Category Archives: Control Systems

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

The End Around

Frieda was frustrated. “I sit in a department managers meeting and get called on the carpet for an assignment that I knew nothing about. One of the other managers pulled an end-around and took a project directly to one of my staff members. I am not a mind-reader, how am I supposed to follow-up on a project I know nothing about. I told everyone in the staff meeting that if they want work done in my department, they have to work through me.” Frieda stopped. Calmed a bit. “That didn’t go over real well. Now everyone thinks I am a prima donna.”

“Do you think the other department managers are being malicious?” I asked.

“No, things are just busy. I think they just wanted to get the project done.”

“So, in busy companies, this kind of thing happens. We simply need to get work done and sometimes you may be out of pocket and one of your team members becomes convenient for the project. Don’t take it personally. The question for you is -How can you, as the manager, find out about these projects so you can schedule them appropriately?

“Do you have a weekly staff meeting in your department?”

“Of course, that is when we sit down and take a look at all the projects in-house, get a status and talk about production issues.” Frieda was firm in her response.

“So, I want you to add an agenda item. -What are the projects that have been assigned that we don’t know about? This is actually pretty easy. These would be projects that your team is working on that are not on the project list. The purpose is to capture the project information so your team can respond appropriately. You get back in control and your fellow department managers see you as cooperative and helpful.” -TF

Prevent It, Don’t Just Pull It

Donna was perturbed, “We have a real problem with consistency. I think everything is going okay and then boom, we get hit with a warranty event that uncovers a whole batch of bad product. I already have two people doing random inspections prior to shipping. Still, mistakes get through. I might have to add more inspectors, check everything, just to keep bad product off the shelves.”

“What do you do with the bad product?” I asked.

“Well, we can’t sell it and we can’t melt it down, so we throw it away,” replied Donna.

“Have you used your bad product to isolate the problem production area?”

“Oh, we know the three areas where we have problems, but rather than pull bad product in three places, I thought it best to inspect just before shipping so we can pull all the bad product at the same time, no matter where the problem occurred.”

I winced. “Donna, the purpose of Quality Control is not to pull bad product. The purpose of Quality Control is to identify where the problem is and fix the problem. Consistency doesn’t come from pulling 3 percent of your production. Consistency comes from adherence to systems. The bad product points you to the right area, but when you get there, you have to inspect how processes and people are adhering to system standards. Reduce bad product so you don’t have to pull it.” -TF

Control Systems to Feedback Loops

Overheard at the water cooler: “I am sick and tired of Al coming in every morning and chewing our butts out for something we did yesterday. Where was he yesterday? Now, when he finds a problem, we have take unit out of the staging area and move it back into production. That stops everything. And there is never enough room because we have units doubling up waiting for the rework to be done. Starting tomorrow, we are going to pile up the units in the staging area so he can’t do the inspections. That way he won’t find the problems and we won’t have to pull the defective units back into production. That will fix him.”

Scary, eh?

Here’s the thing. Al was making his inspections based on a checklist. We simply made a change by giving a copy of that checklist to the floor supervisor who inspects the unit before it moves to the staging area. We went one step further and distributed sections of the checklist to each work station so inspection can be completed before each piece is moved to the next workstation.

Now, Al still comes out and inspects in the staging area, but he has found zero defects in the past three weeks. The quality program has changed from a delayed control system (done one day after production) to a real-time feedback loop where corrections can be made immediately. -TF

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Control Systems vs. Feedback Loops

Our company is contemplating a new position for a Quality Control person. Who should they report to? How do we make sure they don’t cover up or gloss over quality problems. Some say they should report to the Plant Manager, some say they should report to someone higher in management.

The Quality Control person in most companies is despised and largely ineffective. The reason is that most companies regard Quality Inspection to be a punitive process. In the end, everyone hates the QC person, ignores their directives and in some cases, even sandbags the entire Quality initiative. Why does this happen?

Simply by changing the name, we can change the orientation of the entire process. Substitute Control Systems with Feedback Loops and everything changes. Where do Control Systems go wrong, and where can Feedback Loops be more effective?

Control systems try to catch product or service defects prior the customer experience.
Feedback loops try to measure variances in product or service so corrective action can be taken immediately.

Control systems depend on an inspector who informs a manager who chews out the production line.
Feedback loops provide useful information to the production line so they can take corrective action immediately.

Control systems generally check the quality of the product or service after delivery. Inside the control system is a built-in delay.
Feedback loops check the quality of the product or service during critical phases of production in real time so corrective action can be taken immediately.

So, figure it out. Come up with your own list. Abandon the Quality Control department and startup the Feedback Loop department. I think they should report to the production line. The job is to provide feedback in real time directly to the people who take corrective action immediately. —TF