First Line Manager: Dr. Watson I Presume

I am always on the lookout for new stuff. I look at several business web sites a day. I read an article about how computers, like IBM’s Watson, can replace middle managers. This means the first line manager will become more important. Look at This computer system is amazing.

Understanding the Deming management method is a critical process for making Watson work for business. Deming’s red bead experiment demonstrates process variation and statistical controls. The Watson computer is a data management tool for changing the way we process data by using statistical controls. Data management processing is the key to making effective management decisions. Here is an example of what I know.

There is a management control system built into my company’s new computer order dispatch program. This management control system shows the work performed by each employee and work group. First line managers are not trained on the management control system. Our company begins to send us work analysis reports on our work groups. I ask my manager a question about the report. It does not match what I think is real. He said, “this management system depends on how we set up the work groups in the data base.” This is news to me. I am the only person that can do this for our division. When I look, our division work groups are not set up correctly in the data base. This is a case of “garbage in; garbage out.”

I set up each work group in our division. I print the data sheets for each work group. From this data I manually create a spread sheet. I arrange the orders into a total for each worker, each operation center, and each foreman. I do this for each month and for a year.I keep the data base and the spread sheet updated. Over time we get a good feel for our work load in each area.

Now we can use this data. This data is in the right format. We see the critical jobs each worker and each work group performs. We can decide what groups can effectively help other groups. Now we know which work groups can take on extra work activities. We can track the kind of work we want to move into, such as maintenance work, and which workers are doing the new work activities.

One morning I receive a call from a foreman. He asks me if his work group in a certain town can take on extra work activities from another department. This department will not add a worker; just let us do the work. Since I am tracking the work activities of our workers in this town; my answer is, sure we can. We saved our company the salary and transportation cost of one employee. The answer is based on data in the spread sheet; it is not a guess. The work load of our employees went from averaging nine orders a day to fourteen. This is well within the capabilities of these key workers.

Other divisions in our company want this spread sheet. The problem; creating the work groups and the spread sheet is labor intensive. Also, I create these based on my work experience. Assumptions I make because of my undersading of the work done by our field forces. It is difficult to explain the process I do to get the data into a spread sheet. No other division can create this data sheet. Then the problem becomes moot.

Our company purchases a new order dispatch system. The data base retrieval system changes, I cannot retrieve data in the old format. Now, I cannot keep up the spread sheet. We are back as before, running our business without the statistics we need to make effective decisions. We are driving down a road at night without our headlights on. We have a good idea where the road is, we must drive slower, and even then, we may hit the ditch.

A computer system like Watson will change how we manage businesses. I know with a computer system like Watson we will not presume as much. First line managers will have data they need to make effective decisions. Then, Dr. Watson, we will not presume.

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About OJ

I am a retired first line manager with over 40 years of experience. In operations management, accounting management, and central operations management. It is my wish to convey some of the experiences I have learned form over the years in the articles on my site.
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