Tag Archives: Management

How To Make Project Meetings More Efficient and Productive In One Simple Step

Short post today. One simple step to take to keep project meetings short, effective, and productive:

Have one person in attendance whose main function is to interrupt conversations as they derail with a quick “Shut The Fuck Up.” It needs to be someone who has some respect among those in attendance, but probably not the most senior person at the meeting, as he will be the most frequent target of the comment.

Whenever a project update meeting drifts into group design – “Shut The Fuck Up”

An impromptu recounting of the history of the building the project is going to be located erupts – “Shut The Fuck Up”

The 2 hour conversation you had last meeting about a trivial point starts revving up again – “Shut The Fuck Up”

Discussion on a topic continues (or more accurately, replays) after a decision has been made – “Shut The Fuck Up”

Someone dithers for the tenth time over a decision they were supposed to give a definitive answer to months ago – “Answer Now, Quit, Or Kill Yourself” (This task is not as simple as just repeating four words, or else a Furby could do it – if Furbys still exist)

Why yes, I did just come back from a three and a half hour project update meeting, why do you ask?

PS – The person you assign this task to must also a)be protected by enough of upper management AND the people who actually do work so as not to be fired immediately; and 2)be independently wealthy so that they don’t starve when a) is not enough.


Maybe Continuing Doing What You’ve Been Doing Is WHY You Are Failing

The Wall Street Journal had an article yesterday about a plan for General Motors to move their remaining plants from a 2-shift to 3-shift operation (subscription may be required for the full article). Putting aside the horrible reporting job on the story (I think a headline “Obama mandated make-work program doomed to failure” would have been less biased than the naysaying tone throughout the whole article), the comments made by the sources for the story gave some insight into how corporate practices fossilize, and how a change-resistant mindset affects how data is reported and reviewed.

The specifics of this change are that currently GM is running their plants with two shifts of production, and leaving the graveyard shift for maintenance and restocking, but will switch to three shifts of production. The GM representatives cited in the article claim this will help the efficiency and productivity of the assets, while the third party sources claim that there is no way that this could be beneficial due to the unique nature of auto manufacturing.

I’ve never worked in an auto plant, and I don’t have access to their current cost structure or manufacturing KPIs, so I don’t know if this is a good decision or not, but the reasons given for why this will fail seem to be specious at first glance.

Going by the numbers in the article, GM is looking to add a third shift of production, and increase budgeted downtime (not clear if this is scheduled or unscheduled downtime) during the production by 20%, while still leaving 115 days a year down for larger maintenance or product line changes.

The three big reasons given for why this will fail:
1) The third shift is needed for needed maintenance and cleaning. “If running three shifts means you’re [producing] at only 60% of capacity, then you haven’t gained anything,” said Ron Harbour, publisher of an auto-plant efficiency report. (All quotes from the WSJ article linked to above)

But this calculation assumes that they are currently running at 100% of capacity whenever they are scheduled to run, and that nothing breaks down or works less than optimally during the scheduled production shifts. And since the change had an expected increase in downtime up front, I have to assume that the increase was accounted for in the cost-benefit analysis.

2) The third shift is prone to more job errors, leading to quality problems.

I hope to hell that GM already has measures in place to take care of that, since they are currently doing their maintenance on the third shift. This is a perfect example of that midlevel department manager that shows up at every meeting (and if you are real unfortunate, writes the report that heads up the chain of command) that only reports the details that support maintaining the status quo. If moving production to the third shift increases their errors, doesn’t moving some of the maintenance to first and second shift reduce their errors? (Not saying I buy that shift-to-shift error disparities have to be accepted and lived with, but you can’t say that the one has to be true without the contra-positive also being accepted)

3) Adding a third shift means making more cars, which means that if a model is a market bust, this will be a bigger problem for the company.

I can’t even follow this claim, which was touted as the biggest risk for the change. Reducing the idle time for equipment only increases the asset utility for each line, it doesn’t affect the product range for each line. And inventory management is what will drive the impact on the company in the event of any model losing sales, not the available rate of production for any model. The article acted like it was a big coup to get the GM representative to admit that if sales couldn’t support production then eventually downsizing of the workforce would have to take place, but that is already true and is a completely separate issue from this change.

The whole article just seemed to be the manifestation in print of the guy who has been around for 45 years and says “That will never work” to every proposal being made, not realizing that what is currently being done already isn’t working. If the options are between continuing to follow the current practices that are losing money and failing, and trying something that has both positive and negative affects that may work – yes, go ahead and see if there is a better, third way to do things, but eventually you have to take the leap and try something. Don’t let those with golden parachutes who only have to get the ship to hold together for a couple of more years before they can escape comfortably prevent the company from making the changes they need to make to remain viable in the long term.

When The Cat’s Away, The Mice Will Be King*

I know times are tough. I understand that all companies are trying to do more with less, and are cutting costs wherever they can. But I think that any chemical plant that is running a 24/7 operation that joins the current trend of replacing off-shift supervisors with lead operators is falling into a huge abyss of the type I wrote about yesterday.

The thought is that each plant is too top heavy with supervision and management, especially as automation advances result in the operator workforce slowly shrinking over the past few decades. So eliminate the shift supervisor, point to one of the board operators and call him  the “lead operator”, maybe pawn off some of the clerical/phone-in duties to the security guard (remind me to talk about out-sourcing security guards, or the elimination of them completely at some CHEMICAL PLANTS for another day), and see an immediate benefit in your cost center.

Remember that savings two months from now, when you have to explain to your boss why productivity has dropped, rework and off-spec production has increased, and you spend the first three hours of every morning trying to pick up the pieces of all the little problems that have accumulated over the past 12-16 hours. Realize you have to reorganize all meeting schedules, as Mondays are now completely shot. Keep an eye on all the leading indicators for injuries, but remember that most minor near misses won’t be known about at all, until it’s too late.

At the first plant I worked at, the department manager explained staffing to me the best I’ve ever heard it expressed: “You aren’t paying the operators to take samples every couple of hours and open a few valves. You pay them to be here that one time a year when everything goes wrong.”

This morning, I came in to work to discover that the main water line leading up to the street our plant is on cracked open (again), and that the plant was losing water pressure since 3 am, and would be down to nothing within the next 30 minutes. If there wasn’t a shift supervisor on duty at the plant, who would have made the immediate decisions of which production units to shut down, how to make sure we kept enough steam going through the plant to prevent freezing while making sure we didn’t run out of feed water for the boilers, act as a plant representative to the water company to pressure them to actually get out of their trucks and start working on the repair NOW, and ensure that provisions were put in place to maintain a safe working environment throughout the disruption?

If this problem occured at 2 pm, there will always be a dozen people watching over all these issues. But equipment always fails at 4:45 on Friday afternoon, utilities always go out 1 am in the winter, and the broken pipe will always crack between two departments, so that no operator is “responsible” for it. You need ONE person with knowledge, accountability, authority, and drive to be responsible for the entire site at any given minute.

*Answer once given by my father during a game of Pictionary.  Which is either a) kinda close enough to the actual adage, if you consider English isn’t his first language, or 2) an indication that if you think some of what I post is batty, that it just might be a sign of hereditary early onset Alzheimer’s.

How Do We Have 10-18% Unemployment With These Practices?

Forgive the lack of an introductory post, but if this blog develops in the way I think it will, it doesn’t need one. I’m just looking to write down whatever insights I have as I get through my workday, and hopefully find out that I’m not the only one who sees it this way.

Depending on which set of numbers you look at, the unemployment rate is somewhere between 10 and 18% in the U.S. But almost every project I’ve seen initiated from manufacturing facilities makes that seem impossible. Every project has a Project Manager, who “coordinates” for the company, and maybe 3-9 employees of the company that come to every meeting with varying degrees of value being added. But none of them do the actual work – that’s what the contracting firm is for.

So there’s a contract engineering group, that requires their own Project Manager, and their own support staff, plus the engineers who actually do the design, and the construction foremen, who will actually supervise the installation. Since the engineers in the contracting firm don’t specialize in the process, three times the number of meetings are needed up front, since the first 4 proposals won’t actually work, and need the manufacturing employees to correct the mistakes. And since the group is so large, nobody feels responsible for anything, so you get sub-optimal design at a glacial pace.

So if a project that should require 3-4 engineers ends up taking a dozen people, plus a complete duplication of support staff (one for the plant, one for the contracting firm), and takes three times as long as it should, where is the growth in unemployment coming from? Looking around, I have a hard time saying that our national increase in productivity has outpaced our national increase in laziness and buck-passing.