Do You Think the Race is Over?

“I changed,” Karyn replied. “But the outcome was still the same. Rachel left early and the work was still undone.”

“Do you think the race is over?” I asked. “What will you do this Saturday?”

“Yelling didn’t work, being nice didn’t work. I don’t know.” Karyn was stumped.

“Were you just being nice, or was there a more subtle shift in you? During all the yelling and Rachel leaving in a huff, how did you see Rachel? Was she a vehicle for you to get stuff done, or an obstacle in the way of getting stuff done?”

“Both,” Karyn flatly stated. “She was supposed to get stuff done, and left it all in my lap when she left.”

“And, last Saturday, you had an early conversation during her shift, when things were calm. Who was Rachel to you then?”

“Well, I treated her more like a person, then.”

“She was no longer something you were driving or an obstacle in the way? She was a person?”

Karyn did not respond to the question.

“You changed,” I said. “You made a shift in the way you saw Rachel. Who are you going to be this Saturday?”

She Still Left Early

“What was different from this past Saturday, than the Saturday before?” I asked.

“The Saturday before,” Karyn started, “Rachel left early in a huff. This Saturday, I talked to her early in the shift, in a calmer conversation. She still left early, but not in a huff. So, I don’t know that I made any progress. She clocked out early and left work to be done.”

“And, how did you feel about yourself, from one Saturday to the next?”

“What’s the difference in the way I felt? The outcome was the same.”

“How did you feel about yourself, from one Saturday to the next?” I repeated.

“A week ago, I was pissed. As the supervisor, I was disrespected. I lost control. I am certain my manager was disappointed with me. The weekend work was left undone and we had to double-up on Monday to catch up.”

“What was different this past Saturday?”

“I thought I headed things off by having a calm conversation. I acknowledged there may be circumstances outside of work that were having an impact inside at work.”

“You were the same two people, on the same Saturday shift, Rachel still left early. Between the two of you, who was different?”

“Well, I was much calmer,” Karyn replied.

“What changed in you?”

Who Will Solve the Problem?

Karyn was in the conference room when I arrived. We only had ten minutes to talk, so right to the point.

“What have you decided that you would say?” I asked. Last Saturday, there was a shouting match that ended poorly. Karyn did not want a repeat performance. At the same time, she wanted the team member to live up to her schedule and complete the work assigned. I suggested that Karyn prepare a conversation that was both sensitive and straight.

“First, the conversation will be early in the shift. I will ask to see her in the conference room, because it is both private and neutral. I am going to start with a twenty second speech and then I plan to listen and ask questions.” Karyn stopped.

“So, what does it sound like?” I prompted.

“First I will apologize.

I am sorry the conversation got out of hand last Saturday. We are both adults and I know better. When I got angry, I should have just called a time-out so we could talk with clearer heads.

It’s obvious to me that something is going on outside of work that is very important to you. It is important enough for you to break the schedule even if your work is not completed. If we could talk about this priority, perhaps we could arrive at some solution. I might be able to help if you could talk me through it.

“Then, I plan to shut up and listen,” Karyn explained.

“So, after you listen, are you going to solve her problem?” I was curious.

“Absolutely not, if there is one thing I have learned, is that I can listen, but she will have to solve her own problem. In fact, she will have to do the hard work of thinking it through. All I can do is give her a platform to solve the problem rather than fight it.”

Escalating Emotions

“I didn’t mean to raise my voice, but I guess things just escalated.” Karyn described this latest blowup with one of her team members. “I am only her supervisor on the weekend, so I feel a little helpless. Her weekday supervisor lets her get away with leaving early. I talked to Rick about it. He just doesn’t want to confront her.”

“And when you stopped her from leaving early, the conversation turned grisly and she left anyway?”

Karyn nodded her head slowly. “And next Saturday, I don’t know what to do or say. I can’t just pretend nothing happened?”

“Oh, you could. Hope is a strategy. You could hope she doesn’t blow up again. You could hope she doesn’t leave early again. You could hope she gets all of her work done. But if hope doesn’t work, what are you going to say and when are you going to say it?”

Karyn scrunched her face, “I don’t want to wait until she tries to walk out the door again. Then it will be Groundhog Day all over again.”

“So, when would be a better time to talk to her?”

“I think early in the day, perhaps at the very beginning.”

“Good, then there won’t be the drama of her trying to leave at that moment. Now, what are you going to say?” Karyn struggled with the question. No response.

“Karyn, I want you think about this. You cannot stumble into this conversation. You have to be prepared. Think about this and we will talk again. Think along these lines. I want you to be both straight AND sensitive. What will you say?”

Service System Capacity

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Related to Integration is a Fancy Word. The illustrative example described an imbalance of systems in a manufacturing model, where there is a build-up of finished goods inventory (unsold).

Question:
Can you provide an example of an anemic sales function in a service industry. What would you get instead of an inflated inventory?

Response:
Thanks for the question. In a service industry, say you have 20 trucks, 20 technicians, optimized to average three service calls per day. The daily average capacity is 60 calls.

If sales only sells 55 average daily calls, you have excess unsold capacity of 5 service calls. You may not even notice. If the average drops to 50, you may begin to notice, and so do your service technicians. How long does it take a service technician to complete two assigned service calls vs three assigned service calls? The answer is 8 hours, no matter which. Parkinson’s law – work expands to the time allotted.

This is functional integration work, to monitor the capacity of each function, to make sure the impact of one function doesn’t outstrip or adversely impact the capacity of its neighboring functions.

In this service example, the math is pretty easy, 20 technicians x 3 calls = 60. Sometimes the service work has more subtle variations where the math is not so clean. That’s why system capacity makes for fascinating study.

Integration is a Fancy Word – Part III

The purpose of system and sub-system integration is not to get rid of our silos, but to integrate them together. The second issue in this integration has to do with individual system capacity and total system throughput.

As organizations grow, there is constant pressure on efficiency (lean, six sigma, MUDA), but as the internal systems multiply, efficient as they are, they begin to get in each other’s way. It is not enough to have a collection of perfectly efficient systems, the organization now has to look at total system throughput. Capacity output and constraints of each system come into play.

Is it possible for Sales to write so many orders, that it outstrips the capacity of Operations to complete those orders? Unfilled sales orders become back-orders. Unfilled back-orders become cancelled orders. Customers go to competitors. What’s the problem? Both Sales and Operations are running full-tilt within the constraints of their function, but one function is outstripping the capacity of the other.

Let’s flip this around. Our Operations function has the latest, greatest state-of-the-art equipment, a cracker-jack operations team and the capacity to crank out finished goods like there is no tomorrow. Yet, if our Sales function is somewhat anemic, not that they are writing no sales orders, but certainly not selling everything that gets produced, what happens to the unsold finished goods? Into inventory they go, stacked in the warehouse. Until the warehouse gets full, then what do we do? We get another warehouse. What is happening to the cost-of-goods-sold?

This second issue of system integration is optimizing the capacity of each function as it sits next to its neighboring functions. There are dependencies, inter-dependencies, constraints, contingencies and bottlenecks that govern total system throughput. It does no good to write sales orders for products and services that cannot be filled.

Integration is a Fancy Word – Part II

Even small organizations assemble systems and sub-systems, and face the same system integration issues as large organizations. Remember, this is not an exercise to eliminate silos, but to integrate them together.

The first integration issue has to do with work as it travels sideways through the organization, from one function to the next – marketing – sales – project management (account management) – operations – quality assurance – research and development – accounting – human resources.

The first issue is to establish the quality standard of the work output as it travels from one function to the next. What does sales always say about the leads that marketing gives them?
“The contact person you gave me hasn’t worked at the company for three years.”
“The telephone number you gave me is a fax machine.”
“The email address you gave me is misspelled and bounces when I send to it.”

What’s the problem? Marketing is proud of the quantity of leads passed to sales, but, the leads miss the mark. The first step to integration is to establish and enforce the quality standard of work output.

In construction, there is a critical work hand-off between the estimating function and project management function. If there is a defect in that hand-off, the defect will be embedded in the project until it surfaces in either operations or quality inspection. The integration of those two functions (estimating and project management) demands the hand-off meeting has a hard agenda with detailed checklists. Problems identified in this hand-off meeting are easier to correct on paper than later, after steel and concrete.

The second issue related to integration has to do with capacity, subject of our next post.

Integration is a Fancy Word – Part I

Each level in Elliott’s level-of-work schema corresponds to a macro organizational function.
S-I corresponds to production work, timespan 1 day to 3 months.
S-II corresponds to supervisory work, to make sure production gets done, timespan 3 to 12 months.
S-III corresponds to system work (single serial system), timespan 1-2 years.
S-IV corresponds to system integration work (multiple systems and sub-systems), timespan 2-5 years.

Integration is a fancy word, what does it mean?

As the organization matures, grows larger and more complex, distinct functions emerge. These started as single roles, but grew into teams. Here is the quick list –
-Marketing
-Sales
-Project Management (or Account Management)
-Operations
-Quality Assurance (QA/QC)
-Research and Development
-Accounting
-Human Resources
There are a ton more, depending on the business model, but you get the drift.

Each of these functions begins internally focused, mostly because we said so. We told each function they had to efficient, internally profitable, no waste, prudent use of internal resources. We told them to be internally focused.

As we stack more functions next to each other, we can see the problem we created. The problem presents itself as a communication breakdown, sometimes a personality conflict. Each function competes for budget, prestige and managerial attention. This is the silo effect.

And we have all been told to get rid of our silos. Not so. We put those silos in place for very specific reasons. It is not a matter of getting rid of our silos, it is a matter of integrating them together.

Integration is a fancy word. What does it mean?

Critical for Growth

Nicole was still stymied over our discussion about the role of the supervisor. “But if I am not actively working on the line with everyone else, I don’t feel like I accomplished anything at the end of the day.”

“Nicole, let’s talk about the value-add of the supervisor. While your team members do the production work, your job is to make sure production gets done. The value you bring to the party, as the supervisor, is that the work is complete, at the target volume, at the defined quality standard and on time. To make that happen, your job is to schedule the appropriate materials, schedule the appropriate team members and make sure the right machines are available. Your value-add is consistency, thoroughness (no gaps) and completeness (the job gets finished).

“The Mom and Pop operation, just starting out, doesn’t have to worry about that stuff. They just have to finish today’s job for today’s customer. As organizations grow, as volume increases and there are more customers than you can count with fingers and toes, these are the issues that make or break a company. Is the right volume of product (or service) produced, of consistent quality, on time? Successful supervisors are responsible for taking the organization to that next level. It is a different sense of accomplishment, yet critical for the company to grow.”

Make Improvement Easy

Nicole had the numbers posted. She was still working side by side with the team, helping on the line, but at least the numbers were posted.

“But, we didn’t make our goal,” Nicole shook her head. “That’s why I was afraid to write the numbers on the white board, before.”

I ignored her body language. “Nicole, I want you to add another number to the board. I want you to post yesterday’s numbers next to the goal numbers. For right now, I just want you to focus your team on improvement over yesterday.”

“Well, that should be easy,” snorted Nicole.

“That’s the point. Make improvement easy. Then focus on it.”