I came across an article in a publication called Tooling & Production titled Overruling Parkinson’s Law that is right out of the manufacturing stone age. A guy named Steve Rose wrote about "Parkinson’s Law", which states that the work will expand to fill the time available.
Mr. Rose writes, "Parkinson’s Law cannot rule. Company culture can’t allow an individual to set his or her own work performance. The organization must set a level of expectation to the employees that make the system work more efficiently. The old saying of “I am doing the best I can” may not be realistic because it means “I am taking as long as I want” to achieve a task."
It struck me that Mr. Rose is a man born too late. He would have risen to great heights at General Motors or General Electric in the 1950’s. The problem is that Tooling & Production is not a stone age publication, generally speaking, and it typically has a lot of good lean information in both its news and editorial content. People management, however, is beyond the purview of Tooling & Production. It is pretty much a hard core manufacturing engineering rag with lots of good stuff about machining and cutting technology.
Mr. Rose and his associates do not have the exclusive franchise on leading edge thinking about lean in their area of expertise, but appalling ignorance of lean in the other aspects of manufacturing. It seems to be quite common, in fact. There are all kinds of lean forums and publications, each aimed at the people making a living in one functional area of manufacturing or another, including the industrial engineers, the quality folks, supply chain people, accounting and so forth. One common characteristic of these forums seems to be a very static view of the rest of manufacturing. Mr. Rose is a prime example – he no doubt thinks way out on the leading edge of lean manufacturing technology, but assumes that the rest of manufacturing still operates by the old tried and true principles of the past.
I am spending next week in Las Vegas where I am keynoting the International Lean/Six Sigma Conference and I will have a chance to hobnob with the some of the smartest manufacturing quality people in the land. If it runs true to form for such gatherings, I fully expect their knowledge of lean accounting, shop floor control and flow principles, and lean management to be almost nil. To see the state of specialization and separation in action, go out and join any one of the lean forums on the net. Every day you will see folks comment in their area of expertise with an amazing depth of knowledge, then follow it up in their next post with a shocking level of ignorance in another area of manufacturing.
We have all grown up in our careers with a functional, vertical view of things. The career path for the quality inspector is through the Quality Department, rising up to some day become the corporate quality director, or some such high level super-specialist. The I.E.’s all aim to become the I.E. Manager and the cost accountants dream of sitting in the Controller’s chair some day. The problem is that lean manufacturing requires a different sort of organizational architecture.
The lean company is not composed of vertically aligned functional departments – it is a horizontal set up, aligned along value streams. At the AME Champions Conference a few weeks ago, the CEO’s in attendance were concerned, with good reason, about their management skill set. In looking at the value streams in their plants, and growing in their understanding of the imperative to structure, measure and manage their plants by processes and value streams, rather than functionality, they realized that they had a big problem: Their plants may have had four distinct value streams, but they did not have four people in their entire manufacturing organization remotely qualified to manage the value streams. They had more than four smart, hard working leaders, to be sure; but these people were each functional specialists with very little knowledge of the other functions.
No matter how expert and intelligent the quality manager might be, if he or she has no knowledge of the accounting or scheduling systems, and has never supervised more than a couple of people, that person is not qualified to be in charge of a value stream – especially one in a plant in transition to lean. With so much changing to a different model, people need leaders with clear vision and the ability to sort through the fog of change to assure that the plant is realigned along the correct principles. That is no place for a manager to get on the job training in the MRP system and HR policies.
It seems clear that, as manufacturing transitions to a lean model, there will be less and less need for people whose knowledge and experience is limited to one function. The new manufacturing manager must understand manufacturing in its entirety. The career path for manufacturing leadership must be cross functional, rater than vertical. A young quality engineer should spend a couple of years getting well grounded in quality, then jockey for a move to the materials management group in a non-quality position for a couple of years. People who have solid multiple functional skill sets will be the value stream managers in the future. People who define their roles and their careers by function will find themselves increasingly unable to make a sigmificant contribution.
If there is an underlying theme to lean manufacturing, it is the realization that manufacturing is an incredibly complicated, completely inter-related system with millions of variables moving at the same time. Lean can be hard to understand because it is more a set of principles by which that complexity is driven, rather than a set of detailed rules. The failed traditional model of manufacturing was built around the assumption that manufacturing could be simply modeled and run by a computer – each cost had one driver and a linear relationship to that driver, the right quantity could be calculated according to EOQ and entered into an MRP system, how long a person should take to do each step of each job could be calculated to four decimal point precision by a guy with a stopwatch – none of which turned out to be true.
The days of you worrying about running your department ignorant of the next, trusting the logic in the accounting and manufacturing computer systems to put all of the functional pieces together are gone. It is becoming obvious that developing multi-skilled managers is more important to the success of lean manufacturing than developing multi-skilled production workers. But as John Mellencamp says in the song, "Ain’t That America?". Here we are making a big fuss over what the hourly employees and unions need to do to get direct labor aligned along the value streams, without ever stopping to think that those of us in management have an even greater need to change first.