I have worked with many Supervisors that have felt the need to work on their laptop or computer instead of being out on the floor and managing the people, or better yet, the process. I have asked these individuals why they are in the office. Their responses range from, I have paperwork to do all the way to I am trying to get a better understanding of the whole process and looking for patterns in the data. What???

Paperwork – I realize some of this is required, think regulatory or legal. The rest is usually internal stuff that gets put into a system that may or may not be reviewed. Here are my suggestions:
What are the critical inputs to the process? There are probably KPI’s and downtime and OT, quality checks, all that good stuff that hopefully means something to the next customer or final customer. How about an information diet where there are only 3 or 4 items that are tracked? I know this will take some legwork but figure out the 3 or 4 inputs that drive customer satisfaction / profitability / costs, actually think about time. What takes the longest? Track that and forget everything else. Once those 3 or 4 key items are being tracked, standardize across the site / organization and then automate where possible. Where not possible, can you build a process where this information is touched by your team instead you banging on a spreadsheet? If the team is involved in developing and creating the information, it may actually mean something to them. At that point, on a given shift / day, the information flow should be improved and should not take hours of anyone’s day to develop.

What about the pattern recognition and algorithm work? I have found may be one or two people that have been in Supervisory roles that have found connections that were not already known. Usually, these were more like the change in weighting of one activity versus others instead of a whole new idea, but that does happen. My suggestion for those intellectuals is that spend some time on this work and then prove it by working on the floor and create the knowledge on the floor as soon as possible and stop working on the data. Knowledge, unlike data, can actually be useful. Data has to turn into information, through analysis and then connecting the dots from input to output. Knowledge is then the effective use of information to make improvements. This means the transfer from Supervision / Management to standardization and buy-in at the front line partners / employees. You know, the people that are actually doing the work.

I have an appreciation for reflecting on data and developing information but if my choice is to build elaborate spreadsheets to show my Manager “what is happening” or being on the floor, I will be on the floor talking to operators and then understand the story.