Efficiency: By the People, for the People

Commitment from every discipline—including packaging departments—is crucial for progress.

By John Bitner, President, Bitner Associates

Effect is defined as the power to bring about a result. Each and every element must be investigated and evaluated for concept validity and completeness relative to a given objective. The main problem lies in the fact that not every discipline is involved during the consideration for expectation. How can that absent discipline then be held culpable for accomplishing something in which they have had no input?

Efficiency has multiple facets. Sports such as football provide an excellent analogy. Individual efficiency is useless for an elite punt returner if he doubts the capability or willingness of his teammates to perform by blocking the opponents. This phenomena exposes a complexity of related events needed for an otherwise effective employee to be efficient. And a frustrated team will eventually wither, smolder, and, without proper leadership or management support, disappear.

Within the confines of team efficiency, each discipline should be specified, appraised, and represented at the onset of packaging discovery. Roles and responsibilities should be immediately identified and dispersed among all involved. If there is a disconnect, or delicate overlap, confusion or neglect could prevail. Successful effectiveness takes a 100% commitment to the common goal.
People skills are as important to efficiency as any technical expertise. With them comes the understanding that everyone has a basic need to belong. It is a need as strong as the air we breathe.

Consequently, having an essential discipline included after the fact can possibly breed contempt and resistance. That mechanic on the packaging line is as significant, or even more significant, than the CEO. More succinctly, if the mechanic does not want the package to work, it will not work. There may be good reason for a mechanic, operator, or lab technician not to want the same goal as the CEO. As for the mechanic, he may not want the newer, improved tooling because it may mean replacing the incumbent of say 10 years. That elimination may remove the mechanic’s right-hand man, his go-to guy. Yes, this mechanic may be placing the need for survival over a corporate need to expand their business. But to arrive at efficiency, all values must be properly addressed, on several complex levels.

A goal is most often sponsored by a single department. That single entity then relies on the power of persuasion over other critical departments to obtain support. Without knowing the intricacies of those disciplines, the sponsor must rely on his peer management for disclosure. The General Manager would be over paid if he knew the intricacies of each discipline reporting to him. Therefore he relies on directors who look to managers, who rely on supervisors, who rely on …. the mechanic.

Management is governed by the managed. Capital expense requests are written by those in the trenches or by those supervising those in the trenches. They are only the staff assigned the accountability for the cost, timing, and functionality, and accomplishment of the goal, efficiently. Personnel farthest away from ultimate execution commit major corporate resources without ever having direct communication with those culpable for commercial execution. We have ourselves here…a Management Gap.

Efficiency is producing desired effects …without waste. In order to be effective, a common goal would be necessary for a team to be efficient. When considering an individual’s effectiveness, the assessment is quite simple. When considering that individual’s success within a group, it becomes far more complex. Each individual must ultimately have the same purpose as the greater community or that defined populace will not achieve efficiency. The result would be waste.

Recently, an edict was given by management to agree with the team direction on a million dollar packaging project. The packaging engineer proceeded to identify more than one valid reason backed by factual documentation as to why this direction was technically flawed. It was pointed out that the decision for this project to proceed was politically motivated, and it would be in her best interests to go along.

At the next meeting, the team was informed that she would follow the consensus of the team. It took well over two years to complete a somewhat successful validation and another partial year to run commercial lots. Five years later, the company is now once again replacing their package. Efficiency had been diminished.

Efficiency involves more than performing tasks. It involves the spirit exuded by people we mentor. It is more important to approach a task with faith than to approach the task absent of dedication and commitment.

The pharmaceutical industry has been enjoying unprecedented profits of late. Yet manufacturing sites continue to close as layoffs and terminations persist. While vice presidents continue to be hired, those in the trenches held accountable for efficiency continue to disappear. Operational Excellence has been adopted in some form or another by a number of manufacturing locations, but subsequently proven to be not sustainable.

One good example is the discovery that it would be more efficient to keep packaging lines running through lunch breaks by staggering shifts. As predicted, this practice dramatically improved efficiency, until a short time later another so-called form of efficiency was enacted—a layoff. There were no longer enough people to stagger shifts.

Leadership plays a key role in building an effective alliance. Someone once told me the measure of a good leader is to look over their shoulder to see how many are following. Efficiency is characterized through credibility, technical expertise, social skills, mutual respect, unwavering direction, nurturing, and perhaps most significantly, the willingness to listen.

When roles and responsibilities are well defined and documented, each team member knows and accepts responsibility and accountability for his discipline honed directly to a given skill set. There is no fretting, frustration, or second guessing of any other team member’s activity. They all become a vital cog significant to the sum of the whole. There should be no “consensus,” but instead a total commitment to the same goal. Ownership by all captures the essence of efficiency. To paraphrase a quote from Rudyard Kipling, “… and no one will work for money and no one will work for fame but each in the joy of the working and each in his separate star will paint the things as they see them for the Master of the things as they are.”

I have experienced it where an owner of a single discipline wants a new initiative, project or assignment, approved sequentially independent of others. For instance, Operations may want to approve the project before Marketing sees it. They draw up Capital Expenditure Requests before the project is approved by Engineering, or final specifications have been resolved. That exercise inevitably leads to search for a scapegoat when things do not proceed smoothly. No trials, no training, no compromise. Marketing needs input from clients, patients, focus groups, state of the art, means to differentiate, regulations and qualification, and, of course, cost impact. Packaging Development should provide the expertise to amass all technical aspects and concerns. Only after all parties have contributed can a project or assignment be conceived efficiently.

Training and education, followed by more training, should precede any formal management assessment. Risk is severely diminished if the commercial viability comes from an “educated” employee. Properly trained individuals are more apt to perform to the level of their ability. An on-line mechanic once said to me, “I can only do what I know.” He was pleading for knowledge.
No piece of equipment can activate itself without human input. Even automatic timers require a manual setting. Accuracy of that setting is based on manual aptitude and competency, the human element.

First and foremost, training those individuals ultimately liable for successful commercialization is essential before presentation to management. Interaction with peer-level responsibilities is an efficient means to approach the proposed recommendation. The key here is that these same people prepare and even present the final presentation to the management officer having final approval.

The ultimate approval should come from an individual having firsthand knowledge delivered from those challenged with execution and commercialization, unimpeded by editing from middle management. Middle management should simply be the conduit for clarification and application, void of personal agendas and political motives.

Efficiency is built on a base of open communication. In contrast to the popular adage, efficiency actually starts at the “bottom” and works its way up the management chain. There is no place for silos or shrouds of secrecy. There is a common sequence and logic to efficiency after everyone has had an opportunity for involvement. Response to any volunteered contribution should be with respect and dignity.

Freedom to interact with a cross-functional team of peers is the seed of the efficiency process. Packaging responsibility begins early in development, sometimes as far back as the bench chemist. This is in strict contrast with the often documented reality of commercial package and product development that continues through launch. Root cause analysis often determines that the roots of the package were never planted.

Begin with organized teams at the ground level, with all disciplines represented. Provide the total scope and objective complete with intentions and expectations and deliverables. Initiate the discovery process of training, education, and unbiased enlightenment before reaching a formal recommendation or commencement of prototype activity. Identify timelines and costs as accurately as feasible, with full disclosure. Maintain an open line of communication simultaneously among all levels of management. Always keep in mind pride, sensitivity, and honor. Build an environment that increases a sense of corporate community. Only then can the full extent of efficiency be realized.

John Bitner is president of Bitner Associates and can be reached at john.bitner@jbitner.com.

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