Category Archives: Accountability

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.”

The Weeds Part of “In the Weeds”

Nicole was complaining. Her department was behind. She worked 10-12 hours per day and could never seem to get ahead. She thought her boss should appreciate her efforts and hard work, but instead, she got quite the opposite. He was disappointed in her performance and intended to follow-up on her numbers every two weeks instead of once a month.

“What am I supposed to do?” she said. “I get here an hour early and leave an hour after my team has gone home. It seems, they always pull me into the weeds. I just can’t get anything done.”

“Tell me about the weeds part. How does your team drag you into the weeds?”

“They always need help. I try to work alongside them for most of the day, but then I cannot get my stuff done.”

“Then, stop!” I said. “You are the supervisor. You are there to make sure the work gets done, NOT to work alongside your team. If they have a problem, help them through it, but then get back to your responsibilities. You are supposed to do production counts three times during your shift so you can know if you are ahead or behind. That’s your job. Your team is not meeting its daily production and they don’t even know it.”

Capability Plus Skill Set

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
How does someone make the leap from technician to manager? I see it all the time in IT work, and I think it’s why there are so many bad managers out there. Isn’t this the Peter Principle, where people are promoted to their level of incompetence?

Response:
It’s more than a leap. It is a completely different skill set. The technician is an expert in a technical skill. The technician does the production work.

One level of work above is the supervisor. The supervisor does NOT do the production work. The supervisor makes sure the production work gets done; completely, accurately, no missing segments and on time. The tools of the supervisor are checklists and schedules. This is not a subtle concept and most companies don’t get it.

The role of the supervisor is coordination. Success requires two things. First, the person has the capability to make longer timespan decisions and solve more complex problems. Second is the development of a new skill set related to schedule making, checklist making and meetings. The failure is most supervisors are promoted to a role where they are expected to use a skill set they have not developed and the company is not prepared to train.

The Game Changes Over Time

Howard didn’t like the list. The top three tasks I asked him to delegate were three that he enjoyed the most. He defended, saying these tasks kept his technical skills sharp, kept him in the game.

“Look, Howard, you are a Manager. You are now the coach who cannot step on to the field without getting a penalty flag. Five years ago, it was important for you to keep your skills sharp, to be the expert, to be faster. Your role has changed. The most important thing you can do now is to develop your team, make them faster, sharper. They are your new technical experts. Five years ago, it was important for you to be successful. Now, it is important for you to make your team members successful. If you fail at that, you fail as a Manager.”

One Crab in the Basket

“All my team wants to do is complain. I know things aren’t perfect, but we still have to get the work done. They shoot down every idea I have,” Chet shook his head.

“Have you ever been crabbing?” I asked. “Crabbing, you know, where you trap crabs, pull them out of the water and throw them into a basket?”

Chet looked at me a bit sideways. “What’s that got to do with my team?”

“Here’s the thing, Chet. If you only have one crab in the basket, you have to really pay attention, because the crab will crawl out of that basket lickety-split. The trick is to catch more crabs quickly. With a bunch of crabs, when one starts to crawl out, the other crabs attach to the legs and pull him back into the basket. You would think they would all try to crawl out, but that’s not what happens. Sometimes, teams are the same way.

“Before you describe a possible solution, go around the table and have each team member describe the major benefits if we are successful at solving the problem. If you can get them to focus on the benefits, they are less likely to focus on the crab (you) trying to crawl out of the basket.”

Never Run a Press Before

Cindy’s assignment was simple. As a successful supervisor in another division, she was transferred to a line unit that was having trouble keeping up. After her first meeting, she wasn’t so sure she was up to the task.

From the back of the room, “So, tell us about your background. Have you ever run one of these presses before?”

She admitted that she had not. “So, how do you expect to be our supervisor when you don’t know the first thing about how we do the job?” She had never been challenged so directly. Worse, it was a perfectly valid question.

Now Cindy was in my office. “Here is the central issue,” I asked, “how can you bring value to their problem solving and decision making?”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t know how to run the press, but does that really matter? How do you bring value to their problem solving and decision making? How do they know when they are doing a good job? How do they know when they are doing a poor job?”

“Funny, I know the ops manager was complaining that they did not meet the production quota last month. But those numbers were never broken down on a daily basis so the line never had a clue whether they were ahead or behind. The last two days of the month, somebody came out and yelled at them to pick up the pace, but it was too little, too late.”

“So, you can bring value to the work by giving the floor feedback on daily production runs, perhaps accelerating things a bit, but avoiding a hysterical crunch at the end of the month.”

One month later, Cindy’s crew was ahead by 150 units, yet had worked no overtime, even taken the press down for a half day of preventive maintenance. Every morning, Cindy had a two minute huddle meeting and posted the day’s production goal. At ten and two she posted updates with a final count at 3:30 when the line shut down. Though she had never touched the press, she was bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of her production crew. The skills to be a successful supervisor are quite different than the technical skills of the crew.

The Porpoise

“Purpose?” Phillip squinted.

“Purpose,” I repeated. “The first step to having important meetings is to be crystal clear on its purpose. We tell Project Managers they need to have meetings, and then we wonder why their meetings fall apart. Bottom line is that most companies don’t train supervisors and managers on how to conduct an effective meeting. They just expect it to happen, like magic.”

“So we need to start with purpose?” asked Phillip.

“Everything starts with purpose. Meetings run amuck when there is no purpose, or where people attending have different purposes. Until we get those purposes out on the table, our meeting is going to meander aimlessly.”

“How do we do that? Send an email out before the meeting?” pondered Phillip.

“Yes, it’s as simple as that. But think about it. How many meetings did you attend during the past month where there was no stated purpose and no agenda?”

Phillip didn’t have to think long. “You know, I don’t think I went to a single meeting last month where there was a published agenda, much less, a stated purpose.”

“Now, I know some things managed to get done in those meetings, but they could have been much more effective. Do that one simple thing, and teach your PMs to do the same and you will see an improvement.”

Third Leg on the Stool

“More?” Phillip asked.

“Phillip, one of the biggest mistakes a company makes when it hires people, is underestimating what is required for the person to be effective in the position. The role of a Project Manager requires a new skill set, a skill set that most companies never train.”

“We talked about schedules and checklists, but you said there was another tool, a third leg.”

I nodded. “Perhaps the most important tool. Meetings. Most PMs know they need to have meetings, but they just gut their way through. Nobody likes their meetings. The team would skip them if they could. Participation by team members hardly exists.

“Think what a meeting could be. It makes communication consistent because everyone hears the same thing. It provides the opportunity for interactive participation and questions. It encourages participation and promotes buy-in. It can be used as an accountability tool.

“But effective meetings rarely happen, because most managers don’t know how.” Phillip’s turn to nod. It began to sink in. Running the job is completely different than doing the job.

S-II Power Tool

Phillip was all ears. He slowly understood that the role of the supervisor was different. While the role of the crew member was to do the work, the role of the supervisor was to make sure the work got done. It required a completely different set of skills. It had nothing to do with hammers, saws or heavy equipment. It had to do with scheduling people and materials. It had to do with making sure the work was complete and finished on time.

“You said we need to teach our PMs how to put a schedule together?” Phillip asked.

“Yes, and a schedule is only one of the tools of the supervisor. Another is a checklist.”

“You mean, like the punch list we use at the end of the job to wrap up unfinished details?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “Why use a checklist only at the end of the job. Checklists can be useful through the entire project. There are a hundred things that need follow-up and no one can keep all that in their head. In fact, after a few jobs, a master checklist can be created for different parts of the project, like a template that can be used over and over.”

“And we should teach this to our supervisors?” Phillip was slowly getting on board.

“Yep. I know it comes second nature to you, but not to your junior Project Managers.” I stopped. Phillip had enough for today. “Tomorrow, I will come by and we can pick up the next Project Management tool.”

The Schedule and Reality

Phillip stared at me. His blood pressure was up, though he appeared calm, but not like a deer in the headlights.

“So, we should teach our Project Managers to schedule?” he asked, knowing the answer was yes.

“Look. Phillip. Think about this. What is the most frequent problem a Project Manager has to deal with?”

Phillip didn’t hesitate. “The contractor calls up and wants to know how come something on the job site isn’t happening the way he expected it to.”

“And what happens then?”

“Well, the PM starts scrambling. He jumps on his radio to find out what happened to the crew or the materials or the equipment. It can get a little chaotic.”

“Why doesn’t the PM immediately go to the schedule to find out what is happening?”

“The schedule?” Phillip almost started laughing. “His schedule won’t tell him anything.”

I stopped, waited for ten long seconds. “And why won’t the schedule tell him what he needs to know.”

It was Phillip’s turn to wait. He was trying to craft a response, but the only thing that came out was the truth. “I guess we don’t take schedules seriously enough to train our PMs on how to create them and use them.”

“So, Phillip. Yes, you need to train them on how to put a schedule together.” Phillip nodded slowly in agreement. “And that’s not all. There’s more.”