Beyond Magic-Pill Programs



A magic-pill is something managers take to make them well.  Lean is a magic-pill program; and it handles a number of cost and reactivity-based challenges.  Six Sigma is a magic-pill program; and it handles a number of quality-consistency challenges.  Lean Six Sigma combines these, adding a business culture aspect through permanently embedding the resulting program into the organization.

The deeper challenge, as recognized by all three, is not the techniques being employed, but the management that runs the organization.  Early Lean and Six-Sigma efforts were easily redirected by managers who either didn’t believe the programs would benefit them, or thought they saw an alternative direction with greater potential.

Now for the kicker, the observation that brings this into focus. 

After these program applications, managers do just what they did before the applications; and they do it the same way.  These are not management improvement programs; and they do not lead to changes in the way managers perform their management functions!

Through specialized training, these magic-pill programs establish technical experts in process improvement; and they put these technical experts into effective charge of discovering and implementing changes that will accomplish internal improvements. 

This might seem logical and effective until we consider management.  Management is gaining results through the efforts of subordinates.  Managers have a direct responsibility for the resources they apply to gain a result, and for the processes to which they direct those resources.  Managers have a natural and irreplaceable responsibility for assuring the quality of performance processes used under their direction.

When these magic-pill programs are applied, the result is not management improvement; it is management replacement.  It largely disenfranchises the working manager as to performance improvements.  It replaces a manager’s activity in improving subordinate processes with technical experts’ activities; and those experts are not responsible for gaining results through the changed processes.  These programs attempt to improve performance processes at the expense of management.

These programs also involve a recognized bad-management practice, separation of authority and responsibility, with confusion of both.  This is why management has proven to be so difficult to handle, and why all three programs demand intensive efforts to have these disenfranchised managers “buy in” to the program.

Once this challenge is exposed, recognized and defined, meeting the challenge is just another management application.  Action is direct, and is assumption of management over program operations.

With the engineered approach, managers are to be directed to perform management functions even as workers are directed to perform productive work.  These improvement processes cannot be performed effectively as programs, but must become part of what managers do in order to assure performance.  The new application involves improving the processes of management – a real management improvement instead of a replacement!

This also sets the effective relationship for technical expertise.  The technical expert must work for the manager, becoming part of how he or she gains performance. 

Management Engineering is an emerging study based on applying industrial engineering to the work of management.  It is founded on approaching management as work that is performed by managers to gain performance through the efforts of others.    

Management Engineering provides a general direction for assuming charge of change efforts – approaching change as part of how a manager assures performance.  To start action, the manager must have something to accomplish through the planned process improvement.  There must be a definable difference between a successful and a failed effort, with the next higher manager “assigning” the specified change result as something for the subordinate manager to accomplish through direction of technical support efforts.

This action is similar to how industrial engineering is applied in the production environment.  That application yields performance standards which are applied to an engineered performance process.  The foreman is assigned the effort of gaining the productive result through direction of workers to the engineered process.

What if the manager doesn’t know what he is to accomplish?

The answer is one of attitude and approach.  If there is nothing to gain, then expending business resources to gain it is both wasteful and a failure in management. 

What if the result to be obtained is known to the technical experts, but not to the manager?  The answer, of course, is just further application.  Technical support serves management.  If the technical experts are not working for the manager, they are working for themselves; and again we have management replacement.  The greater effect is through insisting that technical support answers to proper management authority, and that authority directs the application with technical support provided by the experts.

First Rule of Management Engineering:

Management is an essential;

you cannot improve management

by replacing it with something else.

I must warn against the use of modern corporate strategies as a basis for process improvements.  It is not that these are unintelligent, but that they are generally insufficient to support performance-based management.  With engineering viewpoint, management already has a natural purpose, and it is defined by the performance of the organization.  Our modern approach to corporate strategy is based on performance of management as something other than organizational performance.   

We can establish a performance basis by appling a few general techniques from Management Engineering.  The first is Customer-Product Analysis.  In short, follow incoming resources back to the decision makers who determine to provide those resources.  These are the organization’s “functional customers.”  Look for what these customers both receive as originating from the organization, and what they value in their decisions to provide resources; and we have found the organization’s “functional products.”  The value-based purpose of the organization is then defined (Figure 1) as delivery of functional products to functional customers.  The organizational process is conversion of incoming resources into functional products – with natural divisions as shown.

Management Engineering can then assure performance responsibility based on assuring internal products.  For efficient management, the delivery of each functional product to a functional customer must be some manager’s assigned performance responsibility.  The same is true for the conversion process that generates the product.  The same is true for the collection of basic resources that become, or are consumed during the processing of, functional products.  This analysisis a general techniques for product-based efficiency engineering of management structures – serving a management that gains performance.

Internal support is a more challenging area, but there are basic lessons from the production environment (Figure 2).  The Management Engineering Tool is the Performance Module, a basic performance unit within a management structure. 

In Figure 2, the function of the utility operator is to fill-in when a worker leaves a production line.  Module value is not determined by what the utility worker does, but by what comes out of the production group,   Utility worker value is gained when the production line continues to generate product even though workers leave their stations for periods of time.  The production effort generates the same product if the utility worker is hard at work for seven hours a day, or just stands around waiting for workers to need utility support.

This same logic applies to all performance modules.  The hard lesson for modern managers is that there is no increase possible due to improving the efficiency or increasing the performance of the utility operator.  The value of any internal support effort is determined by the needs of those who receive it.  If the support meets all needs, there is no more value that it can produce.  Efficiency for internal support is determined by meeting all needs at least cost.

While management engineering as a general study provides a much more encompassing understanding of the techniques described in this article, and has additional tools designed for expert applications, the above is sufficient to begin the process of assuming management over Lean, Six-Sigma, or Lean-Six-Sigma efforts. 

The process starts with value analysis, with establishment of functional customers and products, and then arranges internal performance responsibilities to assure that income is earned.  What this accomplishes is improved focus on performance throughout the organization.  Analysis using techniques from our magic-pill programs can then discover those areas where performance is most in threat.  Then management can evaluate, direct and assign management-improvement efforts to the technical experts.  This is a basic how-to for assuming management over change processes initiated through these magic-pill programs.


Jesse Brogan, President

The Management Upgrade Shop