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Mr. Manager, for whom do you work?

It''s a hard concept for many managers, but the fact is, your production personnel don''t work for you—you work for them.

The job of management is to provide the resources and organization that can produce parts. The job of your workforce is to turn those resources into products the customer will buy. Management has the further responsibility to remove roadblocks that hamper efficient production. Yes, you work for them.

What is the most common complaint of managers? I can''t find good people!

It is true; there is not a ready pool of skilled personnel that we can draw on in this industry. While senior managers often offer training to management and office personnel, they generally have offered far fewer opportunities to production personnel. That''s a serious mistake. The result is that the limited numbers of truly skilled operating personnel are stretched so thin they become "fire fighters," partially solving immediate problems, but never having the time to make permanent improvements.

As a consequence, managers become entangled in the web of production problems, their desks piled high with paper, the telephone ringing, and personnel standing outside their doors waiting to report the latest problem or need. Managing a production plant will never be easy, but it can be easier.

Let''s look again at responsibilities. As I''ve said, management''s responsibility is to provide the means of production and the organization. What are the production personnel''s responsibilities? To produce product! They are given the machines, the molds and dies, the auxiliary equipment, and the plastic material, provided by management. Why, then, are there so many problems, and why must management become so involved in production?

Let''s skip to the well-run plant and see how its personnel handle problems:

Example 1: The material handler is told to blend regrind with virgin plastic. He notices the regrind color looks slightly different than the virgin and he tells the supervisor. The regrind is withdrawn and QC agrees it''s been contaminated. A serious production problem did not occur. Management was notified but did not become involved.

Example 2: On machine 17, flash begins to appear on the edge of molded parts. It''s only a slight feather of flash, but the machine operator tells the foreman before the parts get to QC. The foreman increases the clamp force slightly and the flash goes away. What would have happened if the flash had been allowed to continue? The parting line of the mold would have become damaged, forcing removal of the mold for resurfacing. Production would have been delayed, the customer would have been notified, and the next job would have been late in starting.

Example 3: A molding job is cycling 5 seconds longer than planned. The extra 5 seconds could cost the plant $20,000 in lost profit. A process technician spends the next two hours adjusting molding conditions, then checks the results with QC. He succeeds in molding at the quoted cycle time. There were no meetings to discuss the problem, shipments were not delayed, profit was not reduced. The manager was informed but his time was not taken.

In each of these examples, management was not involved in either the problem or the solution. Management would have become involved had the problems not been solved by competent people as soon as the problems appeared.

Do you detect any lessons here? There are several:

  • Management developed knowledgeable and skilled personnel at each job level.
  • Problems were found and solved at the lowest possible operating level by the personnel closest to the problem.
  • Operating personnel had the knowledge to recognize problems and the authority to solve them within their areas of responsibility.

Until the day comes when you can hire all the expertise you need to run an efficient plant, you will have to develop the knowledge and skill of the personnel in your organization. But isn''t that the primary job of a manager?

TAGS: Business
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