When I walked into the 26th Indian Engineering Congress (IEC), on 16th Dec in Bangalore, there was much talk about the poor IIP numbers, the falling standard of productivity and the rapidly changing business environment.
A few months back, RC had called me to give a presentation in the Colloquium of Production Engineers during the IEC and urged me to change the mood of engineers and give a definite direction to improving productivity.
IEC is the biggest platform of engineers in the subcontinent, and I was not very well prepared to give a guest lecture to a crowded audience. I told RC that I normally do one to one coaching, and I am not used to making presentation to large audience. But he persisted, and requested me to open up my past few years of experience on improving productivity.
When there are rapid and unpredictable changes, taking place in all the directions, I knew that engineers (managers) are full with never ending long ‘to do list’ and a huge portfolio of improvement projects. There is a universal truth that working on too many things, dilutes ones attention dramatically, for human beings are not designed to do two things at one time. This leads to delay in everything managers try to attempt. Which includes the critical improvements, they are seeking to bring on, to deal with change. Ultimately, they run into chaos and fire fighting; and the plant or organization loses its ability to respond faster to change.
I therefore thought that I need to provide the participating production engineers, a smarter way to manage their system, without taking too much risk and without exhausting costly resources. TOC, Theory of Constraint, as propounded by Eli Goldratt, came very handy to me, and RC prompted me to guide production engineers in implementing TOC in current turbulent times.
As I walked towards the Hall number 3, at the Bangalore Palace; I could sense the engineering community’s concern about different productivity techniques. Seasoned engineering managers from best of engineering industry in India, were debating on dealing with change. There were debates on the new manufacturing policy, Infrastructure initiatives and productivity techniques.
When it came to productivity techniques, there were all Japanese keywords. Case studies were presented on how people used different tools in their plants. However, a large part of the participants were complaining too much about the difficulties they were facing in using different techniques, and how most of their efforts led to cultural backlash. They said that it takes too long to get small results, it needs every body’s involvement, it requires rocking the boat, it disturbs many other things.
And one participant said, “If implementing and sustaining an improvement initiative, takes years, while the attrition rate in the industry is over 20%, how the hell we can improve.” Another participant said, “We need a way to improve the way we Improve things.”
But there were a few, specially from automotive industry, who unequivocally claimed that they have implemented these techniques successfully.
However, there was hardly anybody, who could claim that improvement projects, added to any additional revenues.
Knowing that bad multitasking dilutes attention of managers, and today they needed a solution to improve quickly, with minimum cost and risk; I delivered the guest lecture, “TOC for Smart Production”, to around 100 production engineers. For past several years, I have been breathing TOC concepts, down the production floors of my clients, and the presentation went very well.
As it happens with powerful concepts, one gentleman said, “It is very simple, probably we do it intuitively.”
I said, “Yes, I believe that most of us have this intuition that we must focus on Constraints. However, in a complex setup of an organization or production system, intuition can only motivate. It requires a systematic way of managing improvement after improvement. Just check, how many of us consistently make it a practice to identify, exploit and subordinate to constraint after constraint; And did we get the desired results.”
The gentleman said, “Yes, we lack a systematic way of implementing Focusing mechanism.”
An elderly gentleman got up and said, “Sir, we know that we are getting lost in many things, and we know that we need to focus on bottlenecks, but we do not know where to start.”
I said, “This is always a problem. Something is Simple to understand, does not mean that it is Easy. TOC is based on some fundamental belief, for that matter, any other improvement process, has its own belief. The belief is that there is inherent simplicity in every system and situation. The improvement team needs to have this belief and get into searching the inherent simplicity in the system it is after. In a production system, you are already used to the concept of bottleneck, so start there and implement the 5 focusing steps. It is as easy as this. Do not get into unnecessary detailing.”
I continued, “Of course, there are TOC tools (called thinking process tools) that help you in identifying core problem (a constraints; and often a constraint is not a resource), finding a no conflict solution to the core problem and implementing the solution. And there are applications developed by using these tools for some of the situations.”
Another gentleman caught me, when I came out of the dias, and said, “Sir, I am sorry, but wanted to share my experience. We find that all tools including Lean, Six Sigma and TOC require different cultural; we need something that suits to Indian culture.”
A few more people gathered around, and I said looking into the eyes of the gentleman, “What is your culture? Is it a culture that likes waste, is it a culture that likes variability, or is it a culture that likes managers running around with never ending ‘to do’ list? Do you think that it is your culture to have heavily unbalanced family and office life? Tools that solve problems are proven and they are prepared to solve the problems they are intended for. I do not think that Indian culture abhors improvement. Invariably, success of all tools, whether invented abroad or in India, is based upon sustaining the culture of improvement. However, if an organization thinks that tools will themselves solve the problem, then they are, perhaps missing the critical point. Most of the catastrophic failures of improvement projects happen because managers try to impose their intelligent solutions on the people in the shop floor or on implementation team. They tend to separate solution creation and implementation. Since the implementers are often not involved in building the solution, their heart and soul is not present in implementation. By the way, solving a problem means implementing a solution; and implementing a new solution means a new culture by definition. Cultural change is at the bottom of sustainable improvements.”
The bespectacled gentleman standing next to me said, “May be that modern manufacturing is not invented in India, and we still do not understand the role of modern management in business.”
“May be, in some cases.” I said without thinking much.
“Does it mean that Managers role be redefined?” asked a tall gentleman, while he forwarded his business card to me. I thanked him, had a glance at his name and pulled out my business card from the blazer coat.
“Indeed! In a vast majority of the organizations, Manager is a hierarchical designation, with very little change in role of an engineer. In fact, in most of the cases, Managers are more like administrators.” I said.
“Sir, what is the difference between an Administrator and a Manager?” asked another gentleman.
“Oh! An administrator is hired to maintain the status quo. Prime role of a Manager is to Improve upon the status quo. Thus managers are the change agent, and they should not forget this. It is their responsibility to take organization from one level to another.” I answered.
“I think, that there is nothing wrong with Indian culture or that our culture is too different. When it comes to making improvement, we must accept that we need to change the status quo, find the type of problem we are facing, probably by using the thinking tools of TOC.” Said the gentleman who had shared his business card.
And I said, “Do not forget, the critical skill of managers is to find the ‘inherent simplicity’, and they must develop it consciously. Subsequently, they must find a no conflict way of finding solution and facilitating their teams in designing and implementing the solution.”
Somebody asked, “Is there something else that could derail improvement project?”
I said, “Yes, remember that the problem is recognized if not identified, and the solution is created by the people who are directly responsible for implementation of improvement project. I think that making the implementation team owning the problem and solving the problem, is the key culture of sustainable improvements that managers need to learn and establish, in their organizations.”
The discussion went on, as I moved out of the hall.
31 March 2014