The Mathematics of Human Resource – The Anorexic Organization

I work in a manufacturing plant. I’ve been working in the manufacturing environment for the last 7 years.

In the manufacturing environment, there is a fundamental concept of “capacity”.

I’m not a guru in this field, but what I find interesting is that:
1) the output is directly proportional to the input
2) the throughput is somewhat a constant, unless:
2.a) the line is setup differently, resulting in a more optimized setting, or
2.b) there is an increase in equipment/ station, which increases the capacity
3) last but not least, if a production line has a 1000 units output, than 2 production lines would have a 2000 units output

What a simple concept. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out. I thought I knew this when I was in primary school! I was made to write lines for not doing my homework. I had to write 500 lines of “you know what”. If I can do 2 lines a minute, that would take me 250 minutes to complete. That is a whopping 4 hours of writing!

I figured that if I want to catch my favorite cartoon on the TV, I would either have to:
1) Write faster, or
2) Get my brother to help

In the end, I got to watch my cartoon and I’m sure you knew what I did.

That’s the basic, that’s Manufacturing 101.

Let’s move one to Advanced Manufacturing 201.

In a manufacturing line, it is essential to have periodic “preemptive maintenance” (PM). This is to ensure that the line is calibrated and the constants are maintained. Or rather, to ensure that there is no mistakes. We also know that equipment has a certain tolerance level, by which would require servicing.

How could we not know that? Even the car we drive needs an oil change. Ok, I’m guilty of squeezing another 20% more mileage before sending my car in for servicing. But, the fact remains. The servicing is essential.

We also know that the wear and tear for our “high-performance” and “highly-utilized” parts is generally higher which requires more frequent servicing. For example, a car which has run more miles daily would require a servicing at shorter intervals, and a turbo engine breaks down easier than a normal engine.

Hold that thought.

Now, let’s take a look at how organizations plan their human resources. I’m not taking about how the HR team is setup. I’m referring to how organizations setup its department and the people in these departments.

It is safe to assume that with the technology advancement we’ve seen in these 2 decades, the pace and volume of work had increased many fold. The expectations of the employees had increased accordingly.

I was just talking to a someone who’s been putting in many nights’ of work and his complain was that he’s been made to work at 120% of his capacity from the day he joined the organization. And recently, he’s been working much harder as there’s an urgent project he’s been put in charged of.

He’s burned out.

He felt that in the real world, the volume of work can never be at a constant level, there should be a high period and a low one. However, why can’t he be operating at 80% for most of the time and 120% at the high period?

Maybe he’s not that hardworking, and he deserved to be replaced. Maybe.

Have we gone over board with cost cutting measures as such that it really cuts to the bone? Try losing weight to the point that you become anorexic. I bet it isn’t fun. Not to mention that it is not very healthy.

Fat helps regulate body temperature, store energy, and cushion and insulate organs.

According to an article from, the American Dietetic Association recommends that men have 15-18% body fat and women have 20-25% body fat. Healthy male athletes might be as low as 5-12% body fat, and healthy female athletes could be as low as 10-20%.

With that in mind, shouldn’t an organization stop being anorexic and start putting on some healthy fats?

Where are the “PM”s and where are the “servicing”? Have we gone from preventive maintenance and servicing to just replacing?

Last I checked, “Size 0” is so passé.

By Eric Wong – 22 Apr 2010