From allocation to restoration of resources: exploring how a foreman manages work flexibility

Recherches empiriques
Par Christophe Munduteguy
In a port, the container handling task involves more than just transhipment. As the port combines the constraints encountered by the transport modes involved in the supply chain, the local managers in charge of controlling operations must mitigate these constraints and deal with the ensuing risks [1]. Work flexibility is the only adjustment variable. When the operators are highly skilled and working in a small labour market as in this situation, the only way of reducing the effect of delays in the hierarchical production planning task and maintaining fluidity is internal flexibility. But is the frequent use of this kind of regulation free of consequences for the workers? Does it not threaten the long-term viability of the production system? How can we ensure the system is both robust and flexible? These are the questions that this article sets out to answer through an analysis of the supervision activity at an intermodal terminal. After an exploratory stage based on in-depth semi-structured interviews with several actors involved in the production process, and open observations at the terminal, systematic observations were conducted (by video, audio and written notes) of the foremen and the activities undertaken by the transport operators. When the foreman was available, clarification could be requested. The results focus on modes of flexibility and local control. They suggest that the local managers, in charge of mediating between management and production, crucially rely on organisational flexibility during peak periods and resource restoration during off-peak periods.
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