Stories like this have been in the news before, but this was circulating the past few days: “Why erratic schedules are one of the worst parts of low-wage work.”
The story refers to so-called “just-in-time” scheduling techniques that jerk employees around and disrupt lives.
It happens to share a term, “JIT” with “Lean manufacturing” or just “Lean,” but it’s either a coincidence or it’s a bastardization of what Lean is really about. And I can prove it quite easily.
But Haley-Lock says it’s not only large companies that have adopted software-based just-in-time scheduling techniques. Small businesses do it too.
For example, Haley-Lock visited a “little private ma-and-pa restaurant in a rural area of Washington state. The owner walked me through with great enthusiasm the Excel spreadsheet he used to track his labor-to-sales ratio. He’d track it on an hourly basis and would use it to send workers home.”
“You’re waiting on your job to control your life,” Jannette Navarro, a Starbucks employee in San Diego, told the New York Times last year. She found out each week’s schedule just three days ahead of time, and she said that Starbucks software often determined everything from how much sleep her son would get to “what groceries I’ll be able to buy this month.” (Starbucks changed its scheduling policies after the Times article was published.)
Erratic shifts that vary from week to week make workers’ schedules challenging enough. On-call shifts make things even worse. If the employer cancels a shift, the worker generally gets no pay — and might still be on the hook for child care expenses.
The use of on-call shifts, and variable schedules more generally, also creates a lot of uncertainty about workers’ incomes from week to week. If business is slow for several weeks in a row, workers can wind up not making enough money to pay the rent. Espinal, the New York retail worker, says there were some parts of the year, such as after the holidays, when she could go days without getting a single shift.
The article makes a connection to Lean manufacturing:
The trend toward using computers to more tightly manage workers’ schedules parallels the trend of just-in-time manufacturing. In the past couple of decades, manufacturers have used sophisticated software to slash inventories and order new parts at the last minute. This not only cuts down on warehousing costs, it also makes the whole production process more nimble, because manufacturers can switch to new and improved components as soon as they’re available.
That’s not really true in JIT and Lean production. It’s L.A.M.E. or Lean As Misguidedly Explained.
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Lean Factories Don’t Jerk People Around
When I was a consultant in auto supplier land, about 12 years ago, there was an auto supplier plant that made parts for Toyota, GM, and Chrysler.
Guess who had the more STABLE production schedules and orders to the supplier? Toyota did.
GM and Chrysler would jerk their schedules and orders around at the last minute, which was good for GM and Chrysler, but bad for the supplier in terms of the chaos it created.
Toyota wasn’t trying to stick their inventory on the supplier. Arguably, Toyota was more respectful of the supplier and just being smart from a long-term business perspective (by not doing things that increased their suppliers’ costs). There’s a reason that Toyota (and Honda) rank highest in supplier relations.
“Just in time” scheduling shouldn’t jerk around employees and it shouldn’t jerk around suppliers.
Lean and the Toyota Production System are grounded in a foundation of “Respect for People.” What Vox describes seems pretty ruthless and more like GM and Chrysler of the early 2000s, not Lean.
Hospitals Often Jerk People Around, Not Toyota
The retailers that use their so-called “JIT scheduling” (it should be called “Jerk Around Time” scheduling) aren’t doing so because a Lean book told them to do so. They’re just combining a cost-cutting focus with computer technology.
Hospitals often try to manage their staffing to demand each hour during the day. Long before Lean entered the healthcare vocabulary, hospitals were using on-call shifts and sending people home early when it suited them. Hospitals call it “flexing” and I’ve been criticizing that practice on this blog since 2009 or earlier.
Toyota doesn’t do this to their employees. If they aren’t able to build cars or trucks, due to parts shortages or a line being down, they don’t send employees home early to cut their pay and save money. Toyota continues to pay them, engaging them in training or continuous improvement (“Kaizen”) activities.
Toyota will also do this (pay employees for not building vehicles) for weeks or months at a time, given downturns in the industry sales or the problems that followed the big Japanese tsunami and earthquake. GM laid off employees, Toyota did not in the aftermath of the tsunami and a Japanese supplier being taken off line.
A Lean organization doesn’t micromanage labor costs each hour to save a buck or two. A Lean organization engages everybody in partnering to reduce waste and improve the organization’s performance, such as improving quality, safety, or customer satisfaction. Everybody wins.
So, it should be pretty clear that so-called “just in time” retail scheduling is the furthest thing from Lean.
Also see the book The Good Jobs Strategy for stories of retailers who do things the right way.
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