It's Time for New Organizational Structures

April 1, 2012
I’ve lived the engineering/operations divide, and we at Automation World often write about the information technology (IT)/control engineering divide. All of these silos are still alive.

Every two or three years I speak at the MARTS Conference in suburban Chicago. The Maintenance and Reliability Technology Summit affords me the chance to meet people who work in different areas of the plant than I often get to meet. This year, I had two points that I wanted to make—digital technology can be a great aid to maintenance and reliability professionals, and they need to develop new organizational structures to make the technologies work.

More and more companies are developing new collaboration tools for professionals based on what we’re learning from social media. Speaking of social media, I “crowdsourced” part of my presentation. I posted questions on the Automation World LinkedIn group, as well as several other groups to which I belong. Quite a few of you responded. About half of you discussed technical issues and the “soft” issues, such as the desire to make technology work.

In the course of my research, I discovered several stories about using Lean manufacturing techniques in production. One professional at a refinery researched experts in the Toyota Production System, which was based on Lean thinking. The concept of “one-piece flow” may not make as much sense in continuous-process industry production, but many other concepts did make sense.

The first principle is respect for people, which leads to effective kaizen, or continuous improvement, teams. I encouraged my audience to seek out and develop cross-functional teams for process improvements. Another technique is “5S” that is best described as a clean and well-organized workplace. That should have gotten smiles. Maintenance is about the only department that I haven’t worked in, but I don’t think I ever saw a clean, well-organized crib.

The most startling discovery of the week involved the continuing deep divide between operations and maintenance—the asset utilization group and the asset availability group. I’ve lived the engineering/operations divide, and we at Automation World often write about the information technology (IT)/control engineering divide. I find it most disconcerting to discover that all of these silos are alive.

New way of management
There is just one cause of this state of affairs—management. I hesitate to label it “bad.” Better is “classic.” Jim Pinto, continuing his thinking about new paradigms, writes on p. 56 about a new management paradigm that is needed for success today. Drawing on the experiences of people growing up with collaborative interfaces to sharing and learning—the Facebook generation, if you will—Pinto believes that we need a new way of involving these people who expect to be involved. If they aren’t, they will certainly move on.

Gary Hamel discusses the same issue in one chapter of his important new book, “What Matters Now.” In the section on organization, he points out that classical definitions of management all include the concept of control. The hierarchical structure that was organized with the Industrial Age required command and control structures. But those don’t work today. More and more successful companies have discovered a new way that involves empowering employees. Decision-making, and the information required to make good decisions, is being driven down to the front line employee who is in much closer contact to the customer than remote corporate overseers. “Treat them like adults, and they will respond as adults,” Hamel quotes one manager.

John Berra draws upon his extensive team-building expertise to teach us a few things on this important topic. Building and encouraging passionate teams is very much the work of today’s manager. I hope you can take these ideas and help lead the revolution in your company.

>> Find compelling presentations on all things manufacturing (including management theory) at The Automation ConferenceMay 22-23, Chicago, IL. Chris Bacon, production manager at Pepsi Bottling Ventures, will present` “Combining Lean/Six Sigma with Automation.” Attend the conference and find keynote speakers from Boeing, Church & Dwight, ExxonMobil and Chrysler, to name a few. For more information, visit

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