Already in Unit 11, where the focus was on the implication for the company, we have come across a number of issues involving management, both managing resources and managing people. In this unit we are touching lightly on some of the management techniques that may be involved in your lead-free transition.
Managing lead-free means managing a project, but we have to remember that there are some aspects of lead-free that are different from many projects.
We would rather not just present you with our view so, before you read on, we would like you to think about “What makes a lead-free project different?”.
Although the lead-free project is different, it is still a project. This means that formal techniques are needed to plan it, to generate and control a budget, and to report on progress. Given the uncertainties, the reporting element becomes particularly important as it is a means of flexing both plan and budget. Our preference is for informal methods of information-sharing, and for improving feedback with regular but very brief meetings of all those involved; this is fighting a series of battles, rather than a long campaign, tactics rather than strategy.
But the overall plan needs to be kept in mind, even if it may not be appropriate to use the full resources of a tool such as Microsoft Project. Whether or not you plan in this way will depend on your experience and company preferences. A benefit is that any formal planning technique forces the project management team to consider resource allocation, and this is important in the lead-free context, even if the mechanisms used are not computer-based. The team needs to find enough willing and able people to do the work necessary. Often this will involve negotiation to release skilled people from existing tasks, and may need external resources.
Whilst a formal plan may not be created in Microsoft Project, there still needs to be a firm idea of the overall timescale and costs, and some means of measuring both the cost-to-date and progress towards the target. All the usual techniques are applicable here, and setting milestones is worthwhile, but don’t forget that a key outcome is whether the products meet the predetermined performance criteria . . .
Uncertainty was one of the ways in which lead-free implementation is different from other projects, and this means that risk management plays a part. Notice the term ‘risk management’, which implies that there are risks, and that some element of risk cannot be avoided. However, provided that the risks can be identified, they can be managed in such a way as to minimise the possible downside for the company.
What are the risks associated with lead-free implementation in a typical company? Take some time on this, because the uncertainties associated with lead-free are not the only areas of project risk.
Then read our short paper on risk management before reviewing your list of risks and uncertainties and finally add to your list some ideas about appropriate risk control and avoidance.
If you want to take this topic further, a recommended book that covers many of the standard risk management techniques is Risk Management: Concepts and Guidance by Carl L. Pritchard, published by ESI International in 2001 (ISBN: 1890367303).
In introducing the idea of lead-free, we are automatically making a change to the status quo. This is one of the reasons for resistance from both customers and the company’s engineers – change isn’t popular, particularly where it challenges ways of doing things that have proven effective and long-lasting.
And no change is more resented than that which is imposed from outside. So lead-free implementation involves managing the change. Before you read our paper on managing change, reflect on your experiences of change and the elements that made the change happen. Of course, if you are really unlucky you may have experiences where change was so effectively resisted that it failed to stick – remember the Poll Tax?!
Read our paper on Change management. Look particularly at the section on Systems Intervention Strategy, and comment on how the ideas of SIS fit with the requirements of a lead-free implementation project.
Stressing SIS as we have done is not to imply that lead-free implementation cannot be handled by Organisational Development, or indeed in other ways. Much will depend on the culture of your organisation and the way that change is managed at the moment; if you work for a large company that already has an OD infrastructure, then talk to your company consultant about the way in which lead-free could be considered as a change task within the company’s OD context.
So far in our analysis we have looked at project management, risk management and change management. But these are not the only contributors to a successful lead-free implementation. We focus in the section that follows on three specific factors, but of course these are not the only ones.
The first contributor to success is appropriate leadership for the lead-free conversion project. When we say ‘appropriate’ we mean appropriate to the company, to the situation, and to the other people involved.
Whilst this unit is not a leadership module, we would like to share the concept of a leadership style continuum (Figure 1) which originates in the work of Tannenbaum and Schmidt. They distinguish between two types of leader, the ‘chairman’ and the ‘boss’, with leaders adopting a position somewhere on the continuum of styles between the two extremes of dictatorship and total freedom for the subordinates.
The choice of an appropriate style for a leadership role will depend on the power of the leader, the leader’s natural style and the nature of the subordinates, and also on the situation and the structure of the task. The more diffuse the problem, and the more varied the solutions, the more the leader needs to consult and delegate. However, no leader should hesitate to adopt different styles on different occasions; faced with an urgent problem, a defined and short timescale, and factors such as lack of ownership, the leader will need to take a more directive style, even ‘telling’ rather than ‘selling’, and certainly not ‘consulting’.
For something more formal, but still concise, read A review of leadership theory and competency frameworks by Bolden and his colleagues from the University of Exeter Centre for Leadership Studies.
For a leadership guide for “anyone wishing to move up through the ranks as a leader”, try Big Dog’s Leadership Page.
Another factor for success lies in making comparisons between your company and best practice. Though the term ‘benchmarking’ is usually applied in a more general way to compare a company’s operations with others that are ‘best in class’, even monitoring one’s position in the field gives assurance that progress is being made and helps highlight areas of weakness. You may remember the QuickStart programme readiness assessment questionnaire; that is actually an example of benchmarking.
Read our paper for a reminder about what benchmarking is. Then browse for benchmarking +"electronic assembly" for ideas on applying the concept. How are others within the electronics assembly industry using external data to improve their performance?
For information about potential benefits to your company from following best practice in other ways, look at the DTI Best Practice web site.
The Office of Naval Research’s Best Manufacturing Practices (BMP) Program is another helpful site. Whilst carried out some years ago, an enlightening report of a survey conducted at Hamilton Standard Electronic Manufacturing Center shows many best practice ideas.
The final contributor to successful implementation is training. But the idea of training should not be confined to teaching operators about the difference in appearance of lead-free and tin-lead joints, important as this may be.
A frequent area of weakness for a company relates to its training activity, and training people to deal with lead-free is important. How many people in a typical company will need to know about lead-free, how much will they need to know?
The imperative is awareness at all levels, supported by sufficient knowledge to do the right job. There will be an element of formal training, as well as a lot of on-the-job work. As with any project, the first stage is a ‘Training Needs Analysis’, in which the requirements for training are specified in detail for each person, and not just globally. This can’t be done in isolation, without consulting the employee, and the needs of lead-free implementation should also be considered alongside other needs.
At the same time as the need is identified and communicated with the employee, attention must be given to what constitutes success – what is it that a fully trained operator/engineer/manager will be able to do as a result of the training?
In larger companies, the planning and monitoring of training is handled professionally within the Human Resources department; in smaller companies, a major training task such as lead-free presents will be handled differently, and probably more informally, but whoever is responsible still needs to communicate with those involved and put in place some assessment of the effectiveness of training.
With any technical training, we also need to understand that total knowledge and full confidence are not handed down and immediately assimilated, but need to be learned. Again this is an aspect of management that is beyond the scope of this module, but we would encourage you to think about how people learn. At this link we have put a reminder that rate at which someone takes new information on board, that is the shape of the ‘learning curve’, will depend on the complexity of the task.
Training needs committed knowledgeable trainers, and this can be a major stumbling block, especially when you need to train a large number of people. The table below comments on a number of possible approaches.
|Self-instruction methods (videos; CDs; web-based training)||Most suited to engineering topics and awareness training, but needs a high level of motivation.|
|Internal trainers||Where the internal trainer is both skilled and trained to train, this is very effective, especially for operators. Can be supplemented by subsequent monitoring activity to ensure that learning continues to be implemented correctly.|
|External trainers run formal classes||Effective, and well liked by trainees, especially where it takes them away from their workplace. Can be expensive. Need to agree course content and control class size.|
|Teach your key people first and use them to teach others (referred to as ‘cascade training’)||Works well with professionals. At lower skill levels, need to allow for ‘dilution’ of the message by starting in more depth than is needed everywhere.|
Training also requires resources. As you will have discovered, the standards from IPC are being revised, but they will be helpful once released. SMART Group is another excellent source and, for those who like to have a straightforward and simple explanation in a compact form, we recommend Roger Bilham’s CD as a good summary of the issues: this link is to information on the contents, and there is a review on the Smart Group web site. Roger has kindly allowed us to link a sample page to give you a flavour of the material.
Having looked during the past two units at the impact of lead-free implementation on the company’s operations and management, we have come to the end of our three-fold audit process:
You will be bringing these threads together in Assignment 3. But, before you switch off, we would like you to do just a little more research and reflection.
What are the current major issues in lead-free implementation?
Try a search for RoHS + challenge +lead-free
It’s useful to put a time filter on this, but unfortunately search engines work on the revision date for the whole page, so your attempt to access material from just the past two months may not work as well as you intended. Search a site where the information is definitely in date order, such the Soldertec news page. Similar resources are available through the online industry press, or go to the ThomasNet Industrial News Room, claimed to be the “premier industrial news source for the latest Electronic Components and Devices news stories”.
Last revised 13 September 2004
So you have identified the issues that are important within the electronics design and assembly community, but what approach do you need to take to the whole lead-free issue? To get an idea where we are coming from read these articles:
Coming of the Green Computers, by Allen Bernard, Inside IT, 25 March 2003
Thank you for staying with us to the very end of the module. We hope that you have derived benefit from your studies, and wish you success as you continue towards your MSc. If you have enjoyed the experience tell us; equally, if you have thoughts on how the material can be improved, do please tell us, as your feedback will help new cohorts of students to have an enhanced experience.