40 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Human factor
productivity improvement
Effective leaders guide employees to take ownership of company’s progress
By Saso Krstovski
Human factor
productivity improvement
Effective leaders guide employees to take ownership of company’s progress
By Saso Krstovski
July 2019 | ISE Magazine 41
Manufacturing operations are consistently seek-
ing methods to increase productivity, the mea-
sure of how efficient manufacturing systems are
to produce the required output.
As organizations update their equipment and
processes, levels of productivity between com-
petitors converge. Equipment manufacturers share best prac-
tices for equipment functionality and workflow design be-
tween competitors. Most new equipment purchases will have
the same efciency built in and therefore the gap between
organizations becomes minimal.
One area where organizations can grow to increase pro-
ductivity is in the workforce. Every manufacturing system has
certain noise factors that hamper productivity. These condi-
tions create decision crossroad points that require human in-
tervention. Strategically addressing these noise conditions can
significantly improve overall effectiveness and productivity.
This article presents four key phases to improve organiza-
tional workforce effectiveness and efficiency. It focuses on the
development of employees to manage conditions that could
reduce productivity levels. These phases show the gradual
transformation of key employees and ownership transfer to
the workforce. This requires a paradigm shift from traditional
Figure 1 visually shows the transformation from a pyra-
mid leadership structure to a final “no title” state. This ideal
future state is achieved when titles are no longer important
and everyone is involved in solving concerns within the or-
ganization. This state achieves a single layer of management
Management structure transformation
The evolution from a pyramid structure to a “no titles” leadership
foundation in which everyone works to solve problems.
42 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
Human factor productivity improvement
structure. Once achieved, it will
naturally develop high-performing
teams within the organization.
These methods, if applied,
will gradually provide a culture
change within the organization.
This change allows employees to
feel valued and see how their ac-
tions contribute to the organiza-
As key individuals are em-
braced, it will motivate others
to accept and assume ownership.
Progressively, a majority of the workforce will adapt and
productivity levels will steadily increase.
Utilizing these methods will allow organizations to sus-
tain production levels. It affords necessary workforce devel-
opment to handle special cause conditions encountered in
the manufacturing system. Sustainability and consistency
eliminate shifts in production levels and enable true bench-
Once levels can be sustained, additional actions can be
implemented to increase production levels (shown in Fig-
ure 2). Having a sustainable system provides immediate
feedback and validity on improvement efforts.
Phase I: (Develop) tools for analysis
Phase I is the foundation for successful implementation.
The development of tools and training is critical. This fo-
cus requires an evaluation of current system tools and the
employees’ understanding of available tools and usage.
To be effective in the performance of any objective,
proper tools are required. Typically, management believes
all necessary tools and information are available to the staff
to perform its tasks. A deep dive of what is available and
their ease of use will reveal many gaps. Available data need
to be validated for accuracy.
Also, systems might require modification to allow team
members quick access to needed data. The focus needs to
center around what information is needed to make rapid
decisions and resolve concerns.
This phase requires a two-step approach. First, all nec-
essary tools are available for data analysis. The next step
is training team members on the use of data and how to
perform the analysis. Below outlines three areas of focus for
this phase to ensure future success.
Solution matrix. A solution tree diagram outlines steps
for root cause analysis.
ABA process (i.e., flipping of suspect components).
How to conduct component swaps for “is/is not” diag-
nostic of concerns.
Training. A strategic focus of available tools and how to
properly use them to resolve issues by determining a root
Phase II: (Uncover) key personnel to inspire,
convince and grow
Phase II is very critical and will require significant efforts by
management personnel. The leadership abilities of the man-
agement team will need to excel during this phase. Man-
agement needs to uncover a few key potential candidates to
engage in resolving problems. This phase focuses on the ob-
servation of all team members and the recruitment of allies.
Below is a list of potential actions to employ during this
phase to inspire, convince and grow team members.
Communicate findings to the team. Focus on indi-
viduals who show interest and might even challenge you.
Show results of findings and effect. Engage members
and explain concerns and findings; continue to observe re-
actions and feedback.
Display impact of their input. Ask for suggestions and
act upon them, then provide feedback addressing success
and failure.
Incorporate a competition among team members
(challenge). Humans are competitive creatures and pro-
viding competition engages sideline employees.
Recognize (management, supplier, etc.). Recogni-
tion requires careful planning and strategic implementa-
tion. If overused, its effect is minimized and becomes a bar-
rier to gaining support from additional team members.
Signicant successes should be recognized and focus should
come from peers. Senior management’s recognition is viewed
by individuals as a job requirement and not genuine. Another
very effective recognition I discovered is supplier recognition
of team members.
When a team member discovers a defective supplier part,
arrange for the actual supplier to visit the employee at the work
center and provide feedback directly.
Productivity improvement cycle
The phases to implement to reach the ideal structure to boost productivity and team leadership.
July 2019 | ISE Magazine 43
Phase III: (Leverage) team members to resolve
key issues
Once key individuals are discovered in Phase II, management
needs to spend additional time with specic team members to
explain the process and different resolution strategies. Work
on simple concerns that have a high success rate with the team
member to gain confidence in tools and abilities.
Let team members lead the resolution. Management should
gradually distance itself and let team members resolve concerns
on their own. Praise key success and advise on failures. The
goal is to have engagement and to transfer ownership to the
team members.
Phase IV: (Expand) continuous improvement
Any process without continuous improvement will result in
stagnant growth. The success of this implementation will be
defined by:
Team members sustaining a system without any guidance
Team members attacking issues immediately
Team members attracting new allies
Team members developing additional tools
Continue to monitor team performance from a distance and
engage when attention drifts away. As new allies are recruited,
restart these phases for a solid foundation to success.
The above steps provide a foundation for success. Keep
the focus on creating an effective team and making decisions
based on data. Decisions made at the lowest level provide own-
ership and team members will continue to adjust to ensure
the success of business objectives. This is a cyclical process and
requires monitoring and continuous input from all levels of
organization for sustainment of success.
Saso Krstovski, Ph.D., works for Ford Motor Co.s Van Dyke Trans-
mission Plant as a lean manufacturing coach and Six Sigma master
black belt. He has held a multitude of engineering assignments in 20
years with Ford, including test engineer, launch test engineer and electri-
cal control engineer, and has worked in several plant environments and
skill teams such as Dearborn Tool & Die Plant, information technol-
ogy and has held front-line supervision roles managing hourly UAW-
Ford production employees. He recently joined Lawrence Technologi-
cal University as an adjunct professor in the engineering department.
Krstovski’s research interests lie in the area of system optimization and
he continues to collaborate with researchers at several universities and
provide guidance to doctoral candidates around the world on dissertation
direction. He received a doctorate in engineering in manufacturing sys-
tems from Lawrence Technological University, and a masters in electri-
cal computer controlled systems and a bachelor’s in electrical engineering
from Wayne State University.
Tips to help employees take charge
Businesses seeking to improve their processes from the ground up can look to empower their employees to take control of
improvement efforts. Here are some tips from theladders.com on steps to take in that direction:
1. Establish trust. Have faith that employees can solve problems on their own and be willing to seek help when needed.
Mistakes will happen but can be resolved and serve as learning tools, so work on eliminating fear of failure.
2. Build empathy. The best way to understand the challenges someone else faces is to walk in their shoes. When employees
understand the complexities of different roles in the workplace, they’ll empathize better with co-workers. Ways to accomplish
this include cross-training or even a “job swap,” where people from different departments shadow others during the week.
3. Solicit feedback. There’s no better way of learning what someone needs than to ask. Only by gaining such feedback can you
provide what is needed, either by surveys or other tools. And one of the best ways to spark feedback is to give it.
4. Provide instructions. To avoid doing the same job you know so well for others, create step-by-step documentation to help
others perform those tasks. Most people are eager to have the tools they need and do the work on their own without seeking
help. Spread knowledge through how-to-guides, documents and classes.
5. Simplify discovery. Put educational materials in a common shared place where employees can access it easily. That could
include a cloud storage system, intranet or private social media network.
6. Show appreciation. A “thank you” goes a long way toward empowering people. Simple shows of appreciation and praise
make workers feel respected and motivated.
7. Recognize limitations. Empower, but don’t overwhelm. Some employees will need more support than others, so be willing
to provide that. Asking co-workers to perform tasks outside of their skills might create more problems than those originally