Thinking Deeper About Industrial Operations Organization

Thinking Deeper About Industrial Operations Organization

If you noticed I was missing in action for several days, I took a little vacation and still had to finish a big project last week. Both missions accomplished. Finished the project and got in some quality relaxing.

It also gave me time to ruminate on Tim Sowell’s latest blog post about industrial operations. He’s been thinking a lot about the people who use the technology lately. I think rightly so. Technology only takes us so far (sorry technofuturists).

Several years ago, I ran across a theory of organization called “Holacracy.”  The name derives from an ancient Greek word for a “whole thing”—Holon—and was then taken a new way by Arthur C. Clark. The theory has roots with Lean (which I admire) and Agile (programming) which I know only slightly.

When I studied Holacracy (, the theory sounded interesting and leading edge. Yet, the write up on the website seemed too over the top and limitless. It was as if it solved world hunger, world peace, and personal satisfaction.

Perhaps my impression was deepened by reading about how Tony Hsieh implemented (or rather dumped it on people) the structure (or in his case non-structure). Hsieh, you may recall, garnered great publicity for the unique way he ran Zappos. However, his leadership has declined considerably over the past few years. His Downtown Las Vegas project is in shambles and the way he instituted holacracy at Zappos led to chaos and exodus of good people.

Reconsidering Holacracy

Sowell forced me to take a deeper look at the philosophy. Taken in the context of its “parents” Lean and Agile, it makes a lot of sense. But it can’t be just dumped on a company. It requires a culture of trust before it is implemented. As in all team-oriented approaches, there is a danger of lack of diversity as teams choose their members and they all begin to resemble one another.


Holacracy a New Way of Work can it Apply in Industrial Operational Space

Sowell has been thinking about operations performance, not just technology but how it is used and how people’s roles can be transformed. He says, “While agile is applied in the software work, what we seeing in industrial operations, is not a transformation in technology (yes it is being enable by technology) but it really is a transformation in the way companies plan, execute, work.”

And so, looking at a more encompassing picture, he discusses, “Holacracy and Agile are systems that transform the way in which work is planned, and executed, with constant empowerment of people to change and evolve the system.”

Empowering people to grow and excel becomes a crucial component of managing an organization as the newer generations of workers enter the field. People a little older than I, as well as many of my peers, were content with filling a job. Work, go home, live for the weekend. But even many of us wanted more fulfillment for the hours we put in at work. Younger people increasingly wish to feel they are contributing.

Further, implementing these systems that are designed to empower people is non-trivial. Sowell says, “It is important to note both systems are aligned and they are a framework, they require discipline and execution within the framework to enable the agility. Too often in manufacturing and the industrial space people put technology and systems in as “silver bullets” and expect them to solve everything.”

I felt in reading the Holacracy website that its authors expected the philosophy to solve everything. Whether or not they do, taking Sowell’s ideas about placing within a framework is a giant conceptual leap forward toward effective implementation.

Thinking Deeper About Industrial Operations Organization

Automation and People-They Do Go Together

Automation and people. Some people think that they are opposed to each other. A zero-sum game.

As I developed the editorial focus of the old Automation World, I wrote about how they actually go together. In the very first issue, I interviewed a Lean practitioner. I had to convince him. He told me that automation was bad. People could do better every time. Wait, I responded. Let’s not go overboard here. There are definitely things I’d rather have a machine and automation do for both consistency and safety reasons.

Sometimes a job is just boring. People lose attention. Either quality or safety suffers.

Smart Work Mindset

timSowellTim Sowell’s latest blog post reminded me of that old discussion. The difference is, well aside from about 100 IQ points and that he’s contemplating while watching the Pacific, that he’s updated the idea while taking it to another level.


[At] one company I was engaged with last week their thought pattern was still about replacing the personnel on the plant, going to total automation. While I agree with automation, it is required for consistently and velocity of production. But I struggle with agility.

Two days latter I was at another company and they were all about empowerment of people. They wanted to automate process and operations to free up people to add complimentary agility and “out of the box” thinking.  As one C level said to me, our market is changing as fast as we ever seen.

Stepping back and looking at both these companies the second company was more automated than the first, and the second was investing in automation more than the first. But their attitude was to gain consistently and free up people from repeatable tasks, and increase the responsibility of people, and empower people to make decisions fast.

The diagram below really depicts what I started to introduce last week, and what this second company believed in.

Agile World Tim Sowell Schneider

Notice how he has applied the idea to agility. The automation mindset looks for consistency over a longer production run. The foundation of Lean is respect for people (and how their ideas improve the process). Sowell’s second company was “all about empowerment of people.”

He continues with the thought:

The key thinkers in the industry are not looking to dependency on 1 to 2 people, they are leveraging the concept of “crowd sourcing” thru a active community of people. As we look at the operational/ automation world of the future the key pillars will be:

  • Ability to capture knowledge and intelligence into the system to automate process, and operations. Key is this is not just traditional automation in PLCs/ DCS etc, it is capturing repeatable knowledge and decisions. So the system must bread a culture of contribution and use natively.

  • Ability to have a community of workers who can share collaborated “naturally” with ease, no matter the location of the users and state. Foundational to this is  the ability trust the information, the measures so a common understanding of the situation, and basis for decision can be made.

Check out his blog. It’ll make you think. And that is a good thing.

Celebrate the Power of Habit For Better Leadership

Celebrate the Power of Habit For Better Leadership

Power of HabitLast night’s Super Bowl was an exciting game of American football. The outcome was not certain until only 17 seconds were left in the game. In the final contested play, a New England defensive back stepped in front of a Seattle receiver and intercepted the pass.

After the game, the back was asked about the play. He said he couldn’t describe it. Of course, asking people to analyze something in the height of great emotion is pretty stupid, but I bet it’s true that he didn’t know. His coaches had taught him cues to watch and responses to make. Then they practiced it over and over. It became a habit. He saw the play develop. His muscle memory recognized the situation and acted just as he had been trained. This is what happens when coaches are leaders.

If you have read Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit,” you would have understood. Learn to read the “cue;” take action; reap the reward.

We need to understand and practice this both in our work life and our “personal” life.

When we understand the cue–>routine–>reward cycle, then we can personally discover what makes us more productive and effective at work, as well as in our life outside of work. Not only for the individual, understanding this cycle for the way things get done in business or other organizations can change the culture of the organization.

Duhigg cites the example of Paul O’Neill’s leadership as the new CEO of Alcoa. He started with one small item—quality—that had many layers around it. The focus on quality became an understanding of empowerment, communication, and, yes, quality, such that the company began to prosper.

Whether you supported one team or the other or whether you thought the play call was unwise, celebrate the coaching and the habit building that led to the game-winning interception.

Evolution of Manufacturing Execution Systems

Tim Sowell, who is an Invensys (Schneider Electric) vice president and Fellow, has been writing a series of blog posts on Third Generation Manufacturing Execution System (MES). He has been discussing configuring systems from building blocks rather than custom coding as a wave of the future. In his latest post on model-driven MES, Sowell posits a few benefits:

  • Enable evolution of operational practices by capturing the best practices
  • Rapid product introduction and evolutions
  • Ability to scale over multiple sites in a sustainable way with common product definitions across the sites
  • Transparency across site and multi site, eg, the value chain
  • Empowerment of decisions in the NOW and consistency of actions across different roles, shifts

Some of these items, such as transparency across a site and multi-site have been accomplished by a few companies that I have run across and written about. But stories of successes have not been plentiful. When the economic benefits are tabulated, though, those benefits are high.

Sowell noted two feedbacks this week relative to the modern operational system:

  • MES functionality as defined by Mesa and ISA95 is a commodity
  • Assume operational/ production change
  • Assume operational workforce, people transition and evolution

Sowell calls these key comment when considering a Third Generation MES “based upon core MES functionality in a scalable architecture naturally extended with model driven (workflow) operational practice capture.”

He says he’s shocked upon hearing people still talking about developing a custom MES/MOM system. “Why,” he asks, “waste the energy on a mature technology?” Sowell’s endgame: “Focus your energy on differentiating through the capture and embedding of operational practices and actions, while empowering decisions in the NOW across the operational community in the organization?”

I think his thoughts are going the right direction. I see similar initiatives in other areas where people are focusing on interoperability of systems through use of standards and the use of models.

There remains much room for progress in operations management.

Empower People In Manufacturing Operations With Information

Empower People In Manufacturing Operations With Information

Mobile Workers in Production PlantI admire Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google. They demand data and manage through data and analytics. I have never understood people who try managing without data–or just latch on to one data set that seemingly justifies their ideas while ignoring other data.

Lean is another way of managing that is often ignored. Another article appeared recently about how Lean was an “old” way and had run its course. Just as some don’t understand managing by data and information, others don’t understand that Lean isn’t a program. It is a way of thinking and a way of acting. The cornerstone of Lean thinking and acting is respect for people.

Tim Sowell

These points introduce the ideas of two people whom I admire. First, Tim Sowell is an Invensys Fellow and VP of System Strategy at Invensys in the Common Architecture team in R&D.

He recently posted some ideas on his blog, Time for Information Driven Manufacturing!. Here are a couple of relevant quotes. Check out the link for his entire article.

Information Driven Manufacturing is a manufacturing strategy that combines the concepts of collaboration and value network manufacturing, building on the newer technologies to achieve and sustain a agile competitive multi plant business. A key concept to this strategy is that explicitly recognizes that avoiding change, while comfortable, may represent a bigger risk for the organization than the risk associated with introducing new solutions where appropriate. There is a different culture not taking technology for the sake of it, but an attitude that understands the need for alignment of people, value asset network (multi-plants) and business and operational processes, to reduce cost, but most of all provide a flexible manufacturing base that can adjust with market providing the necessary agility to absorb market change, acquisitions, and new products rapidly and in a cost effective manner.

The cornerstone of information driven company is the empowerment of all people in their roles, to make decisions and act as an aligned team, based upon process and business information, provided in a holistic view (across assets), contextualized, visualized so that it can be analyzed easily relative to their roles. Key is making sure this information and core data are a “Trusted system” and the leading companies are now applying consistent embedded actions to go with the information decision so that consistency in action, and reduction in skill experience are needed to achieve a consistent, timely result.

Note his points of aligning people and the tasks and that the cornerstone is the empowerment of all people in their roles.

Julie Fraser

Julie Fraser, principle of Iyno Advisors, recently wrote Why Plant Information Matters: Because People Matter.

The manufacturing execution system (MES) or manufacturing operations management (MOM) market has never been well defined, as my industry colleague Chris Rezendes of Inex Advisors points out. Most people have some notion of what it means for them, but that is a relatively recent development. In the early days I often explained it as “the control system for the people in the plant.”

You can set it up MES/MOM so operators can’t bypass proper procedures. Yet at core, it does not control but allows those people to take control. MES/MOM takes in, holds, and distributes the information that employees in the production operation need to make sound decisions and take the actions they must to keep the process in control.

The distinction is important. Many industrial companies have a shortage of skilled workers. Part of that is training, but much is also experience and intuition. People who work in production often have a “feel” for when things are going well and not going well – and MES/MOM delivers further information for them to check that gut feel.

Given the appropriate information, production employees will improve the performance of their line, area, and facility. So having the end-to-end view of what’s happening, what’s coming next, what’s going well and not so well can really provide a foundation for the success not only of the employee and that team, but of the company.

Once again, we have a thought leader discussing providing information so that employees are empowered to do their jobs better. The more I travel to technology conferences, the more things I see that have that same common goal. This can only mean good things for manufacturing–if management can just figure out how to get it done.

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