixty projects. If I told your supervisors, tomorrow, would have to handle 100 simultaneous projects, how would they respond?”

“The whole department would implode,” Monika replied.

“But you have the floor space, you have capacity, it is just a matter of handling the complexity created by the additional volume. It’s a higher level of work. And, hiring assistants will not solve your problem. You have to change your system. Do you have the time to work on this?”

“Nope,” Monika was quick to respond. “I have seven departments to keep moving. I can’t get bogged down in this one. It’s almost like we are missing a manager to direct my three supervisors.”

S-IV level of work – Monika
S-III level of work – Missing level – system work
S-II level of work – three supervisors
Clarification on levels of work in Australia, from Adam Thompson at the Working Journey
In Australia, Supervisor usually denotes the S-I role Assistant to Frontline Manager (FLMA, S-II) role, your Leading Hand.

Team Leader is the role that may denote either the FLMA role or the S-II Manager role.

Str-III sits uncomfortably between Manager / Senior Manager / General Manager and sometimes even Director.

Str-IV is reasonably consistent – General Manager. I think that’s a VP in your world. -Adam

The Danger of Missing Stratum III

Registration continues this week for Hiring Talent in the Heat of the Summer. Find out more – Hiring Talent.
From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Our company somehow always manages to pull the rabbit out of the hat, put the fire out that saves the refrigerator, crosses the finish line crawling through glass. But, we can never relax. Every major project is drama. Every major project is the one that will put our company over the top, but we never quite make it. We are always in a state of overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, our customers are very happy and return to us, project after project, but it is such a struggle. We never get to breathe, we never finish in stride.

Your company is operating at S-II (implement), in a market that requires S-III (system). If your organization is completing one project well, what does it get? Another project.

If your organization is completing two projects well, what does it get? A third project. How does it do the third project? The same way it does projects one and two. So, what does your organization get? Another project.

But, what if your organization got fifty projects? How would it do fifty projects? Certainly, not the same way it did projects one and two. Most S-II companies would kill to get 50 projects, not realizing that the 50 projects will kill them. What’s missing? S-III (system) capability.

S-III stands back from the 50 projects and sees the common pattern, extracts that pattern into a system. The system optimizes resources, reduces waste and minimizes effort. The company that wins the race is the one that goes the fastest with the least amount of effort.

S-III (system) brings consistency of output, it’s always the same. Consistency of output yields predictability of output, so we can codify our system. This predictability helps us understand the real cost, now predictable, so we can build in reasonable profit.

Whenever I hear about a profitability problem, I never look for what‘s causing the problem. I always look for a who. In this case, it is a who, with capability at Stratum III. -Tom

Finger Pointing Between Functional Departments

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Any advice as to how to align all members from multiple cross-functional departments into one purpose; create an efficient, streamlined process that assures that communication, documentation and actual product flow is executed efficiently?  We are specifically a design firm, but our revenue comes from the products manufactured from our exclusive designs.  So, we have mature internal systems in each department, but the transitions of work flow from one department to the other sometimes break down, so there are logjams, finger-pointing and sometimes, general chaos.

Much of the answer is in your question.  Let me pick out your key words.

  • Purpose
  • Efficiency
  • Flow

Let me add three more.

  • Balance and optimization
  • Authority
  • Accountability

What you have described is the classic transition from Stratum III systems to Stratum IV system integration.  It sounds like you have done an adequate job of creating multiple internal systems, that are efficient in each of your workflow disciplines.  It is the integration of these systems that is giving you fits.  Let me take a stab at listing some typical systems in this flow.

  • Market research system
  • Design system
  • Prototyping system
  • Approval system
  • Production system
  • Finished goods inventory system
  • Marketing system
  • Distribution and logistics system

Each of your internal systems likely works well within itself, but now you are experiencing balance problems between your internal systems.  It is not sufficient to have a great design system and a great production system.  If you have a weak prototyping system, your designs will get stuck on paper and never make it to production.  You may have a great marketing system that creates consumer demand, but if you have a weak finished goods inventory system, your products will never find their way to distribution.  Your weak systems will be doing their best and your strong systems will be finger-pointing.

So, that’s the problem.  What is the solution?  This is a Stratum IV issue, where someone needs to have end-to-end accountability.  Some companies attempt to solve this problem by creating a role called product manager.  The product manager would be accountable for tracking each step, likely creating a Gant chart of product progress from one function to another.  While this role gathers necessary data about the status of a single product in the chain, it still might only document that the product is stuck.

That is why this is a Stratum IV issue, one of balance and integration.  The S-IV manager (likely a VP) would be accountable for examining each system for capacity and handoff.  This is not looking internally at the mechanics of a single system, but the interaction of each reinforcing system to each balancing system.  It is not a matter of having one or two high performing functions, but having all functions able to keep up with each other, optimized for capacity.  No single system manager will have the authority, nor likely the capability, to do this work.

And somewhere in this integrated whole system, there will be a constraint.  There will be some limitation in a single system which will drive the cadence of all the systems working together.  The hat trick is identifying and placing that constraint strategically.  Typically, this strategic constraint will be an expensive resource, too expensive to duplicate (which would double the capacity of that system).  The identification, selection and placement of the strategic constraint, and then subordination of all other systems to the strategic constraint is the work of the S-IV manager.

With this integrated system design, then the work of documentation, handoffs, communication and feedback loops begins.  Most companies get this backward and have a communication seminar without balancing the systems for total throughput.  You can imagine that this communication seminar makes everyone feel good, but nothing changes in throughput, the finger-pointing continues.

For more reading, start with Eli Goldratt’s The Goal and Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline.