Who's Bob, and why is it his job?
I’ve recently been recounting our experiences learning how to build a robust manufacturing environment, many times relying on our ERP system to communicate critical details and prevent failures on the shop floor. We adopted this kind of posture during the 1980s, and in 1991, we had the opportunity to buy another company in our same industry. While their product lines and the overall business was a good fit, their company was poorly managed and had the classic adversarial relationship between bosses and workers. It was the complete opposite culture from ours; so, we were going to have some work to do…
For example, on their team, they had a nice, older gentleman named Bob who was a real craftsman and a team player. However, one manifestation of their culture is that, when they had a difficult product to make, they literally would list on the job traveler, “This is a Bob job.” In other words, when it was time to make it, just let Bob do it. There was no further instruction, and Bob would be expected to simply remember how he did it before to get the correct product out the door. Talk about pressure!
Fast forward a few years to when we started implementing ERP systems for other companies, and we found that it was not uncommon for companies to have certain key staff that would be assigned to critical jobs, aka “Bob jobs.” For a short while, this might work for a very small company, but what if something ever happens to Bob? This practice is not sustainable, especially in robust businesses where scalability and redundancy are important.
The solution is, of course, to standardize the work of the “Bobs” of the world by developing processes or tooling that are less dependent on a person’s craftsmanship and instead can be completed by any properly trained staff member. Yes, in the world of ERP scheduling, we can define a unique resource, and call on that resource for specific instances, i.e. for “Bob jobs.” However, to efficiently optimize scheduling, we really don’t want to do that. In fact, the more homogeneous a manufacturing floor can be, the easier it is to schedule and achieve traditional goals such as level loading. The “Bobs” of the world are never level loaded, and eventually, the dependence on one special person will become a problem.
As you may have noticed in our recent posts, the concept of a robust system has been discussed. A robust system really means that all people and machines in the system are highly reliable, have appropriate backup systems, and can deliver reliable outcomes at a very high rate, i.e. in excess of 99% of the time. The criticality of on time delivery, repeatable quality, and the agility to operate at these levels under adverse conditions defines the concept of a robust system. An ERP system in manufacturing, like in Epicor, is part of this concept. It should be highly reliable, able to handle all of the details of the business, and be flexible to adapt to changing conditions. So, while it might be nice to have dinner with Bob, the “Bob jobs” unfortunately are not part of a robust system.