Category Archives: Control Systems

Little Rain Clouds

“We are subject to both state and federal compliance. There are important standards that we have to observe. No getting around them. So, I don’t see what all the fuss is about from my team when I try to enforce those standards,” Daniele explained.

“What happens?” I asked.

“We have to maintain files. They have to be up-to-date and complete. Each person is responsible for the files on the clients assigned to them. Once a week, I go and pull five files, at random, give them to someone on my audit staff. They go through the file and find all the mistakes.”

“What happens, then?”

“I bring in the person responsible for the file and we have a very serious discussion. During the discussion, I seem to get my point across. Everyone always agrees with me. But then, they go back and make the same mistakes, again.” Daniele sat back.

“They make the same mistakes, again?” I prompted.

“Yes, and then they get all huffy about it. They walk around the office all day with a rain cloud over their head. I can look over the cubicle farm and see all the little rain clouds. I am just trying to do my job and keep us in compliance with the feds.”

Rearranging Deck Chairs

“When you look at this inventory problem, where should you be spending your time?” I asked.

Bruce looked down. “You’re right. I walk around the store barking orders about removing this display or re-working that shelf arrangement. I have team members to do that, and I have supervisors to make sure it happens.”

“What should you focus on?” I repeated.

“I need to focus on the system. I mean, I can still walk around the store. It gives me a better sense of reality, but I need to focus on the system. It’s the system that provides the predictability in our inventory management. Everything else is simply rearranging deck chairs.”

In Control

“If I had to reduce my inventory by 30 percent by the end of May,” Bruce continued, “I would be able to spend more time analyzing which inventory I wanted to get rid of, adjusting my min/max and re-order points. I would look at inventory turns, lead times and ship frequencies.”

“So, what’s the difference in blowing out 30 percent of your inventory by the end of next week and reducing it by the end of May? You still get your inventory down?” I asked.

Bruce smiled. “If I just blow out my inventory in one week, I will guarantee that within two weeks, my levels would all be back. I might even have more inventory then, because people will be ordering stock outs without any rhyme or reason. In the short term it works, but in the long term, it all comes back.

“By working systematically, I can make permanent changes in stock levels. I will have much more control. We will have the profitable inventory we need, that turns, that makes us money. It gives us more predictability and consistency. It all gets back to the system.”

Early Warning

Vicki was almost laughing. “Do you mean, that if my team can work faster, finish early, they are supposed to tell me? I’m sorry, my team will expand the work to whatever time frame they think I will buy.”

“I understand that,” I replied. “That is actually Parkinson’s Law. Work expands to the time allotted. So, what is it about your system, as a Manager, that has created that circumstance?”

“Well, it’s not me, that’s just the way my team is. I mean, they are not bad people, but if I give them until noon, they will take the whole time. That’s just the way they are.”

“Vicki, I want you to think about the opposite of the same circumstance. Let’s say, instead of being able to finish early, your team cannot get all the work done and will finish late?”

“Oh, well, that is a completely different story. That’s when things get testy around here, that’s when the wheels start coming off. They never let me know, usually until it’s too late, until the deadline is past. Sometimes, unless I am on top of every order, I don’t find out until the next day that an order is still being worked on.”

“So, what is it about your system, as a Manager, that has created this circumstance, that you are not given an early warning about task completion, early or late?”

Supervisor’s Control System

“So, I am with you,” Joyce agreed. “Moving from Team Leader to Warehouse Supervisor is a different role. Talk to me about skill sets.”

“Okay, as Warehouse Supervisor, the role is no longer doing the work, but making sure the work gets done. What tool does the Warehouse Supervisor use to make sure all the work gets done?”

It had been a couple of years since Joyce had spent much time in the warehouse, but she was quick to respond. “Well, there is a daily shipping list containing all the orders available for the day, actually for the next four to five days.”

“That’s one skill set. Checklists. Remember, the role is to make sure the work gets done. A checklist is one of the primary tools of the supervisor. It’s the foundation of many control systems. Yet, how often do we sit with our supervisors and talk to them about how to create effective checklists (control systems) for all the work they make sure gets done?”

“You know, you are right. We just told Phillip that he got a promotion, he was now in charge. Something as obvious as a checklist never crossed my mind. I would bet that Phillip is trying to keep everything in his head.”

A Loop Without Delay

Ernesto hadn’t pulled any punches the day before in class. Emily was already in the plant, out on the line, tacking up a small white board. She wrote -Today’s target – 175 units. She tied the marker to a string and let it dangle.

She called a quick team huddle. “Listen up,” she said. “Instead of waiting for the QC report, I want to start tracking finished units before they leave the line.” She explained the tick marks and assigned a team member to count the marks at 10:00am, 2:00pm and 4:00pm.

I showed up during lunch. “Emily, I am glad you were in class for our discussion of control systems and feedback loops.”

“Yeah, we were going to talk about that, but all we did in class was talk about my morale problem.”

“Not exactly,” I replied. “Think about this. Before today, you had a dysfunctional control system. The results from the QC department were delayed by one day and the people who could fix the problem weren’t given accurate information.

“Today, you successfully converted your troublesome control system into a helpful feedback loop. The people who can fix the problem now get accurate information in real time without delay.” -TF

Our next Management Program is scheduled to begin October 30 in Fort Lauderdale.
Session 1 – October 30, 2006 – 3:00-6:30p
Session 2 – November 2, 2006 – 3:00-6:30p
Session 3 – November 6, 2006 – 3:00-6:30p
Session 4 – November 13, 2006 – 3:00-6:30p
Thanksgiving Break
Session 5 – November 27, 2006 – 3:00-6:30p
Session 6 – December 4, 2006 – 3:00-6:30p

Without the Load

Ernesto and Emily were locked in deep discussion. Emily was learning as much about herself as she was about the problem she brought to class.

I’m the problem?” she asked.

Ernesto shook his head. “Yes, and that’s the good news,” he replied. “The one thing you have the most control of is you.”

Emily’s team had been consistently short on daily unit production. But to protect morale, she had never delivered the bad news. She had never delivered the truth, at least not the straight truth.

“What do I do?” she asked.

“Tell them the truth,” Ernesto replied. “If they don’t know what the problem is, how can they fix it?”

“What if I tell them and they quit or get mad at me?”

“People are not that fragile, people can handle the truth. It’s the load that usually comes with the truth that people have trouble with. Look, Emily, all they need to know on Tuesday are two things. What is Tuesday’s target and as the day progresses, how are they doing toward the target?”

“So, how do I tell them, without the load?” Emily asked.

Ernesto was quick to respond. “Get a white board and in the morning, write down the target number for the day. When they finish a unit, have them put a tick mark on the board. Assign someone to add them up at 10, 2 and 4. They will figure it out.”

Our next Management Program begins Monday, October 30. Registration at

Morale is Only a Symptom

Emily was nervous as she entered the classroom. She knew that I would not allow her to be a passive observer, but front and center in the crucible. I turned to greet the other folks who were now streaming in.

“I would like everyone to meet Emily. She has an interesting problem at work. With our help, she is going to walk us through some solutions.” Emily looked at me sideways. It would take her a bit to trust this group.

Up at the front, Emily stood. “I really don’t know what kind of problem I have,” she started. “Our manufacturing line is not meeting its daily quota and the reject rate is at 11 percent.” Emily continued to describe the circumstances, considering morale, motivation and working conditions. Then the questions started from the group.

“Who decides the daily quota?”
“How is the daily target communicated to the line?”
“Who tracks the number of completed units?”
“How does the line know if they are falling short or getting ahead of the target?”

Emily responded crisply, “The daily quota is determined by the sales forecast and what we need in stock, but the people on the line don’t need to know that. They just need to build the units faster. When the QC people pick up the units for inspection at the end of the day, they count them and it’s on my report the next day.”

Ernesto raised his hand. “So, the line doesn’t know how far they missed Tuesday’s quota until Wednesday?”

“Not exactly,” Emily replied. “I don’t want to discourage them, so I just tell them they were a little short, that they are doing good job and to try harder. I am worried about morale getting any lower.”

Ernesto tilted his head to directly engage Emily. “You are treating this issue as a morale problem. Morale is only a symptom. You have to treat the root cause of the problem, not the symptom.”

Randy dragged a chair up front for Emily to sit. We were going to be there a while. -TF

Our next Management Series begins on October 30 in Fort Lauderdale. Registration at

The Next Tool

Phillip was all ears. We had been talking about the core skills for a Project Manager. During the past four years, Phillip had been involved in hiring this level of project supervisor. In his mind, the most important skills were the technical construction skills.

He slowly understood that the role of Project Management 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 important tool is a checklist.”

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

“You got it,” I prompted. “Why use a checklist only at the end of the job. Checklists can be very 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.” -TF

What Does the Schedule Say?

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 his schedule to find out what is happening?”

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

I stopped, waited for ten long seconds. “And why won’t his 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.” -TF