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Work modeling techniques to bridge "management gap" in team-based organizations.

In the 1990s, companies will be faced with the tremendous challenges of rapidly changing customer needs and technology. Global competition is increasing and customers are demanding more product variety, faster delivery and greater quality than ever before. Concurrently, technological advances are proliferating at astonishing rates. As a result, manufacturers are more productivity conscious, more highly automated and more flexible. They are also seeking new ideas in organizational design to help manage this rapid change.

Organizational designs that facilitate communication, technology transfer and the flow of information will be most useful in managing change. One organizational design that is gaining support is the team-based approach. In team-based (shared-power) organizations, autonomous or semi-autonomous work teams may make many of the business decisions traditionally made by management. The result is that work teams deliver products and manage processes with a high degree of quality, ownership and commitment, thus more directly affecting the profitability of the organization.

In theory, communications and information flow are improved by team-based organizational designs. In practice, however, team structures can limit communications and block the information flow. To be successful, team-based organizations must be implemented correctly and be fully supported by the appropriate information systems.

A case in point

To demonstrate the need for effective support tools in team-based organizations, consider this authentic scenario. The basis facility in this scenario is a supplier of printed circuit boards in Connecticut. The plant's charter and organizational design specify no first-line supervisors, yet insist upon high quality business operations. Plant management is composed of just three levels; operating teams, management team and plant manager. Operating teams include production teams as well as various support teams. Production team members control the build schedule, maintain equipment and ensure product quality, reliability, cost and delivery. Many production team members are cross-trained to perform a wide range of the work elements in their area. Support team members, consisting of process engineers, financial analysts, purchasing agents, etc., may be called upon as needed by production teams. Design teams, who reside off-site, communicate with production teams through a production team member designated as a design liaison.

Team members in the basis facility are equally rewarded for advanced process development and steady-state manufacturing excellence. Both areas require direct leadership and management legitimacy to ensure that plant goals are met. However, the layer of middle management that would normally be responsible for that direction is eliminated by design. The resultant "wide" gap between management and operating teams creates the need for other forms of direction setting and communication.

Bridging the gap

An effective work modeling program provides an excellent means of increasing communication between the management team and production teams in team-based operations. Work modeling techniques can be used to help facilitate information flow from production teams to the management team and to enhance decision flow from the management team to production teams.

The teams need help

In the absence of first-line, operational supervision, production teams need a means of planning, organizing and scheduling their work. They need tools to examine and evaluate alternative scenarios for daily operations and subsequently maintain effective process and quality controls.

Furthermore, production teams must take responsibility for many tasks that would be considered the burden of tactical management in traditional organizations. For example, they must maintain the capability to evaluate short-term manufacturing capacity, determine associated equipment and personnel needs, ascertain the impacts of integration of new products and processes and maintain manufacturing readiness under changing conditions. They need tools to help them communicate effectively with design teams to ensure that products are designed for assembly efficiency and within process capability constraints. Team performance, in terms of tactical planning, is improved substantially by using work modeling techniques.

The specific modeling techniques that can be used are numerous and often quite simple to learn. Perhaps the most versatile tool in solving both tactical and operational problems is discrete-event system simulation. Simulation offers production teams the ability to examine an unlimited number of manufacturing problems. Production teams also benefit from the presentation capabilities offered by many work modeling packages. Perhaps most notable is animated simulation packages, which offer a tremendous opportunity to communicate ideas and point out potential problem areas to the management team.

Management needs help too

The management team also requires special assistance when first-line supervision is eliminated by design. Work modeling can also be used to support management team needs, but the models developed must be more strategic in nature and must deal with long-term productivity and technology transfer issues. For example, consider a strategic model that evaluates long-term process development alternatives based on forecasts of new product demand and technological advances. Once established, strategic and tactical models provide an excellent means to communicate goals and needs to production teams without undermining team-based management by consensus.

Although work modeling can serve as both a source of information and as a vehicle for communication and direction setting, implementation of work modeling techniques is not without difficulty in this environment. Information to support strategic and tactical decision models must be obtained from unconventional sources. Likewise, use of the models for providing direction and for communicating goals to production and support teams requires creative implementation. New measurement criteria must also be developed to support team-based performance evaluation.

Environmental modeling complications

A reasonable question to ask is, "What complications are encountered while introducing the use of new tools to an organization whose members are confronted with new products, new process technologies and a relatively new idea in organizational design?" Specifically, it is desirable to determine how implementation of a work modeling program in a team-based organization differs from implementation in a traditional organization. The challenges are similar in many ways to those found in more traditional work structures, but complications do arise. First, consider the effort of acquiring data and information to support the modeling program.

A large percentage of the necessary information is similar regardless of organizational design. The "traditional" information may include manufacturing parameters such as the amount of manufacturing capacity available, product demand forecasts, etc. Most of this required data can be obtained from sources within production teams or through their contacts with design, support and management teams.

Modeling a team-based work system requires the collection of other, non-traditional data. It is necessary to understand the effects that the unconventional social structure can have on the production system, and hence, on supporting production models. For example, the following questions must be considered:

* How many people make up one operating team?

* What duties other than standard production will operating team members be required to perform? How much time is required for this activity?

* How will the various teams compete for (or share) limited equipment, tools and resources?

* How much work and what kind of work will be performed by support teams?

* What is the training and skill level of various teams and the individuals on particular teams? How are they cross-trained?

* Will each team or team member follow a production unit through processing from start to finish or will the production unit be transferred to another team or team member at some point?

A phased approach

Users of the modeling tools must understand why these tools are important to their team or group and why they offer benefits beyond existing methods. Generating initial interest for modeling projects is therefore the first step in assuring successful implementation in team-based organizations. It is important to pursue a high degree of interest from two distinct groups. First, the management team should be convinced that the benefits of work modeling are significant enough to justify the expenditure of their time and energy to adequately support project needs. Secondly, a technical support group should be identified as a project sponsor in order to solidify commitments and responsibility. The project sponsor should have adequate hardware, software and systems support and should identify a dedicated project champion on the management team.

Obtaining funding and on-going support for the modeling program is a second step in successful implementation. This effort can be less painful than expected if project proposals are well developed and based on well defined goals. Proposals should specify several short-term deliverables to show a quick return on investment with iterative longer-term deliverables of improving importance and quality. These projects should target key problem areas of current interest to management or production teams as initial sources of modeling emphasis.

The third implementation step is to effectively market the benefits of the modeling program so that long-term support and use can be assured. A focus on presentation tools will help in this effort. If available, animated simulation systems provide excellent presentation capabilities and are particularly helpful in selling the benefits of work modeling to people who are not familiar with simulation techniques or statistical output. Initial presentations to the management team should focus on a small number of highly visible problems.

The fourth implementation step is meshing the technology with the organization. Reluctance to use modeling resources can be partially removed by providing complete and accurate documentation, by preparing pertinent training and team-based skill development, and by furnishing adequate systems and user support. Acceptance can be gained by involving process experts in every stage of work modeling efforts. This adds credibility and also helps to provide these experts with a new source of authority in the organization instead of removing an old one. To further help in the integration of modeling technology with team-based organizations, a production team member should be either directly trained in work modeling techniques or should be designated as a liaison to a plant, decision or corporate level work modeling team.


Work modeling techniques, especially in the form of discrete-event system simulation, can help tremendously in the effort of "bridging the gap" between management and operating teams by enabling both groups to view the future system together.

In a dynamic environment characterized by a lack of first-line supervision, work modeling techniques provide management with a means of establishing goals, communicating ideas and supporting decisions. Work modeling helps production teams by providing a structured and disciplined framework for data collection and information processing. Furthermore, work modeling can provide decision support that enables production teams to evaluate and correct their own operational policies in the absence of first-line supervision.

By fostering participation in problem solving, work modeling programs can help both management and production teams to plan, organize and control their work more effectively. Consequently, the wide gap between the teams is reduced, resulting in more effective use of capital and human resources in team-based organizations.

G. Don Taylor is an assistant professor of industrial engineering at the University of Arkansas. He holds B.S.I.E. and M.S.I.E. degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington, and a Ph.D. in industrial engineering and operations research from the University of Massachusetts. He previously held manufacturing positions at Texas Instruments Inc. and at Digital Equipment Corp. He is a senior member of lIE. Gary Holiday is a manufacturing consultant at Digital Equipment Corp. in Marlboro, Mass. He holds a B.S. in physics from the University of Delaware and an M.B.A. from Western New England College. He has 18 years of experience in electronics manufacturing and assembly.
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Title Annotation:Team-Based Operations
Author:Taylor, G. Don; Hobday, Gary
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:How to lead, manage and follow.
Next Article:Using quality circles to develop an action plan required for leading organizations.

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