Tag Archives: system

Why Would They Skip a Step?

“What do you mean, I see things that my team cannot see? If they would just look, they would see it, too,” Max pushed back.

“Max, you are a manager. You are responsible for creating all the systems that people follow. You know more about how things work and how things go wrong. Give me a short list of things you see, that your team doesn’t see,” I asked.

“Short list?

  • Sometimes, we get parts in from our vendor that have a slight defect. If we use that part in our assembly, when we get to the end, the unit will fail a pressure test.
  • If we skip the pressure test, the units get boxed and sent to customers, who install defective units. Their first call is to the salesperson, who gets an earful from the customer.
  • If the salesperson gets three customer phone calls complaining about defective units, the salesperson loses confidence in our ability to make a quality product. He stops selling.

Should I go on?” Max quizzed.

“Why can’t your production people see that?” I prompted.

“I guess they can’t put the dots together. From the time we get that first defective part, to the time the customer complains could be three months time. And when the customer complains, we still have to track down the problem, then reference our production codes to find out when the units were actually produced. It might take another week just to track down the problem. There is too much disconnection for my production team to follow. They just know they get yelled at for skipping a parts-inspection and a pressure test.”

“And, why would they skip a parts-inspection?” I wanted to know.

“Funny, the team was actually proud of their assembled output that week. We were in a bind for a large order. It meant overtime and a team bonus for 50 extra production units that week,” Max lamented.

“So, let me understand. You design all the systems out here, including the bonus system for exceeding production quotas in a shorter period of time? And you wonder why the team skips steps, to get their bonus?”

Smile Training

WHY I wrote Outbound Air

As the organization grows, the chaos of Go-Go is killing the organization. The company has clearly defined its methods and processes, but the sequence is not necessarily efficient. Mom and Pop, who started the organization, long for the days when they could just do everything themselves. This motley crew of people (the team) is going through the motions, doing what they have now been trained to do.

For the most part, the product or service makes it to the customer, and for the most part, the customer is happy. But as sales volume grows, the chaos of Go-Go creates enough substandard output that people begin to notice. Deadlines are missed, defects become visible. The organization reacts by creating a customer service department, to apologize and smile.

But smile training doesn’t cut it. The company is now in pursuit of some sort of consistency, so that every product consistently meets its specification, so that every service meets the standard, every time. The strategic focus turns to a system focus.

____________Adolescence – system focus
________Go-Go – define and document methods and processes
____Infancy – focus on sales, production, find a (any) customer

The methods and processes are examined for sequence and priority to create a system that is efficient, predictable and most of all profitable. The bank wants that line of credit paid off.
Homage to Ichak Adizes, Corporate Lifecycles, 1988.

You Designed the System

“I have so many things going on, seven projects in the air, but the worst part is, people just seem to interrupt me, all the time,” Rosalee explained. “They don’t realize how hard it is to get anything done, when every ten minutes, I have to drop everything to answer a question.”

“Who is they?” I asked.

“Well, it’s my own team members, and it’s my manager, and my manager’s manager.”

“Sounds like you are pretty important around here,” I observed.

“I do have a lot of experience, and my projects are very complicated. Lots of moving parts and shifting deadlines,” she replied.

“So, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I tried shutting my door, so they text me. I tried hiding in another office, they found me. I tried coming in to work early and staying late, but that turned into 14 hour days,” Rosalee shook her head.

“Why do you think everyone depends on you, so much?” I prompted.

“They are smart people, but sometimes I think they are lazy. They don’t have to make a decision using their own judgement when they can just ask me.”

“And if you refuse to help?”

“I can’t do that. Decisions wouldn’t get made and production would slow down,” she protested.

“So, the system that interrupts you, is a system that you designed?”

Kristen’s Recruiting System

Kristen put away the behavior profile. “Okay, you’re not going to look at this. You want a role description. But you want more than a role description, you really want a system?”

“Yes, a system,” I replied. “Let’s sketch out these elements, put each element into a circle, then put arrows between each circle, to indicate the workflow. You may add and take away elements as we go along. This picture will represent your system.

  • Identify the work
  • Identify the necessary roles to do the work
  • Identify the necessary roles to make sure the work gets done
  • Assemble a role description, broken into Key Result Areas, including tasks, goals and level of work
  • Create ten questions specific to each Key Result Area (6 Key Result Areas = 60 written questions)
  • Write a Job posting
  • Resume review
  • Screening phone calls
  • Telephone interviews
  • Face to Face interviews
  • Skills Testing
  • Selection Matrix
  • Reference checks
  • Background checks
  • The Offer
  • Drug Testing
  • Offer (confirmation)
  • Orientation
  • Training
  • Task assignment
  • Assessment
  • Training (more)
  • Career path, development program

“Now we have documented the steps in your recruiting system. What’s next?”

Your Customer is Not Your QC Department

“You cut your lead time from six weeks to four weeks. Higher throughput with the same number of people, with the same equipment, in the same facility, you lowered your cost. You shifted from just getting the orders out the door, to a consistent, predictable system. And that’s when your troubles began?” I was curious.

“Yes, we were certainly focused on our systems,” Arianne continued, “but we had to match a competitors warranty. We figured, no problem, but we were wrong. We had our cost-to-produce down, but our warranty returns went through the roof. Everything we made up in cost savings went right back out the door in warranty repairs and replacement. We had a quality problem.”

“Pace and quality,” I said softly.

“Yes, our throughput was quicker, but it just meant we were making mistakes faster.”

“What did you do?”

“We were relying on our customer to be our Quality Control department. Bad move. We had to retrench, put inspections after each major step, so if we had a problem, we could identify it before we made another thousand parts. We tracked everything on white-boards. We didn’t make it to six-sigma, but enough quality improvement to make a big difference.”

“So, finally you got organized, accelerated your throughput, beat your internal quality standards. It must have been a proud moment,” I encouraged.

“Not really,” Arianne replied. “That’s when the rug got pulled out from under.”

Shift to Efficiency

“You were more organized, but you almost went broke?” I pressed.

“Yes, we managed to get all the orders out the door, but it cost more to produce, than the revenue could cover,” Arianne replied.

“So, you needed to raise your prices?”

“Not that simple,” she explained. “We had competition. Our competitors price-to-the-customer was 15 percent below our cost to produce the same product. We waited for two years for them to go out of business. There was no way they could sustain that loss. But after two years, we figured out they weren’t losing money after all. They had found ways to be more efficient and productive.”

“What did you do?”

“It wasn’t enough to be organized. We had to examine every step. Turns out there were more efficient ways to work. We changed the sequence of some of the steps. Some steps could be done at the same time by different teams, increasing throughput. It was amazing. We cut our lead time from six weeks to four weeks. Higher throughput with the same number of people, with the same equipment, in the same facility, we lowered our cost. We shifted from just getting the orders out the door, to a consistent, predictable system.”

“Problem solved?” I asked.

“Not really. That’s when our troubles really began.”

Flowcharting the System

“So, what does it take to create a system like that?” I asked. “To create a system that would notify for rejected parts along with lead times for replacement parts and alternate suppliers?”

Valerie was shaking her head. “I know our computer software pretty well and to program that functionality would be pretty expensive.”

I reached in my bag and pulled out a handful of 3×5 index cards. “Suppose I said that you were not allowed to modify your software and the only tool you could use were these 3×5 cards? Now build a system. Let’s start with how frequently it happens.”

“You’re right,” Valerie started. “It doesn’t happen that often. Our QC guy who certifies incoming parts, could send a card with the details to our purchasing person. Our purchasing person has access to lead times and alternate vendors. Purchasing gets their order quantities from sales orders, so they could run a reverse report to find out what orders would be impacted, that’s easy.”

“What else do we need to know to effectively respond?”

“We would need to get our sales people involved to find out what wiggle room we have on those orders. Since we are three weeks ahead of the game, there are all kinds of adjustments that can be made with ample notification.”

“If I asked to draw a picture of this on a piece of paper using circles, arrows and labels, could you do that?”

“You mean, like a flow chart?” Valerie asked.

“Like a flow chart.”

What a System Delivers

“Well, I thought our team did pretty well, given the circumstances,” Valerie continued to protest.

“Yes, they did,” I replied. “And those circumstances should never have existed. To come down to the wire and find you are missing 500 critical parts on an order should never have happened.”

Valerie shifted in her chair. “But stuff happens.”

“Yes, stuff happens all the time and that’s why your system should detect these conditions. When did you find out that your supplier had shipped 500 defective parts?”

Valerie looked to the left. “Three weeks ago.”

“What difference would it have made if your system had delivered a report three weeks ago that showed 500 rejected parts along with replacement lead time, a list of alternate parts vendors and their lead times, along with all orders pending that required that part?”

Valerie’s head was nodding. “We would have had three weeks to work on the problem instead of three days.”

System Detection

“But, we got the parts in and shipped the units. I thought we handled that quite well,” protested Valerie.

“You are right, your supervisor did a good job. That’s what supervisors do. But your work, as a manager, was not done,” I replied. “The job of the manager is to create the system. When you discovered you would be short of parts, it was your supervisors job to go find the parts, but it was your job to ask

  • Why didn’t our system anticipate this shortage?
  • Why didn’t our system detect this shortage as soon as the order was placed into our system?
  • Why didn’t our system spot our supplier’s inventory and indicate a shortfall in those parts?
  • Why didn’t our system have alternate vendors for those critical parts?
  • Why didn’t our system continually track alternate supplier inventories to find odd lots at aggressive pricing?

“The job of the manager is to create the systems, monitor the systems, improve the systems. It’s great that we have a supervisor who knows how to scramble. But I prefer a system that responds to our constantly changing circumstances. The role of the manager is to create those systems.”

End to End System Accountability

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

This is Part 3 of 5 in a series. This post is in response to a question by Herb Koplowitz, contributing editor to Global Organization Design Society. It is based on a discussion about Collins’ organizational model.

I didn’t read Collins’ levels as layers, but as personality fit to being a good manager. (He actually describes behaviors and then ascribes them to the manager as though ones manager has nothing to do with ones behavior.) Please explain how you see Collins’ levels as relating to Jaques’ strata. What is Stratum I about being a capable individual, what is Stratum II about being a contributing team member?

Yesterday, we looked at Collins’ Level 2. Today, Level 3.

Level 3 – Collins – Competent Manager. Decisions inside Stratum III roles (Requisite Organization) revolve around pace and quality, but the scope is extended to the efficiency and predictability of that pace and quality. There is end to end (system) accountability to define the necessity and sequence of steps. Jaques defined four managerial authorities for this role.

  • Selection and de-selection of team membership
  • Defining and assigning tasks to be completed
  • Defining a reasonable amount of time for those tasks to be completed (Time Span)
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of those assigned to complete those tasks

These roles require serial processing, seeing cause-and-effect relationships between steps, and the creation of alternate paths to the goal (planning) in the face of obstacles. Longest Time Span task assignments range from 12-24 months.
Our next Orientation of Hiring Talent begins April 23, 2012. First Session begins Monday, April 30. For more informaton follow this link – Hiring Talent.