the factory manager

 For the uninitiated, a KPI = key performance indicator.

For the uninitiated, a KPI = key performance indicator.

Ed is the Factory Manager. He's been in manufacturing for over 47 years, and that's about where the conventionality ends. Usually when I think of someone who's been doing this kind of work for a while, I have an invented trope; probably from watching too many movies like Norma Rae. A union man, same job, same company, same town. It's totally inaccurate, most people don't fit this storyline. Ed certainly doesn’t.

In a way, I wish I'd had my recorder, but I know that's not how Ed would've wanted it and maybe the stories he shared would've been different. Ed is a born and bred Mancunian. When he was 11, he had to take an exam in school that would put him in a particular level of difficulty for subsequent schooling. He did well, so was placed in a reasonably advanced course of study. He didn’t like it so he started skipping school -- his mother told him, if you're not going to school, then you need to get a job.

Ed got an apprenticeship with a tailor who eventually became Topshop. He did men's suits. He seems to have gone through a bevy of manufacturing and operations jobs. At one point he moved to Sri Lanka to manage a factory there. The factory manufactured product for another popular British retailer. He left in 2008, during a Tigers of Tamil Eelam offensive. It was a sticky situation, he said; the Tigers had started an insurgency and a lot of the employees were victims to extortion. A lot of them quit their jobs at the factory, or were unable to make it. Some of the employees, seeing an opportunity, decided to strike. The CEO was due for a visit, and they thought, hey we can get our wages increased. The CEO never landed--or he did, and flew straight back. Apparently a few months later, some key members of the strike were killed or went missing. I can't remember.

When he found out about the murders, he said, he quit. There was also a lot of animosity towards white people at the time. He said they burned effigies of white men around the town, population of two-three thousand. They (who?)threatened to kidnap his children, and after the strike leaders were killed, he couldn't stay. He was employed or in contact with a 3rd party agency. He quit on a Tuesday, and got an interview with a company in Winnipeg on the Saturday he landed in England.

He did make a specific point of telling me how he quit. He's got the assurance of a man who's had an interesting life and knows it. He quit verbally, and was asked to put it in writing so they could process the paperwork. He wrote on a sticky note: his signature, the date and "fuck you" written beneath it all.

Seems his contract also included a hefty severance--he was a millionaire a couple of weeks later. The details here are fuzzy. He said, I was walking around with a million rupees in my pocket, but who's to know how much money he really made. I checked the exchange rate for rupees to Canadian dollars, and it was not quite as impressive as that. I guess it doesn’t really matter. Maybe he was being ironic.

Afterwards he moved to Winnipeg for the new gig. It was an incredibly efficient factory, and all of the software was built in house. [At my company, all of our software is built in house and it kind of sucks to be honest.]

They had a couple of factories, and one by one they shut them all down. There, Ed worked in operations (which is a head office job) and was asked to step in as needed for factory management. Eventually the last factory closed, and they relocated manufacturing to Jordan. The factories manager wasn’t able to implement new factories; he only knew his own. So Ed was sent to Jordan to implement the new one there. Ed is a process oriented guy, and once it's set up it looks like he's happy to move on.

Part of the CJFTA was a stipulation that clothing out of Jordan needed to have 7% Israeli made materials. Most companies would therefore order hangtags or labels or hangers from Israel, and ship out the final product from Haifa.

Later, I tried to substantiate this information through a cursory Google search, and found no further information. Despite the lack of research, I do believe Ed.

During the Jordan trips, Ed stayed somewhere on the Jordan River, looking across at Israel. On the other side, he said that military snipers await for people trying to swim across. He shared a story about a man he knew, Joaquin, a Catholic Mexican who worked with him back in Winnipeg. On one of his trips, Ed promised him holy water from the River. A security officer mistook him for a man trying to cross. As he filled his bottle, Ed felt the weight of a man standing behind him; he turned to see an AK-47 inches away. The man apologized when he noticed the water bottle.

As with any story, the storyteller captivates you; you are ensnared by the energy and desire behind the story and you want to believe every little detail. Sometimes the braggadocio induces doubt, but it also makes the story more fun. With Ed, I think there is mostly truth behind the braggadocio, but more truth than he reveals. A sketchy Manc.

Now he works here and is trying to offload his factory manager duties onto a very quiet and newly employed man named Minard. I can't quite wrap my opinion of him yet. Is Minard cruel or lost? Minard is the only person who took my business card at the project kickoff meeting. Years back, we had a warehouse manager who was very good at the business meetings, and treated the blue collar workers like replaceable chattel. I can’t help but unfairly think Minard is the same.

At the beginning of our conversation, Ed was a little throw-away of my intentions. We started our meeting 35 minutes late, and when I asked him about his day to day, he said, I manage production. No details, although the details are what's important, what matters to this project. He knows it. But talking things over, we started discussing process and factory organization. It was an interesting way for me to gather requirements.

Basically, while the factory is what one would call LEAN, it does not have the operator replaceability. For a lot of factories that employ lean-style methodologies the operations are similar. It's easy to train a sewer to use different sewing machines. It's not so easy to teach a sewer to be a press operator, to cut, to glue etc. However, the flow of LEAN, the reduction of waste, is here. The modular teams and modular efficiencies are here, as well as the team pay structure. Modular work is also relatively new at this company. Ed said confidently, We definitely follow TPS (Toyota Production System), which is about processes and scalability.

Ed talks a lot about Asian values and “saving face” [I should make it clear here that I'm not a racist and don't think like this]. They’ll do anything to save face, he says, to avoid humiliation. One example of this can be found in the two production methods we employ: modular and assembly line.  

Modular production is basically having a team of 5-20 people all working to create a single unit. The idea is that you reduce the amount of work-in-progress (WIP). A TPS factory avoids WIP, as WIP is a cost on the company that increases financial risk. If there is no finished product, you can’t sell it. If there is a problem with equipment at the end of the line, you end up with half-completed garments. With a team of people, everyone works on finishing the unit and avoiding overproducing at one part of the line. Part of modular production is payment based on the team’s efficiency and product output.

Before modular production was introduced here, there was no team work pay. Because of this, the teams had little incentive to work together. They would be paid regardless of the state of the work order. If one operator was underperforming, there was no penalty on the team. When modular was introduced, this attitude persisted, although now their payment was affected by the team’s efficiency. When operators underperformed, the others complained to their line managers for their colleague's lack of output. When the managers relayed this to him, Ed would tell the line employees, then you'll need to fire this person. I'm not going to do it.

After this, Ed said, their attitude changed. They didn’t want to lose face by firing one of their colleagues. Within two weeks, their efficiency increased and nobody was fired.

When I asked whether this was why he had requested screens with production reporting to be installed around the factory floor, he turned serious and less of a storyteller. The reason I want screens, he said, is because I want to know how much we've produced at that point in time per team. So, not naming and shaming (which is an inefficient management strategy).

Schatzman and Strauss talk about "entry". How you enter a field is not just about gaining physical access. It's access to the people. After kickoff, I felt like I'd easily gotten access to the people and their thoughts. I felt this way even more after a meeting about production scheduling with Citadelle the same morning. With Ed, I realized I had a little further to go. He was incredibly late and casually apologetic to our first meeting (this one); he refused to provide me with a summary of his daily work or a holistic view of the factory. Friendly enough, in his way. I manage production. When I asked him about his life, though, he was very open and the shortest distance between two points, the digression, got me where I needed to go eventually.

As far as his daily work, I've gathered a few things through this conversation. The holistic view of the factory I think I'll need to come up with on my own, which is acceptable.

  1. He has weekly meetings with the VP of Operations and Director of Global Supply Chain.
    • This requires up to date knowledge of work-in-progress (WIP) and output per work order.
    • Citadelle sends a daily report of the outputs for each line. In the past, they used our in-house software, and later realized that it was not dependable. This is their process now:
    • The scanout employee fills out a sheet with the output from each module as he scans it out of the factory to the finished goods warehouse.
    • Ideally, the report out of the software would look exactly like this.
    • Citadelle is a bit like me, I think. She'll work with whatever constraints she has, and doesn’t seem to really mind the current software the way others in the company do.
      • Citadelle  started in the Engineering department, where she focused on a single production line and a set list of products. As an Engineer, she would time the workers’ output during the different operations. Today, she coordinates all of the scheduling, inputs and outputs from all lines.
  2. Ed thinks LEAN is almost too process oriented, and doesn’t do well when last minute hangups occur.
    • Example (the place where this occurred is unclear). The production process was incredibly fine-tuned and smooth. Then, a fabric for some work orders came in that was stiffer than expected; it had to be washed to soften. Adding "washing"  as a line operation to the line was incredibly difficult in modular teamwork, while it wouldn’t have been a problem in a regular factory line.
  3. From Citadelle's report, Ed looks at the numbers relating to under and over production, and decides whether employees need to be moved around. It's time consuming and manual.
    • For instance, Module 9 is over performing and is on target to complete their jackets 1 month ahead of time. Module 12 is underperforming. If he waits until Module 9 is completed, then it'll be too late for Module 12 to catch up. Therefore, some employees need to be switched out.
    • The Excel report Citadelle sends doesn’t allow Ed to select the entire column. He has to select a certain range of one column, skip some rows, then a new range etc. Citadelle could easily fix this.
    • WIP calculations are done by hand, as well as the average output each module should be able to provided
    • For payment, employees receive barcode stickers that represent the operation they have completed. This is used because their pay is linked to their efficiency--therefore we need to track their personal and group efficiency. Ed needs to consider this when trying to resolved the Module 9/Module 12 situation. If one employee is a top performer, we need to know so that they're not making up the bulk of the modular work. If that person is then taken off of the module to work on another one, then the risk is that module's efficiency will go way down, affecting their pay.
      • This is the kind of work he wants to off-load onto Minard. When Ed was hired 2 and half years ago, he didn’t want a production manager. He wanted to learn the factory's work, so he did it himself. Now he's ready to move off those tasks.

References

Schatzman, Leonard, and Anselm Leonard Strauss. Field Research: Strategies for a Natural Sociology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973.