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Witness (a commercial package for simulating discrete events) by a professor from the University of Detroit. A sample class exercise asks the students to look at the Pareto chart, identify the causes of downtime, and schedule preventive maintenance. When the simulation is complete, the students can see if productivity has increased. This and similar exercises help teams to develop better problem-solving methods and improve team dynamics.

Employees do not use this system to help them decide how to schedule actual preventive maintenance. However, Pfeil and his staff use it to plan production a week ahead as well as to see if their plans produce the anticipated production of all the required varieties of engines. Although basic training of new employees is done using company-wide course material, Romeo found that it had to generate its own advanced training curricula. Topics include such business issues as preventive maintenance (discussed above), quality, basic finance, and productivity. Interestingly, although other plants are copying the approach of using the white courtesy phones, Romeo's training materials are not being widely used in other Ford plants.

What Needs To Be Improved

In addition to shortcomings in scheduling algorithms, Pfeil notes that user interfaces are too cumbersome and take too long to learn. They are also too text-oriented. He thinks an interface like that on the Macintosh would be better. (At Project Alpha, Ford's technology transfer operation, David Wood said that they need better "information ergonomics," meaning not only better interfaces but also better tools for turning data into useful information so that people know what to do.)

More broadly, Pfeil feels that advanced factories face huge "sociology problems." The plant is large and the company is even larger. It is difficult for one person to know what to do so that the whole thing improves. Currently, U.S. management uses "incentives" to direct employees' behavior. The problem is that incentives are substitutes for really knowing what action is best. Furthermore, current incentives for hourly employees are not always consistent with those of salaried employees. It would be better if IT could be used to inform all employees about how they were doing and how their personal returns could be improved while those of the company also improved. The white courtesy phones are a step in that direction, but only a first step. In particular, more needs to be learned about how teams operate, how they process data and reach decisions, and how best to present data to them. Productivity 201 demonstrates an intermediate version of what should be the better methods of the future. Since the Romeo plant will face increasing complexity within a very few years, such improvements are needed soon.



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