QRM Center Under New Management in the College of Engineering
The Center for Quick Response Manufacturing recently became part of the Office of Interdisciplinary Programs (InterPro) within the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Interpro, formerly known as the Office of Engineering Professional Development (EPD), offers a portfolio of professional education programs and services, focused on the needs of engineers, managers, and technical professionals. InterPro’s offerings include a wide array of professional development courses, along with certificates and online master’s degrees. InterPro is led by Ed Borbely, Associate Dean, who is anticipating great opportunities for cross-collaboration between the QRM Center, the UW e-business consortium (UWEBC), and the College’s traditional professional development offerings.
In conjunction with this transition to InterPro, Dr. Charlene Yauch was promoted to Center Director. Dr. Yauch has worked as Associate Director for the Center since 2019. She is an experienced engineering educator and practitioner with extensive experience in Quick Response Manufacturing and improving manufacturing operations. “I am excited to lead the QRM Center at this critical time. The Center provides encouragement, support, and technical expertise to U.S. manufacturers, and the Center’s new home within InterPro will no doubt expand our reach even further” said Yauch.
Professor Yauch received her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As part of her research, she worked with the QRM Center to investigate organizational issues related to implementing manufacturing cells. Professor Yauch has been an engineering educator for over 20 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) and Oklahoma State University. Her honors include five teaching awards and a National Science Foundation Career grant.
Dr. Yauch has taught classes on numerous industrial engineering topics, including design & analysis of manufacturing systems, manufacturing processes, computer numerical control machining, automation technologies, and engineering economy. Her professional interests relate to the implementation of manufacturing system improvements such as Quick Response, Lean, and Agile Manufacturing, with emphasis on the human, social, and organizational aspects.
Prior to her doctoral degree, she worked in industry for six years, performing a variety of tasks for manufacturing firms. Dr. Yauch has a multi-disciplinary educational background. In addition to her Ph.D., she has a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University, and graduate degrees in sociology (M.S.) and manufacturing systems engineering (M.S.) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
QRM Center Blog
How to Develop a Strong Sense of Ownership in QRM Cells
I recently read a paper about how increased psychological ownership of a public good (like a lake or a park) increases the likelihood of engaging in stewardship behavior for that good.1
Psychological ownership is a feeling that you have a personal interest in the care of and performance of the ownership target (which can be an object, organization, physical space, etc.), and that the target’s performance reflects upon your identity. It is a mental attachment to the target. A key finding of the research paper was that developing a feeling of ownership increases perceived responsibility, which leads to active behavior to care for the public good. The research also found that if a large number of people are considered to be mutually responsible, referred to as diffusion of responsibility, then stewardship behavior decreases.
This got me thinking about the psychological aspects of working in Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) cells. One of the key changes that occurs for employees is that they are given ownership of the cell’s operations and are expected to work as a team to make decisions. Part of the improved performance in cells can be attributed to the psychological changes that occur in people. In the QRM Center’s workshops, we often tell the story of Ziggy. He was a shop-floor employee at a manufacturing firm, and he had frequent problems with absenteeism and tardiness and a poor attitude. When the company asked for volunteers for their first QRM cell, the managers hoped for anyone but Ziggy. And, then Ziggy volunteered. Not only to work in the cell but also to serve as the cell leader. And, what they discovered was a miraculous transformation. Ziggy embraced the new way of working. He felt ownership for the cell and therefore acted responsibly. He showed up for work early and stayed late. He became a highly productive employee and was a good cell leader.
So, is that all it takes? Is it sufficient to reorganize employees into cells? Not quite, but it’s a big part of it. The cell automatically decreases the diffusion of responsibility. In addition to creating QRM cells, here are some suggestions for ensuring that employees take on a feeling of ownership.
- Ensure that the cell teams are not too big. I recommend a maximum of 12 people, and most cells should have 3 to 9 people. As team size increases, communication becomes more difficult and responsibility becomes more diffused. Larger teams are also more likely to break into cliques.
- Before the cell is implemented, get input from the cell team on technical decisions such as equipment selection, cell layout, and batch sizes. The cell team should not dictate the decisions made at this stage, but their input and involvement will greatly accelerate their sense of ownership.
- When the cell is first starting, allow the team to name the cell (or give it a nickname), have them choose a cell color, and choose a team leader if one is going to be used. This gives the cell team some initial practice in making group decisions and it helps to enhance their feelings of connectedness to the cell.
- Also ask the team to make decisions about their work rules and norms. To the extent possible, allow them to set their own hours and decide how much shift overlap there will be, provided they end up with sufficient weekly capacity. Have the team document the norms to ensure everyone understands the expectations.
- Determine the boundaries of the cell team’s authority. Ownership does not mean that the cell members can do whatever they want. Management should work closely with the cell team to define the limits of decisions that can be made by the team.
- If autonomous teamwork is a new concept in your organization, hire a coach to assist with the cell startup activities. The coach can moderate conflicts that may arise and assist both cell team members and managers at learning the norms for day-to-day operation.
- As the cell begins operation, encourage the team to make improvements. Allow them to devise better ways of moving products through the cell and avoiding any quality problems that occur (if any). Implement those ideas that are within the scope of the previously defined boundaries. Analyze ideas that require a greater investment or more involvement from other groups within the organization. If ideas are ultimately rejected, be sure to provide feedback to the cell team about how the idea was evaluated and why it was rejected.
- Finally, be extremely cautious about how managers or supervisors react when mistakes are made. The team is likely to make an occasional mistake. If the team is punished in any way, which could just be a reprimand from a supervisor, they are less likely to want to make decisions in the future. Their sense of ownership will decline, along with their willingness to try new things and make performance improvements. A better way to handle mistakes is to discuss them as a team and jointly develop potential solutions that can then be tested. The trick in the discussion is to focus on the process/system and what can be improved to prevent similar mistakes in the future. Avoid trying to place blame on one or more individuals.
Although it can be challenging to provide cell team members with a strong sense of ownership, it is well worth the effort. The cell’s performance can improve dramatically in multiple ways, including increased throughput, fewer defects, and faster response times.
1. Peck, J., Kirk, C.P., & Luangrath, A.W. (2020). Caring for the commons: Using psychological ownership to enhance stewardship behavior for public goods. Journal of Marketing, 1-17.
Posted January 12, 2021