Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

December 2013    |    Volume: 45    |    Number: 12

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

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A manager's role

In your recent issue (September), I was keenly interested in the global management engineering article "Why Engineering Matters in Management." Authors Bublu Thakur-Weigold and Stephan M. Wagner wrote that that they had information from the late Sumantra Ghosahl, who had done some analysis similar to mine.

I have been working on effective presentation of some of Ghosahl’s degrading commentary on modern management, but I felt it would be unsuitable for the IIE journals, as management is the source of our employment as IEs.

How do you get senior business leaders hired into a corporate effort for one purpose and workers hired for another? Is there any clearer indication that management and labor are not being hired to fulfill any consistent corporate purpose?

Management blames labor, and labor blames management. It is pretty easy to fix where the blame belongs, and it is fixed by the proper definition of management, which is bringing resources together to gain a productive result. The bane of modern management is in its rejection of the very definition of management. Modern leaders feel that they have more important things to do. They have been oriented and trained to that understanding, and they are rewarded for the consistent and effective practice of shifting their efforts away from performance.

The hostility of senior leadership to performance management is both legend and perversion. It is legend in the sense of blaming Taylorism for the dehumanizing of the workforce. When we look, the treatment of workers as cogs in the wheel of industry started well before Frederick W. Taylor came on the scene. What he suggested was management working beside employees as individuals. The dehumanization resulted when management tried to apply Taylor’s techniques to make people work harder and longer for their pay.

Taylor was intent on reducing the workload and increasing the pay – the opposite of what management was doing. When their perversion of Taylor’s work still didn’t support their us-and-them approach to management, they blamed it on Taylor, complaining that his work really didn’t support their management. But one good performance rule is that you only can improve something that works. If it does not work, it must be replaced with something that does work before it can be improved.

Ever since that time, there has been a consistent and pervasive effort to replace performance managers or to do away with them altogether. This is the source for worker circles, where workers are supposed to come together to do what managers are paid to do – improving the processes they use. It is the source for major databases as the basis for senior-level decisions, even though the lack of data management at intervening levels always corrupts the data, putting technicians into positions that exercise influence over performance.

This has even limited the effectiveness of robotics, trying to use automation to replace people instead of using it to multiply what people can accomplish, or using artificial intelligence to replace human analysts and decision makers instead of setting responsible decision makers in charge of machine operations.

Jesse Brogan
The Management Upgrade Shop
Edgewater, Md.

Amending 'Lean’s Trinity'

Paul Erickson’s first installment of “Lean’s Trinity" in the October edition is a fine piece of work. Appropriately, the article rejects the myopic idea that lean is about balanced flow, which addresses WIP and production lead-time but is blind to highly variable demands downstream – in this case at a big box retailer – and upstream at suppliers. (My own two-part article, "Takt Time Tyranny …" in the fall and winter 2013 issues of Target magazine, makes similar points.) I would, however, suggest amending lean trinity’s third component, "more on-time deliveries." Since the case study concerns lean for the sake of gaining a major retail customer, how about a more customer-focused third element, such as "full retail shelves" or "no retail stock-outs" or "continuous replenishment"?

Sure, the retailer wants on-time deliveries and will measure the OEM on it. But the retailer cares more about full shelves (retailers are chronically ill-served by manufacturers on that objective) and surely would be delighted if the OEM were to go forward with proposals to aim primarily at that metric.

Richard J. Schonberger
Independent researcher/author/speaker
Bellevue, Wash.

Distorted writing reveals mirror image

I picked up my copy of the October Industrial Engineer and immediately decided that Arizona State University professor Ricardo Valerdi was not a left-handed hitter. What gave it away? The reversed book titles, the reversed Louisville Slugger logo on the bat, and the wedding ring on his “right” hand.

Personally, I would have preferred seeing him leaning out of the picture and everything else correct! In any case, it was a good article.

Lawrence M. Seiford
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Editor’s note: The October cover photo was flopped, a technique that generates a mirror reverse of an original image across a vertical axis, so that Valerdi would not be obscured by the magazine logo.

Send letters to Michael Hughes at or to IIE, 3577 Parkway Lane, Suite 200, Norcross, GA 30092. Correspondence to the editorial staff is treated as a letter to the editor unless otherwise indicated. We reserve the right to edit letters for length, style and clarity. Include your city and state of residence or employment. Letters from anonymous authors will not be published, but we will consider requests to publish letters with the author’s name withheld.