Productivity—the Japanese Way


Economists are forever telling us that we need to increase productivity in order to improve our standard of living. Productivity is one of those concepts that are so loaded with meaning and implications that is very difficult to define, much less explain. Not surprisingly then, improving “it” is one of the most difficult tasks facing business. More to the point, the time for improvement is quickly running out. Industrial performance is being outstripped at a frightening pace by the Japanese. In fact, it has reached the point where their productivity performance is so superior that they can literally pick any product and any market and quickly come to dominate it.

The idea that Japanese are uniquely gifted in only a few related areas has been debunked by their proven successes in industries as diverse as automobiles and semi-conductors. As well, the facile suggestion that the Japanese are somehow culturally inclined to be productive doesn’t wash. Japanese managers have taken over factories in Europe and the US and greatly improved productivity records. Productivity has also been high in their North American plants.

If corporate managers believe that their workers can be as competitive as anyone else in the world, and technically, there’s no valid reason why they can’t be, then they must find better ways to help their employees realize their potential. In that sense, study of Japanese methods is a jumping-off point that can lead to adaptations that will produce unique ways of improving productivity.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Factors of Production


Each business has its own mix of the four factors of production, vis-à-vis, natural resources, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship.

Natural resources refers to everything useful in its natural state as a productive input including agricultural land, building sites, forests, mineral deposits, and so on. Natural resources are basic resources required in any economic system.

Labor is critically important. It refers to everyone who works for a business, from the company president to the production manager, the sales representative, and the assembly line worker.

Capital is defined as the funds necessary to finance the operation of a business. These funds can be provided in the form of investments, profits, or loans. They are used to build factories, buy raw materials, hire workers, and so on.

Entrepreneurship is the taking of risks to set up and run a business. The entrepreneur is the risk taker in private enterprise system. In some situations the entrepreneur actively manages the business; in others this duty is handed over to a salaried manager.

All four factors of production must receive a financial return if they are to be used in a private enterprise system. These payments are in the form of rent, wages, interest, and profit. The specific factor payment received varies among industries, but all factors of production are required in some degree for all businesses.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

The Contemporary World


By the end of World War 11 in 1945, the Industrial Revolution was complete. The need for war goods required the development of new forms of production and technology, which later were used to produce consumer goods. Inventiveness was at high peak. Synthetic plastics and chemicals replaced natural substances as the basis for many products. Better machinery made it possible to manufacture products to produce precise specifications. (This type of precision is what lead eventually to the Apollo moon shot, which required components that were accurate to several one-hundred thousandths of an inch.)

In the 1970s, widespread use of computers enabled the management to process large quantities of data. Factories could be automated, with computer-controlled machinery carrying out many routine activities that could previously be completed only by time-consuming human labor.

By 1980, more than 80 percent of US 500 largest businesses were multinational, operating facilities in five or more foreign countries. And even for smaller companies and individual consumers, the world has become more like a large neighborhood than a huge, unknowable planet. High-speed computers, orbiting satellites, fluctuating exchange rates, and worldwide scarcities of natural resources bind us together with common needs, concerns, and goals.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Full Warranty


A full warranty means:

  1. The warrantor will fix or replace any defective product, including removal and reinstallation if necessary, free of charge.
  2. It is not limited in time (say, to one or two years).
  3. It does not either exclude or limit payment for consequential damages unless the exclusion or limitation is printed conspicuously on the face of the written warranty.
  4. If the product cannot be repaired or has not been repaired after a reasonable number of efforts to repair it, the consumer may choose between a refund and a replacement.
  5. The warrantor cannot impose duties on the consumer except reasonable duties (the warranty cannot require the consumer to ship a piano to the factory) or a duty not to modify the product.
  6. The warrantor is not required to fulfill the warranty terms if the problem was caused by damage to the product through unreasonable use.

A full warranty does not have to cover the whole product. It may cover only part of the product, such as the picture tube of a television set. Also, anyone who owns the product during the warranty period may invoke or use the warranty.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Hierarchy of Objectives


A hierarchy of organizational objectives extends from the overall objectives of the firm to specific objectives established for each employee. The broader goals of profitability, sales, market share, and service are broken down into objectives for each division, each factory, each department, each workgroup, and each individual worker. Once this has been accomplished, each worker can see his or her contribution to the total organizational goals. The number of levels in the hierarchy depends on the size and complexity of the firm. Smaller firms usually have fewer levels than larger ones.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Training and Community Colleges


The power of images and names deceives us into picturing big companies as big concentrations of people. They rarely are. Most of the work of any major organization goes on at a multiplicity of small to medium-sized shops, offices, or factories, often widely separated from one another as well as from the head office. Each work site may be no longer than an independent small or medium-sized enterprise in its neighborhood.

Since the operations performed at one work site may bear little resemblance to those at another in the same company, work sites may differ in their training needs as widely as they differ in geography. Accordingly, each work site normally administers most of its own training, with the exception of specifically managerial subjects or skills so company-specific, important, and widely needed that it is more cost effective to conduct them at a central location.

By the same token, each work site has finite resources of staff, space, equipment, and money available for training. One point it must therefore decide about any particular need is whether it is more cost-effective to conduct the training in-house or outside. More and more work sites have turned to community and junior colleges to run training programs for them. So community colleges have evolved various arrangements for working with employers. They have thus employed business-industry coordinators, who learn what services the employers need tell them what the colleges can do to help. Some colleges hire and train industry people to execute the colleges’ training assignments.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Inflation and Disinflation


Fiscal policy is related to inflation, which occurs when the prices of goods and services rise steadily throughout the economy. Although many factors (such as increases in the prices of imported goods) contribute to inflation, government borrowing is major factor. When the government borrows great sums of money to bolster the economy, the total amount of money circulating tends to increase. With more money chasing the same quantity of goods and services, inflation increases too.

Theoretically, the government is supposed to pay back its debt during inflationary times, thereby taking some of the excess money out of the economy and slowing inflation to moderate level. This system worked throughout 1950s and 1960s, but during the 1970s, inflation kept building. By the end of the decade, prices were increasing by almost 14 percent a year.

Inflation of this magnitude brings an unproductive mind-set. People become motivated to buy “before the prices goes up,” even if they have to borrow money to do it. With greater competition for available money, interest rates increase to a level that makes business borrowing riskier and business expansion slower. Businesses and individuals alike begin spending on short-term items instead of investing in things like new factories and children’s education, which are more valuable to the nation’s economy in the long run.

Because of the peculiar psychology that accompanies high inflation, slowing it has always been difficult. In addition, the causes of inflation are complex, and the remedies can be painful. Nevertheless, several factors conspired to bring about a period of disinflation, a moderation in the inflation rate, during the 1980s.

Whether inflation will remain under control is debatable. The country is still vulnerable to outside shock. Bad weather could jack up food prices, and political upheavals could limit the supply and boost the price of vital raw materials. Also, government efforts to stimulate the economy could rekindle inflation. When the economy slumps, the government is inclined to increase the money supply, which tends to drive prices up.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Organization’s Specific Capabilities


Successful projects are associated with quality performance (proficiency) by one or more key players in the new products operation. A firm’s key players will vary some, depending on strategy, but we usually see the same bunch. First on most lists is technology. But technology does not mean just in research labs. A technology is a system or set of people and things that permit work. A soft drink bottling system is a technology.

In a virtual tie with technology is a bundle of skills in marketing. The needs and desires of the marketplace are an essential input to product innovation. And the end product must be presented to the end user in a way that stimulates trial and adoption. Just as some marketing firms have lacked technical skills, some technical firms have lacked marketing skills.

A new member of the triad is operations/manufacturing—maybe a factory, a laboratory, a set of carpet cleaning franchisees, an actuarial department in an insurance company, or even the legislature in a government. It is where the good or service is prepared or offered. It could be the classroom where this subject is discussed tomorrow. No matter how well designed or marketed, if the organization cannot deliver on the promised product, success cannot be assured. In the best firms today, manufacturing capability begins its development at the very start of the project, and may even be decided in the strategy if that is where the technology strength is located.

There are some other capabilities needed today, though the list is industry dependent. Two skills are moving up the list—human resource management (HRM) and technology (IT). They both relate to how new product projects are being managed today. HRM people are apparently critical in building the inventory of potential team leaders, and in training those selected for this most difficult task. IT people hold the answer to collocation, the physical grouping of teams that contribute so much to a new product project. Their answer: digital collocation, or the virtual collocated team. On a slightly broader plain, IT also permits effective networking, something we will see actually makes the “company within a company: that new products projects become.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Fuse Knowledge to Power


Architects are concerned with flows. When designing a building, their paramount considerations are how occupants will move in it and how light and air will circulate around it. Equally important for organizational architects is how information, know-how, decisions, and careers will flow in the structure being shaped.

When the work of the corporation was primarily the organizing of manual labor, markets were local and slow to change, and the knowledge base upon which competitive success depended was stable, a unitary hierarchy of manager atop manager made a lot of sense. The information needed to run the business was limited and could be easily channeled in one upward or downward flow. Workers did the work, and managers did the thinking.

But this is a reality that has disappeared from most industries. Markets are dimensioned globally, rules change faster than some competitors can master them, and brainpower counts for much more than brawn. Most organizations, though, remain keyed to the old realities. Few hierarchies have even kept up with the need to build in change by linking each of their limited number of levels with the time horizons of greatest importance to the company.

A more serious problem, though, is the lack of rethinking about how a business needs to organize its intellectual capital, its knowledge workers. It is ironic, and wasteful, that while “knowledge workers” (technical professionals and other holders of graduate or postgraduate degrees) are making up an increasing proportion of the work force in many industries, the organization structures in which they work remain more the products of Industrial Revolution than of the information age.

Knowledge, especially which can affect the company’s future competitiveness, used to be confined to the research and development lab or to the strategic planning department. Now, as information systems-driven service industries assume a larger share of many economies, knowledge about the capabilities that provide competitive advantage is much more widely dispersed than was ever necessary in traditional manufacturing companies. No single information channel can contain it all. And even traditional product makers are changing. Fewer manufacturing jobs are directly involved in making something; more are concerned with planning what to make, how to make it, and how to keep customers happy after the product has been purchased. The intellectual demands on front-line workers have increased tremendously. The narrowly skilled assembly jobs have been replaced by the more knowledge-intensive positions of the factory automation technician.

Requirements for more intellectual value added have escalated up many organization hierarchies. Networked data bases, expert systems, and almost never-ending flow of new personal computer software have significantly expanded the scope and the nature of the contribution possible from many mid-level employees. This is not an unmitigated blessing, though. It has also seriously polluted the management role in many companies, making many into high-level doers instead of managers, increasing the role’s fragmentation, and making it brittle rather than strong and load-bearing.

This situation will only worsen as economic pressures lead to increased management delayering. Companies with eight to ten tiers of management will find it necessary to organize around four or five. The number of subordinates per manager will have to sharply increase. Middle managers will find themselves with less and less time to master these new white-collar productivity enhancers and to make the intellectual contribution their businesses increasingly need.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Linear Programming


Linear programming is a mathematical method used to solve resource allocation problems, which arise “whenever there are a number of activities to be performed, but limitations on either the amount of resources or the way they can be spent.” For example, it can be used to determine the best way to:

  • Distribute merchandise from a number of warehouses to a number of customers;
  • Assign personnel to various jobs;
  • Design shipping schedules;
  • Select the product mix in a factory to make the best use of machine and labor hours available while maximizing the firm’s profit;
  • Route production to optimize the use of machinery.

In order for managers to apply linear programming successfully, the problem must meet certain basic requirements: There must be a stated, quantifiable goal, such as “minimize total shipping costs”; the resources to be utilized must be known (a firm could produce 200 of one item and 300 of another, for instance, or 400 of one or 100 of another); all the necessary relationships must be expressed in the form of mathematical equations or inequalities; and all these relationships must be linear in nature.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

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