The Grey Chronicles


Multitasking Supervisors of Global Steel

In the first century B.C., a Roman slave named Publilius Syrus was quoted [1] to have said, “To do two things at once is to do neither.” Today, multitasking came back to our consciousness during the advent of home computing. People thought they were just like the inanimate objects they could tinker on and do two things at once.

Then came Microsoft® Windows. Remember their 1990s ad campaign: “Where do you want to go today?” This was a result of people wanting to just finish simultaneous jobs so that they could have the freedom to pursue other things. Even with the usual occurrence of the Blue Screen of Death, popularly known as BSOD, people thought they could emulate this particular operating system and adapt it as a personal mantra: multitasking to be free.

Business management was not far behind. Heard of matrix organizations, where one subordinate could be reporting to two different bosses? This arrangement is ideal to project management, whereby a subordinate could be responsible for several tasks, and these tasks were tackled by different project managers.

Then came “Indianeering”: it upped the ante by applying multitasking to steel manufacturing. Here’s a typical scenario: a shift supervisor who manages the shift resources — man, machine, methods — within a eight-hour shift, is also assigned to be a Total Productive Maintenance implementor, aside from being a part-time Six-Sigma greenbelt [GB]- or Black Belt [BB]-candidate plus the pressure of the company undergoing ISO 9001:2000 certification.

Handling of shift resources alone takes most of the eight-hour shift. Equipment problems do crop up due to the dearth of spare parts as well as the lackluster maintenance program. Added to this scenario: personnel are crying out for their delayed salaries, unpaid overtime, personal problems, among other things humans are supposed to interact. Systems and methods sometimes become an issue, especially in the field of Information Technology, which has a great deal to be desired. Typical complaints could range from un-encoded or missing works-in-process, non-conforming products beyond their holding time, unaccounted equipment delays and even to an automated personnel scheduling which takes at most two hours to do.

Being an implementor of TPM, moreover, the same supervisor is also a member of several TPM Pillars–Easy Kaizen [EK], Jishu Hozen [JH], Planned Maintenance [PM], Initial Flow Control-Product [IFC-P], Initial Flow Control-Equipment [IFC-E], Quality Management [QM], Education and Training [ET], Office Management [OM], and Safety, Health and Environment [SHE]– each holds regular monthly meetings with deadlines to meet. Each supervisor could be a member of three, at most five, TPM pillars. Even with Jishu Hozen alone, the supervisor is assigned to handle at least two, at most four, teams of five to ten rank-and-file members. A few of the supervisors are also assigned as Office Management auditors, the audits are done every three months.

With Six-Sigma, which McManus (1999)[2] concludes that Six Sigma is just an add-on project management tool in comparison with TQM, the same supervisor is required by the job’s Key Result Area [KRA] to do an Six-Sigma project with a deadline of three months. The project involves data gathering as well as applying statistical analyses to come up with process improvement. All these to be done which needs computer power, but the latter is nowhere on site. Hendry (2005) [3] found that part-time BB advantages are (a) integration with day-to-day work, (b) authority on projects as they are undertaken in their area of responsibility, (c) co-operation and (d) lower costs; but cautioned on its disadvantages, such as (a) high workload, (b) less motivation and less satisfaction, (c) delayed projects and (d) limited scope of project due to time constraints. Furthermore, the study found that using a part-time BB appears to be a more realistic option for small firms. In contrast, Global steel is NOT a small firm! Although the advantages are great for the Global Steel’s BBs, the disadvantages outwitted these thus the company embarked on fast-tracking most of the first-batch projects in 2005 and dubbed them as “turbo”. The result, the improvements were not sustained, but rather backslid because of management unacknowledgement of the projects’ impact and the provision of resources to sustain the improvements failed to materialize.

By 2006, the company embarked on an ambitious project: ISO 9001:2000 certification by the year end of 2008. Luckily, during NSC era, three of its division have been ISO-certified prior to the plant shutdown. Employing “Indianeering” again: just replace the NSC documents with the Global Steel logo, and management believed that “we could safely sail the certification process with flying colors, like we did with TPM,“ one expat-expert was heard saying. Most of the gap analysis between ISO versions 1994 vis-a-vis 2000, documentation, and review were done by local employees, the bulk of which were shift supervisors.

Thus, the shift supervisors having been required to attend a four-hour seminar on Time Management, turned to multitasking–hoping that everything would fall into place. Probably everything is being done, but nothing is really accomplished, that is, properly! At least computers have screensaver mode.


[1] Kirn, Walter (2007). “The Autumn of the Multitaskers,” Atlantic Monthly: November 2007 back to text

[2] McManus, K. (1999) “Is quality dead?” IIE Solution. 31 (7) 32-36. back to text

[3] Hendry, Linda (2005), “Exploring the Six Sigma phenomenon using multiple case study evidence,” Lancaster University Management School: Working Paper 2005/056 back to text


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