A Letter to the IE: More than Ever, We Need to Lead the World to Productivity

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Dear Industrial Engineer*          

The year 2020 ended without a happy ending.  The SARS-CoV-2 virus had not gone away.  It continues to be a global threat going into 2021. 

Political and enterprise leaders have done all they can to defeat the virus. 

There was hope. 

Thanks to record-breaking world-class collaboration efforts, vaccines have become realities and are on their way to inoculate millions.  We are grateful to the scientists, engineers, health-care professionals, executives, and numerous support personnel who have done so much and continue to do so.

But there was frustration. 

The pandemic, however, had spread to every continent, including remote Antarctica.  It continues to infect and force governments to restrict movement and distance.

We have become more lonesome and insecure.  Some of us had pushed back but to no avail.  The virus retaliates without discrimination.  More had gone sick.  More tragically had passed away. 

Throughout the war against CoVID-19, we industrial engineers have been conspicuously left out.  We don’t really know if it’s because leaders are ignorant of what we can offer or if it’s because many executives think they have enough expertise.   Whatever the reason, we could have done more. 

Most of us industrial engineers are hard at work in different careers and jobs around the world.  Many of us have made big differences to the enterprises and organisations where we are employed or engaged. 

But for whatever we have done, whatever we continue to do, it hasn’t been enough. 

Long before the pandemic, productivity growth has been on a decline.  The gap in productivity year-to-year between advanced economies and developing nations has widened.  Disruptions ranging from natural disasters to socio-political upheavals had taken a toll on enterprises.  Growth has been curtailed.  Many enterprises, notably small businesses, have lost ground in competitiveness. 

The 2020 pandemic hit global productivity when it was already down.  It’s the culmination of its decline.  And we have felt the impact like a hammer driving down on the nail. 

We need to do better.  We need to make our world more productive.

Productivity is a misunderstood measure.  Unlike financials like profit, sales, costs, and cash-flow, it is not easy to describe productivity in one metric.  Economists try to do that by defining productivity as the output of a person; but doing so makes it incomplete and inaccurate. 

Productivity is delivery versus consumption; how much one delivers correctly to customers against how much resources and time are consumed in doing so.  Productivity requires direction.  What are we delivering, how many or how much, how close to what customers want, and when?  What are we going to use to make and deliver, how long it should take, how it will be conveyed, and with how much support?   It’s not efficiency which measures how fast we’re going; it’s more like velocity which measures how much nearer we are to our objectives given the resources we spent.

Productivity drives value.  It connects to the priorities of the enterprise.  It’s what gives us industrial engineers purpose because we’re in the best position to understand it and improve on it.  Productivity is our watchword. 

In an age where supply chains and operations are in the midst of crisis,

we find ourselves in an unprecedented position to make a significant difference. 

I don’t suggest a political campaign or a public relations drive.  We just need to demonstrate.  We don’t need to debate our proficiencies; we have the skills.  We know what we have and what we can contribute

How we can show what we got can be summarised in four approaches:

First, Point Out Problems and Volunteer to Fix Them

We shouldn’t wait to be assigned.  We should point about problems, make visible opportunities, and offer ideas and solutions.  In short, we should be proactive, i.e., act on our own without waiting for someone to tell us about problems.  We know more than a lot of people when there’s a problem. 

Second, Drive the PDCA Cycle

We should drive the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, the basic process of carrying out solutions.  What many people don’t realise is that it’s a cycle, not a model for a one-time project.  We don’t stop after implementing a solution; we seek opportunity for something even better.  It’s why we also call it continuous improvement.  PDCA is a wheel that we keep spinning to keep productivity moving and growing. 

Third, Stand Up and Be Heard on Strategy

Keeping the PDCA cycle spinning requires leadership.  We are those leaders.  Our superiors are our audience.  Feedback, justification, and assertion are therefore essential.  We should have a say on strategy because productivity depends on direction.  It doesn’t just ensure the PDCA cycle keeps spinning but  that we spin the right cycles; we address the problems that are most important. 

Fourth, Promote Productivity

As industrial engineers, we promote productivity.  No one else will.  Not the economists, not the post-graduate business administration executive, not other engineers.   It’s us because our education and experience have us focused on productivity more than anyone else. 

Productivity has become a forgotten term in the decade of 2010 to 2020.  Its growth has fallen by the wayside.  It is on us to remind everyone about it, show how important it is to the viabilities of enterprises and competitiveness of organisations, and reveal its potential in the fight against disruptions, especially versus seemingly insurmountable ones like the pandemic. 

The anchor of our IE vocation is productivity.  It’s our unwavering principle we base our accomplishments on.  It is the flag we wave amid disruptions and difficulties. 

Let’s get going. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

*I had suggested we change our titles to supply chain engineers.  😊

Acknowledgment:

Alistair Dieppe. 2020. Global Productivity: Trends, Drivers,
and Policies. Advance Edition. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO.

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