Make better decisions: Liberate information from job silos

By Hugh Alley   

Industry Manufacturing manufacturing training

Explain linkages when teaching a process to learners.

Information silos lead to less than ideal decisions. PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK

A healthcare practitioner observing another practitioner noticed he made some key decisions without asking the family members about the patient. “How can he make good decisions when he doesn’t have that critical information?” she asked.

It was clear that he didn’t see his job as including efforts to collect information. In his silo, the job was to make the decision.

The same problem often occurs in manufacturing. We ask employees to make decisions, but they struggle. Either they don’t have needed information (not their job because someone said they don’t want the operator speaking to the customer) or they lack guidance about how to weigh the information they have. In both scenarios, the result is a decision that is less than ideal.

One company removed two weeks from its build cycle after sales started collecting all the information engineering needed when the order was taken. Sales people didn’t like the extra work, but when they noticed there were fewer follow-up questions, a better buying experience for customers and faster delivery, they were willing to do it.


Even better, products weren’t stalled while the production crew waited for clarification.

Unrecognized silo focus

The silo problem is particularly acute for products that must be configured or engineered, but it shows up even in simple operations. For example, in metal forming, if the customer’s desired radius isn’t known, the operator doesn’t know which profile to use in the press. This delays either the design process or the production process.

Most people are unaware of their silo focus. Fortunately, when they do become aware, they’re willing to improve the overall process by adding a small amount to their work. For example, sales may not be interested in production details. But salespeople at one company were willing to take on some additional data entry once they understood it would reduce the error rate and the delivery time of their orders. In their market, that was a competitive advantage.

The take away? When you are explaining a new process or teaching an employee new to a process, be sure to explain the linkages. How does this step of the process affect the later stages? How do others depend on the work being demonstrated or taught?

When staff members have this understanding, they’ll work more effectively, and less likely to take short cuts with the inevitable side effects.

Hugh Alley is an industrial engineer based in the Vancouver area who helps organizations achieve significant performance gains. Call (604) 866-1502 or e-mail

This article appears in the April 2019 print issue of PLANT Magazine.



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