The Importance of Supportive Management

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Published Aug. 28, 2023, on

Part of the ritual was for the team to present their concept to the assembled management team for a green light. They did a pretty good job.

Quality Digest


John was dressed in his black slacks, white shirt, and tie. He was the manager of “Industrial Engineering” and was adamant that this scheme would tank the metrics of the company. The oven was the bottleneck, you see. Unless it was heavily batch loaded, then it would throttle the plant’s output.

John showed me his pages of printouts to prove that the current output of the oven was inadequate, to make the case that anything that slowed it down would be disastrous. Those printouts, of course, only showed output.

Still, the team, composed primarily of frontline workers and a supervisor, was warming up to the idea that it was actually easier to load one piece at a time.

The current process, however, was to accumulate material in front of the oven until it was a pretty significant pile. Then stacks of material would be put on the conveyer—which now had to be slowed down because there was so much solid mass to heat up.

Even worse (and this just occurred to me), because there was no fixed crew for loading the annealing oven, the people being tasked to load it would be taken away from their piece-rate tasks and actually reduce their pay to feed what management believed was the constraint to output.

Math was on our side. It was easy to demonstrate that the oven actually had plenty of capacity and could easily meet the need by operating as it was designed to. The problem-behind-the-problem was that nobody was assigned to load the oven, and it was kind of like that sink of dishes in an apartment with four roommates.

This all happened nearly three decades ago. Since then, the company has been through a series of mergers and acquisitions. Thus, the only thing I can be certain of is that things are different today—at least I hope so.


The Importance of Supportive Management

Another tale from the past

I’ve seen this before. The pushback from the shop floor has often been less of, “We don’t believe this will work,” and more of, “We don’t believe management will support us as we try to make it work.”