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Shop floor management in the laboratory

Success factors and stumbling blocks involved in running a shop floor board with international and multicultural teams

Daniel W. Fuchs (Mettler-Toledo GmbH)

Lean management has expanded in scope to establish itself in corporate functions beyond production. In present-day laboratory operations, it forms a basis for optimized processes and efficient quality management, providing valuable tools for the digital transition to Laboratory 4.0. In this context, shop floor management encompasses effective leadership directly at the “place of value creation” and puts the focus on cooperation and communication.

Adding more value and avoiding waste is the core principle of the “lean” philosophy. The legendary success of the lean principles modelled on the Toyota Production System (TPS) are much more than mere tools to optimize processes and achieve objectives. Rather, they encompass a holistic way of thinking, aimed at the continuous and sustainable improvement of the entire company and involving the entire staff base.

Fig. 1 Origin of the survey’s participants. The composition of the participants in the survey to investigate the success factor “multinational and multicultural cooperation”. Source: Seminar paper HWZ MCA LMS18-3, Fuchs 2018

In the age of rapidly evolving and highly competitive global markets, “lean” is more relevant than ever. Digitization and interconnectedness require lean processes. Against this background, it is important to highlight shop floor management as a lean leadership technique in the context of globalization and the international staffing of teams. The central element is the shop floor board as a visual communication tool and its daily or less frequently held meetings.

A student research project of the author (see Acknowledgements) at the University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich focused on finding out which success factors and stumbling blocks are verifiably decisive in the use of a shop floor board by international and multicultural teams, when compared to the assumptions presented in the relevant literature [1-6]. For verification, a representative survey with an error range of +/- 10% was conducted among member companies of the Swiss association of mechanical and electrical engineering industries (MEM industries), a strongly innovation-driven technology sector, and the responses evaluated. The survey participants came from different international, multicultural teams that are experienced in shop floor management. Figure 1 shows the composition of the survey participants’ origins.

Shop floor management – Leadership at the place of value creation

A new work philosophy is essential when introducing lean management or other, similar methods such as kaizen [1, 3, 7]. As a lean element, shop floor management is an on-site management tool that leads to a change in philosophy. It transfers management processes directly to the shop floor, the “gemba”, which is Japanese for the location where value is created. Basically, it has two aims: the first is to achieve objectives such as product quality, time and efficiency, and the second is to continuously improve processes. The focus is on people and their performance [3, p. 16]. Shop floor management implements a culture of communication outside of meeting rooms, enabling fast, direct communication through which problems can be identified, addressed and solved quickly.

The team is assigned a shop floor manager who is both an embedded supervisor and a team member. The approach aims particularly to motivate the employees, involve them and give them a feeling of appreciation [3, p. 16]. The shop floor manager must possess significant leadership skills and, at the same time, excellent expertise, being both a manager and a team member. The ideal size of a team is considered to be about five to six staff members [5, p. 315].

As a kind of notice board, the shop floor board serves as a visual communication tool that helps to visualize key tasks. It plays a central role in shop floor management, as part of which regular shop floor board meetings are held daily or at longer intervals and serve to review the results and current data. The shop floor board meeting (SFBM) is the focal point of the regular communication within the team, of the shop floor manager and of senior management.

Success factors and stumbling blocks for operating a shop floor board

In the study, the following success factors described in the relevant literature were considered:

Support from senior management

The active support of the CEO or the respective managing director and the executive team is indispensable to successfully implement shop floor management and the shop floor board meeting [5, p. 293-294]. A stumbling block is considered to be when the support of the CEO in the form of letters or speeches is perceived as ineffective by the workforce or when short-term cost considerations on the part of management prevents the long-term creation of a culture as needed for shop floor management.

The shop floor board as a visualization tool

The role of the shop floor manager is not merely to give instructions to the rest of the team but to devise solutions. The role includes systematically advancing goals, passing on information and actively solving problems with the team members. The shop floor board as a management tool helps to visualize the main tasks [5, p. 318] and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). It is important that the essential information is visualized simply and concisely. Suitable colors are used, including red (outside the target value), orange (no growth or slightly below target) and green (target reached or exceeded), also referred to as the traffic light system. Arrows and bar charts are also ideal symbols. The team’s targets and progress monitoring should also be integrated. The board should be easily accessible and visible, and provide space for a standing meeting of all team members [3, pp. 205-212].

Stumbling blocks here are a) insufficient visualization and measurability of processes and procedures, b) data that is not understood by the team, c) an unsuitable location (e.g. noisy, lack of space) and d) an unsuitable board (too small, inflexible, no magnetic board, data cannot be changed during the meeting).

“During is after” the meeting

Discipline is an essential part of this success factor. The meeting must take place regularly, with all team members having to be present, except for those that are excused. The target duration of the meeting is 15 minutes, with punctuality being indispensable. The shop floor manager or moderator has to make sure that the topics for discussion are dealt with succinctly and clearly. More in-depth discussions should not be part of such meetings and must be addressed at another time in work meetings [5, p. 31; 2, p. 211-212; 3, p. 213].

The stumbling blocks here are a) lack of discipline of the team or the superior, b) unclear purpose of the meeting, c) lack of appreciation among the team members, d) assigned tasks that are not demanded and f) that employees do not understand the purpose of the meeting.

Multinational and multicultural teamwork

“People bring their cultural baggage with them wherever they go – and that includes the workplace” [8, p. 1]. The framework for cooperation in international and multicultural teams must be designed accordingly. People want to be part of a successful team. The basics of teamwork are that members’ own motivation is stimulated by the good work of other members, that a team culture develops and that active listening during meetings promotes learning and knowledge sharing.

In multicultural teams, communication principles according to [6] can be divided into two groups:

Low-context cultures: good communication is precise, simple and clear. Messages are directly delivered and understood. They should be repeated if this helps to clarify communication [9, p. 16]. Typical countries are: the USA, Australia, Canada and Germany. The following countries fall somewhere in the middle ground: Finland, Denmark, the UK, and Poland.

High-context cultures: good communication is sophisticated, nuanced and complex. Messages are delivered and obtained by speaking and reading between the lines. Messages are often implied but not clearly expressed [9, p. 215]. Typical countries are: Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia, Kenya, Iran and India. Countries that take this approach even further are: Russia, Peru, Singapore, Italy and Spain.

The strategy for good communication in multicultural teams is not to form opinions too quickly, to listen more, speak less and clarify anything that has not been understood, as well as to be as transparent, clear and specific as possible [6, p. 50-53]. The correct implementation of shop floor management allows teams to develop faster, more creative and more inspirational results [6, p. 54].

Findings from the survey on SFBM success factors in international and multicultural teams

Fig. 2 The survey’s participants originated from more than 20 different countries, which were pooled in various cultural groups with specific forms of communication, as shown exemplarily here. Source: [6], p. 246

In order to examine the success factors of SFBM in international and multicultural teams, a survey of employees in the Swiss mechanical, electrical and metalworking industries (MEM industries) using the online software tool Surveymonkey.com was chosen as the basis for the study. The actual sample size was calculated based on the completed responses to the survey. The respondents were selected completely at random from the entire population. The population size was the maximum total number of employees in the Swiss MEM industrial sector (mechanical and electrical engineering industries) with 320,000 employees in Switzerland as of 2018 [10]. The evaluation was carried out for the business areas administration, logistics, production and miscellaneous, with the majority (approx. 62 %) working in production. Sales, research & development, finance and controlling, purchasing and product marketing were not included in the survey.

With regards to the success factor “multinational and multicultural teamwork”, participants from more than 20 countries were identified. These were grouped into different cultural groups according to [6, p. 246] (Fig. 2). With respect to the distribution of responses by culture, it is interesting to note that the qualitative statements revealed that participants from countries where hierarchies and indirect or “high-context” communication play a greater role in shop floor board meetings tended to see no added value or benefit. In addition, cultural groups are sometimes given too little consideration in communication. Here, the “applications-first” approach is appropriate: the participants first need to be trained and only then, in the second stage, confronted with practical examples [6, p. 50-53]. This applies particularly to Italy, Spain, France as well as Central and Eastern Europe, but also somewhat to the German-speaking countries.

The results of the survey showed agreement with the success factors and stumbling blocks identified in the relevant literature. Shop floor management starts with the senior management and is basically a question of attitude and corporate culture. The survey identified continuity, time and culture as elementary success factors for SFBM. Stumbling blocks were found to be the lack of support for staff training and the lack of assistance by superiors if these did not have the necessary time, expertise and financial resources. Driving improvements consistently and systematically was determined as a key issue.

Conclusion

Lean-based concepts as a management system provide starting points and answers to the important challenges we face today. Particularly in technology and research-driven industries, the two essential factors to compete with the global competition are productivity and innovation. Shop floor management as a management concept provides lab professionals and managers with tools that focus on people and aimed at making value-added processes substantially more efficient.

Acknowledgement

The student research project on which this paper is based (Fuchs, D.W. 2018, The Success Factors of a Shop Floor Board Meeting, unpublished seminar paper) was carried out as part of the CAS Lean Management for Services (MCA LMS18-3) certificate course at the University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration Zurich under the supervision of Oliver Keller (mechanical engineering diploma holder ETH ZH), the head of the degree program.

Notes:

Shop floor (jap. Gemba) describes the place where value is created. In Lean Management, the term covers all places where value-adding processes take place, this can also be in the office or in a laboratory.
Shop floor management according to Hurtz & Stolz (2016, p. 10-30): “The direct management of employees on-site in production”.
Shop floor board: The visualization and review of the results on the board in the meeting (Hurtz & Strotz, 2016, p. 210; Gorecki & Pautsch, 2014, p. 316). Permanently updating the displayed data is also crucial. These must be up to date at all times. For noise protection or safety reasons, the shop floor board meeting can take place near the location were work is primarily done, e.g. in a nearby corridor.

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Category: Laboratory Management | Lean Laboratory

Literature:
[1] Fairris, D. (1997) Shop Floor Matters: Labor-Management Relations in Twentieth-Century American Manufacturing, London and New York: Routledge
[2] Suzaki, K. (1993) The New Shop Floor Management, New York: The Free Press
[3] Hurtz, A. & Stolz, M. (2016) Shop Floor Management: Wirksam führen vor Ort, Göttingen: BusinessVillage
[4] Protzman, C. W., Kerpchar, K., Mayzell, G. (2014) Leveraging Lean in Medical Laboratories: Creating a Cost Effective, Standardized, High Quality, Patient-Focused Operation, Oakville: Apple Academic Press Inc.
[5] Gorecki, P. & Pautsch, P. (2014) Praxisbuch Lean Management, 2. Aufl., München: Carl-Hanser Verlag
[6] Meyer, E. (2014) The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures, New York: Public Affairs
[7] Piore, M. J. & Sabel, C.F. (1984) The Second Industrial Divide, New York: Basic books
[8] Brett, 2015 in Knight, R. (2015) How to run a meeting of people from different cultures, Harvard Business Review, December, 1-7
[9] Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., Mindov, M. (2010) Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, Third Edition, McGraw-Hill Education - Europe
[10] Swissmem, International erfolgreich, in der Schweiz zu Hause, (Internationally successful and based in Switzerland), 2018, https://www.swissmem.ch/de/industrie-politik/ueber-die-mem-industrie.html #36459174:1 https://www.swissmem.ch/de/industrie-politik/ueber-die-mem-industrie.html, consulted on 2018 May 6

Date of publication: 31-Mar-2020

Facts, background information, dossiers

  • Lab 4.0
  • digitization
  • Toyota Production S…
  • shop floor board meeting
  • communication principles
  • corporate culture

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