Tag Archives: supervisor

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.”

Have to Use a Different Tool

“My boss just told me, now I am the manager. She didn’t tell me I was supposed to do anything different than what I was doing as a supervisor,” explained Lawrence.

“That’s because most companies don’t truly understand the role of the manager,” I nodded, “nor the tools they use to get their work done.”

S-III Manager – creates the system in which work is done
S-II Supervisor – makes sure production gets done
S-I Technician – production work

“For the people who do production work, (S-I) the tools are real tools, machinery and equipment, that’s easy to see. But what are the tools of the supervisor?” Lawrence looked quickly to the left to see if the answer was written over my shoulder.

“The role of the supervisor (S-II) is to make sure production work gets done, so the tools of the supervisor are schedules and checklists. The supervisor uses those tools to make sure the right people are at the right place using the right materials on the right (well-maintained) equipment.”

“So what are the tools of the manager?” asked Lawrence.

“The role of the manager (S-III) is to create the system, and make the system better. The tools of the manager are flowcharts, time and motion, cause and effect sequence, role definitions and analysis.

“The work of the manager is different than the work of the supervisor and requires different tools.”

Your Only Hope

“But how do you get out of the weeds?” Lawrence complained. “So much stuff hits my desk. I am constantly walking the floor. Everybody seems to have a problem for me to solve. All of a sudden, the day is over and I have done nothing. The next day, it starts all over.”

“Dig a little, beat back the alligators, dig a little more,” I said. “Understand that this is not a time-management problem. You cannot organize your way to greatness.

“This is the secret, the keys to the kingdom. Your only hope (in this case, hope is a strategy) is to improve your delegation skills. Delegation and training. The only thing that will keep a manager out of the weeds is to build a team to support the position. When a company gets big enough, it is called infrastructure. Without that support, there is no hope.

“Nothing great was ever created by individual achievement. You have to build a team to solve the problems you used to solve. You have to build a team to make the decisions you used to make.”

You Won’t See It Coming

His brow furrowed. Lawrence had to concentrate to understand. “But I thought a manager was supposed to manage. I thought I was supposed to manage everything on the floor.”

“You’re not a supervisor anymore,” I said. “Your new focus, as the manager, is on the system. Your role is to create the system and make the system better. When you became the manager, you promoted Nicole to be the supervisor. Whenever you do Nicole’s job, you are not paying attention to the system.”

“I thought I was just trying to help,” defended Lawrence.

“And if you continue to help by doing Nicole’s job, you will continue to ignore the system, and you will fail as a manager.”

“Not sure I know what you mean,” challenged Lawrence.

“Nicole is busy scheduling her team around vacations, people calling in sick, having doctor’s appointments and such. That’s her job.

“As the Manager, you just received a revised a production forecast from sales. Three weeks from now, you historically ramp up into your busy season. I looked at your headcount from last year. You are down three people and Charlie just gave notice, his last day is Friday. Everything looks fine, now, but four weeks from now, your production is going to get slammed and Nicole won’t have enough people to schedule from. As the Manager, you have to look ahead and build your labor pool. Now.

“If you are too busy scheduling this week’s production, you will be so far in the weeds, you won’t see what’s coming down the road in four weeks.”

Toughest Thing for a New Manager

“Lawrence, you have been a manager now, for how long?” I asked.

“Two months. It’s really different, but it seems like a lot,” he replied. “Not only am I doing all the stuff I was doing before, but now I have new stuff to do on top of that.”

“Who said you were supposed to keep all the tasks you were doing before?” I wanted to know.

“Well, my boss said I was still responsible for scheduling the people and making sure the materials were ordered. He said if we didn’t meet our daily targets, my butt was still on the line,” defended Lawrence.

“Okay, I understand. And does that mean you are the person who actually has to make up the workload schedule?”

“Yeah, but if it’s wrong, I am still in trouble.”

“Lawrence, do you have to create it to make sure it is right, or do you just have to check it to make sure it is right?”

Lawrence knew the answer, but it was difficult for him to say it. The toughest thing to do, as a new manager, is to stop being the supervisor.

Level of Work of a Team Lead?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I run a private industrial disaster recovery business. We respond to natural disasters and clean up the mess. We are very hierarchical, but I am having difficulty understanding the level of work in the teams that we dispatch.

Is it possible to have a supervisor in stratum level one? For example, we deploy teams of three people consisting of two technicians and a team captain. The two technicians are obviously working at S-I, one or two day time span, while the team captain works on a day to week at the most. The team captain directs the activities of the two technicians, but is he their manager?

We have several three person teams supervised by a single Project Manager. The Project Manager role, for us, includes team member selection, coordination of support resources, equipment, machinery, consumables as well as training for technicians and team captains. Our Project Manager clearly works at S-II, 3-12 month time span.

My question is, what is the level of work for the Team Leader?


You describe a classic case of a First Line Manager Assistant (FLMA). Elliott was very specific about this role. You are correct that the role is an S-I role and illustrates that within a single stratum level of work, we have different levels of work, illustrated below –

S-II – Project Manager, supervision and coordination, manager of the entire S-I team.
S-I-Hi – Team Captain, directs on-site, assigns tasks, but is not the manager of the team.
S-I-Med – Technician, works under the on-site direction of the Team Leader
S-I-Lo – Technician trainee

This works for project teams, deployed field units, multi-shift operations where the S-II Project Manager or Supervisor is not physically present at all times. The First Line Manager Assistant (FLMA) has limited authority to direct activity and assign tasks within the larger authority of the S-II Supervisor. The FLMA has recommending authority for advancement and compensation, but those decisions remain with the S-II Supervisor.

When to Promote

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I have a technician in an S-I role, but he shows promise to be a supervisor. Shows promise, he’s not there yet. If I promote him, he will fail. Yet, he is clamoring to be promoted. If I promote him and he fails, he will likely quit OR I will have to fire him. What to do?

Your instincts are solid. I divide each stratum level of work into three parts (Lo-Med-Hi). For example, Lo-S-II would be an emerging supervisor, may not have earned the title of supervisor yet, but is still in the learning and testing phase.

Med S-II is someone with the competence to be effective in the supervisor role, certainly has the role title.

Hi-S-II is someone, extremely competent and a candidate for consideration at Lo-S-III (emerging manager).

So, Hi-S-I would be your best technician, could be called at “team lead.” If the S-II supervisor is out for the day, this guy is in charge. He will struggle in most areas as a supervisor, but given time (couple of years) he may grow and become more effective at Lo-S-II accountabilities.

Let’s take safety as a key result area (KRA), for example.
S-III designs a safety system.
S-II selects elements of the safety system to focus on each day, coached by S-III manager who designed the safety system.
Hi-S-I may deliver a 3-min safety talk to the team, on a topic selected and coached by the S-II supervisor from the S-III safety system. Hi-S-I would be the role model for the rest of the team to make sure they all go home with fingers and toes.

As time goes by, Lo-S-II projects are assigned to the Hi-S-I team member. This will give the Hi-S-I team member low-risk experience making S-II decisions and solving S-II problems. At some point, everyone will realize the Hi-S-I team member is effectively completing task assignments at S-II. That’s when the promotion happens, not a minute sooner. -Tom Foster