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Operations Management

Manager Issues
Managers of all types are at the center of execution on any strategy.
Sep 5 2021
5 Whys - Cold Food and Room Service
Sean Irvine

A Management Story - 5 Whys - Cold Food and Room Service

 

Hi folks, I’m Walter Wardrop, an Operations Management Coach at the Growth Roundtable.  

Frequently when analyzing a problem, we ask the question why five times.  A local consultant I know had one problem he was analyzing where he had to ask why 24 times before he found the actual cause of the problem he was working on.

The story of a hotel here is one I have read elsewhere in either a book or magazine.  There are probably mistakes in my retelling, but you will get the gist of it anyways.  

Several years ago, a major hotel in New York suddenly started having trouble with cold meals being delivered by room service.  As the hotel was quite famous, and had been around for a hundred years, this caught management by surprise.  They started with the usual problems, or shall we say suspects.

They checked whether the room service waiter had a new girlfriend in housekeeping and was stopping off on the way to his delivery to have a little chat.  They checked to see if the meal tray was being picked up promptly from the kitchen when the order was ready.  Then they checked the speed of the elevators to see if they were rising fast enough.  I would have loved to have seen them turning up the speed of the service elevator, so the waiter had to do an Atlas type crouch to keep the platter in control while pulling one G while going vertical.

Finally, they came back to that good old management tool, go to the work floor, or as it is sometimes said, management by walking around.  A manager went along and followed the order from placement to cooking to pick up to delivery.  On the delivery run, the manager saw the elevator stopping at nearly every floor along the way.  Someone from housekeeping got onto the elevator and moved up one floor, then get off and proceeded to swap towels for hand towels, or bathmats for pillowcases.  The worker would then return to the elevator and make the trip back to the floor on which they were stationed.

This manager then went to visit the purchasing manager.  In a polite voice, he asked if the purchasing manager was up to date on orders for linens.   The purchasing manager pointed to the order sitting on the side of the desk, and said he was holding it until somebody squawked, to save the hotel money.  I imagine the other manager politely suggested that perhaps it would be good to place the order right now, and get linen inventories brought back up to normal.

When the linens arrived in a few hours, hot meals quickly returned to being the norm for room service.   The purchasing manager, working within his silo, had done what he thought was best for the company.  He held back an order which he felt could be delayed.  But the purchasing manager missed the fact that most of the housekeepers were immigrants, and were very nervous about making waves, especially in a second language.   They would only do what they were told to do and would never complain as they were just happy to have a job.

What you do is ask “why” many times when there is a problem.  You also never assume that the first answer you get is necessarily the right answer.   A key thing to remember here is that often people are not lying to you, but just telling you information that they have heard, and are passing on the information with some degree of belief.

A comment I freely make, both to myself and the people I am talking with, is the statement “People tell me many things, and some of them are even true.”


Jul 31 2021
Old Folks @ the Tampa Shrimp Plant
Sean Irvine

A Management Story - Old Folks @ the Tampa Shrimp Plant

 

Hi folks, I’m Walter Wardrop, an Operations Management Coach at the Growth Roundtable.  

When I first went to visit a shrimp plant in Tampa, I was surprised by the number of elderly people working within the facility.  While studying several of the production lines, I had plenty of opportunity to exchange stories and discuss what the operators were doing.  I took the time to sit down with some of the elderly operators, and diplomatically worked my way around to asking why someone of their advanced age was still working.  They replied with a jovial laugh that though they liked the salary, they got far more value from the group health benefits.  They generally claimed that they were making two to three times their salary in the health benefits that the company provided.


Jun 15 2021
The Power of a Suggestion Box
Sean Irvine

A Manager’s Story - The Power of a Suggestion Box

Hi folks, I’m Walter Wardrop, an Operations Management Coach at the Growth Roundtable.  

Years ago, while working in a wire plant, I was exposed to a simple suggestion from an employee.   During the wire drawing process, the wire moved across several rollers as it was being drawn down into a thinner diameter.  As wire is prone to do, it would start to groove the metal roller over time.  To maintain quality, the rollers were frequently removed, often in sets, and sent to have their surfaces reground to make them smooth again.  The operator who was doing this removal and replacement job suggested to the company.   Instead of grinding when a first groove became evident, just reverse the roller on its shaft, to put a second groove into the roller before sending for resurfacing.

Another suggestion for a situation like this is to change the static roller into a floating roller, which therefore allows the wire to move around on the roller.  This would tend to reduce the chance of the wire finding a spot to form a groove.

Some very smart people looked at this problem, and basically asked the question why they had not thought of it themselves.  I never cease to be amazed by the intuition and thinking ability of the blue-collar worker.   Time after time I find their thoughts and suggestions can easily surpass the trained engineer.  One of my big frustrations is the many companies that ask their employees to check their brains by the door.  Yes, the worker is a blue-collar worker, but that does not mean that they are stupid.  It is quite likely that on the previous weekend, that simple blue-collar worker had orchestrated a 16-team weekend of softball.  Complete with a banquet, the referees, and all the work that went with it.   Why we would ask someone, who has done so much at home, to dumb themselves down at the plant and worksite is beyond my comprehension.

Frequently when I am visiting companies, I suggest to the president or general manager that we tour the shop floor.  We go to the worksite, and I ask the president a question about what is happening there.  The president is telling me one thing, while the employee in the background is shaking their head to say that is wrong.  I then get the employee talking, and a totally different picture arises about what should be happening there, and what is happening.  The employees know what is happening.  The manager knows what he wants to happen, and there is a lot of distance between the two.


May 25 2021
The New Mold Shop
Sean Irvine

A Manager’s Story - The New Mold Shop

Hi folks, I’m Walter Wardrop, an Operations Management Coach at the Growth Roundtable.  

Years ago at Michelin, we were contemplating an expansion to the shop area that repaired the molds used in making tires.  The plant and production had grown, and more room was needed to maintain the molds as they aged.  Initially, the maintenance department determined that they would probably need a new building, which at the time would have been a $400,000 expenditure.  The plant manager approached the work-study group and asked us to do an analysis of whether there was any other space available in the plant.

My manager asked me to look around, and so I went out to see what was happening.  I first followed the mold when it was removed from the press and taken by forklift down the central road of the plant to the maintenance shop.   This seemed like a long trip, and so I started looking for closer destinations.  An additional problem was that in winter the central road became a bit of a skating rink, which made forklift passage very difficult.

Near the base of the ramp coming from the press shop was a building where a variety of inner tube products were manufactured.  At the time, tires were starting to evolve out of inner tubes as I remember.  I went into the shop, and started looking around at what was in there, and quickly came to realize that most of the equipment or materials being stored in this section were doing just that, being stored.   They were not in active use and looking at the type of materials and dust covering them, most would never see use again.

This was years before I learned about the lean 5S system (Sort - Set in Order – Shine – Standardize – Sustain), but I knew that we were storing junk.  I went through the racks with the different managers, sent some material for recycling, and sent some equipment to other plants that needed it more than we did.  By the time we had finished, we had a sizable volume at our disposal.  I then did a rack layout for the shop and took it over to one of the professional engineers for them to verify that I had designed it correctly.  He agreed that I had specified the right fasteners to hold the racks to the floor.   After he signed off on the plans, we rebuilt the shop into the new service shop for the molds.  We saved a sizable amount of money and had reduced the distance that the molds had to travel outside.  Additionally, when the curing managers needed to check the availability of molds, they just had a short walk down to the nearby building to see what was available.

I now use this 5S knowledge frequently with the clients I go to visit.  As I travel to different companies, I see massive piles of equipment and unused inventory that I know is never going to be used or sold.  A suggestion I make to many clients is to simply put a date on it, and when the item reaches that date, move the item to the plant manager or owner’s office.  Many people are loath to throw things out, not recognizing the time wasted looking around for a remembered, but lost, item.  Another place I frequently find things hiding is under the workbench.  I often joke that an archaeological student could do some serious training by exploring what can be found underneath the work surface, on the shelf or the floor, way back there in the darkness.   Add this to the fact that the work bench is way oversized for the work being done on it, and we end up with a lot of wasted space storing a lot of junk.


May 4 2021
Managers Should Always Ask
Sean Irvine

A Manager’s Story - Managers Should Always Ask

 

Hi folks, I’m Walter Wardrop, an Operations Management Coach at the Growth Roundtable.  

Years ago, at Michelin, I was a supervisor in the extrusion department.  As a young engineer, I thought I knew everything, and was quite capable of putting my foot in my mouth to prove it.  One day while touring the shop floor, I came across an extrusion machine that was running with no operators.  This machine usually had two personnel, the machine operator, and a wind-up assistant.  I was quite used to seeing machines run with just one operator for a while, while the other was off to the washroom, or going to get some more material for the line.   In this case there was no one there, so I stepped to another line and asked another employee to come over and watch this line while I tried to find the operators.  I started moving rapidly towards the office to page the two workers that should have been on that line.  Halfway to the office I met the line operator coming back towards me at high speed.

Rather than jumping all over the operator for being away from his machine, I asked him if there was any problem.  He responded that his assistant had hit his head on a crossbar and received a nasty gash that was bleeding profusely.  The operator had taken his assistant to the office and called for a nurse or first aid attendant to come to the office.  The operator was now going back to his line, to call in some of his colleagues to monitor the machines, so he could return to his operator until the nurse arrived.  I thanked him for his foresight in handling the situation, sent him back to his extruder, and went to the office to wait for the first aid attendant with the injured operator.

I have learned many times over the years to never assume what might be happening.  Ask about a situation in a friendly manner, and if there is still a problem, then try to explain where you stand on the issue.  It never ceases to surprise me how my interpretation of the situation can be off from what is happening, regardless of the facts that are presented to me.

I believe it was W. Edwards Deming’s who said that 85% of the problem is with management.  Very seldom do the operators come to work with the thought of how they can sabotage the process.  Yet management always treats the employees like they are trying to mess things up on purpose.  

 

 


Apr 5 2021
Be careful what you tell the sales department
Sean Irvine

A Management Story - Be careful what you tell the sales department

Hi folks, I’m Walter Wardrop, an Operations Management Coach at the Growth Roundtable.  

While working at Coca-Cola, the sales staff became aware that we could run multiple sizes of cases on the can line. One day I was approached by a sales manager and asked if the can machine could run the 24-pack suitcase, a fairly new product in our selection. I responded that “Yes the can line was capable of running the 24 pack”. The salesman responded with, “Good, I sold some for next week”. The part that I had not had a chance to tell the sales staff was that we had never run a 24-pack suitcase before. Fortunately, we had a good relationship with our suppliers. I contacted the carton supplier, and he responded that he did have that item in stock and would have it to me by the next week. As the sales were destined for next week, I then had to scramble for alternate supply in the short term. I contacted the local beer company that we had been sharing packaging material with and told him what my problem was. He said not to worry, as he had several cases of expired seasonal packaging from a hockey promotion and he would leave them at the gate with security. I grabbed a couple flats of Coke, jumped into my car, and drove over there.  I picked up the cases and that evening my maintenance manager and mechanics were busy putting the setup in place and practicing with the correct size cardboard.

As I said, be careful what you tell the sales staff. They focus just on making the sale, not on whether you can actually produce that item at the time that they make the sale.

 

 



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