Finish Strong® Podcast Series The journey to excellence is not a simple one, nor does it follow a straight line. This podcast series addresses issues important to manufactures worldwide. Becky's insights include commentary on global, strategic, and tactical issues, as well as observations on current challenges and opportunities in manufacturing businesses. Feel free to suggest topics of interest to you; no doubt Becky will have something to say that will make you think.

Preparing For Change

Practice makes perfect. We all know that to be largely true, so let’s use that axiom to prepare our businesses for change.

Your organization likely assigns people to departments based on their incoming skill sets, and then to specific roles. Most rarely stray from that initial assignment. The average employee can become expert in a small window of knowledge and skill using that method, but your organization is then filled with people who only know one small area and one historical methodology.

Insist that starting on the first of next month two members of your leadership team switch roles. You might be one of those leaders. If you recoil in horror at the thought of your director of engineering switching roles with your director of supply chain, you’ve just proven the point.

True “A” players listen, learn, and lead. Those are skills not confined to whatever education they received one, or 30, years ago.

By insisting they switch roles, each will gain a very different perspective on the organization, the products and services, the markets, and the organizational potential to deal with change. The switch could last six months, or five years. The point is that each needs to gain different perspective, different ways of looking at the same question, and be forced to think differently about why and how things are done.

Also do that at mid and lower levels of your organization. Certainly I don’t advise playing a version of musical chairs with enough chairs for all. We want to introduce controlled chaos, not wild chaos. Select a few key individuals in each arena, and switch their responsibilities.

How does that prepare your organization for change?

Simply, by inducing it.

The longer people have had a single area of responsibility, the more invested they become in “the old way” of doing it. Gaining comfort with the unknown is a crucial step in any claim to agility. Agility has to exist throughout the organization in the form of thinking, openness, creativity, and approach to risk.

You know another slap in the face will hit your industry soon. You do not likely know where it will emanate, nor when it will appear. The more stagnant your organization — often confused with stable — the less you will recognize its approach.

Practice dealing with change. Take time to identify what worked and what didn’t. Take time to integrate lessons learned, and especially, the limitations to those lessons. Not all lessons learned from history will be helpful in the future.

It is the recognition of, the absorption of, and the reaction to an externally driven change that separates the successful from the faded. By practicing those competencies with internally driven change, we can develop the skills that real change requires. And those real changes are foisted on us by the world around us, not by the calendar or “when we’re ready.”

Prepare now, so you can see and ride the wave then.

Succession Planning: Should You Train, Manage, Coach, or Mentor?

Most of us believe we know training when we see it, and many of us think we know what coaching is. But all too frequently succession planning is poorly done, if at all, because of using the wrong process at the wrong time.

When is training appropriate and who should provide it? Often your best performer is the wrong person to train.

When is managing appropriate? Is succession planning part of managing? Yes, it is.

Is being assigned a coach a bad sign? Not at all. Coaching is used when you and your manager agree to work with an outside expert in developing specific interpersonal skills. The coach should be an experienced professional and the three of you should work together as a team.

Mentoring is different from these first three, and is typically the least specific and the most life-changing. It involves the care and insights of a leader within the organization, on some occasion an external resource, that you trust. The two of you reach an agreement that you can talk freely and privately about situations she observes in you, or about which you request insights from her. This is typically opportunistic more than a regular schedule, and the scope is wide open rather than aligned to specific goals.

Which of these is most appropriate in succession planning depends on the role or skillset being planned. Succession planning for shop floor operator positions are typically training of different or advanced skills to ensure flexibility for scheduling and for the future. It is typically the manager who identifies where succession planning is needed and who will be involved in executing it. Managers are responsible for developing each member of the team, and the team as a whole.

Coaches are part of a 3-person team — the employee, the boss, and the coach — to work to improve identified interpersonal skills of the employee. There is a defined scope and agreed measures of improvement.

Mentors can often be the difference between stagnation and realizing and reaching our potential.

Succession planning can only be successful for all involved if it reflects the goals of individuals, teams, and the organization, and it uses the right tools in the right ways at the right times with qualified resources.

As a person not satisfied to spend the rest of your career doing what you do right now, become familiar with each of these and learn to recognize when each is appropriate — for you, for your team, and in some cases, for others.

An Inefficient MarketPlace

“Didn’t used to be!” That was my grandmother’s reply to my screaming “there’s a stop sign there!” as she barreled through an intersection years ago.

We all struggle with change, primarily that initiated by others but impacting us. We thought the internet would provide an open and fully visible marketplace for goods, services, and employees. It has failed miserably in all of those.

It is easy to research a topic, or a company, or a person, but it is not easy to discern fact from fiction. The internet has also removed the human from many important decisions. Yes, there is decision-logic used in the filtering process, but it generally fails us.

If your future depends on winning price-based internet RFQs, your future is dark indeed. If you identify suppliers through that same process, your future is equally dark.

Right now unemployment is at records lows — the definition of “full employment”– while job unfilled positions are at record highs. That could lead one to believe that we need more people. While baby boomers are retiring, more people is not the answer.

We need a more effective, and less efficient, labor marketplace. Most companies have outsourced reviewing resumes to bots and keywords, and most looking for the right company and right opportunity try to play the game.

It’s just not working.

Companies scanning via bots for X number of years of experience, X degree, proficiency with X ERP system, and more, may tick some boxes, but excludes many very strong people committed to learning, growing, and contributing.

Manufacturers employ the whole person, and employees work for the whole organization. Our current internet-based marketplace excludes those concepts entirely.

That could work if you were hiring robots, but you’re not. Companies that hire people who check the boxes but are not interested in learning and growing are hiring the wrong people. But that’s what they look for per their bots and keywords.

The world has changed and continues to change more and more rapidly. The smart among us drive and guide that change; the rest are like my grandmother: “Didn’t used to be!”

A person who understands the culture you want, the learning and growth opportunities you offer, and who can see past the buzzwords of a resume should be looking at resumes. Hiring managers should be talking with candidates who check few boxes, but who could contribute greatly to driving the company’s future.

Hire someone who has 10 years experience running a specific model of CNC equipment will give you that. And typically, nothing more.

You can improve the effectiveness of your corner of the labor marketplace by re-injecting the human aspect. The human who will improve your culture; the company who seeks all of you and not just your degree or what you’ve always done.

Someone has to take the lead. It might as well be you.

Not Safe Enough

My grandfather was involved in two very serious accidents as a farmer. In the first, his little brother was killed as the two of them rode the wagon to do chores. In the second, his tractor blew up, burning his entire body. My grandmother couldn’t figure out who that dark man was walking through the crops straight to her.

Luckily, he recovered.

Farming was very dangerous, much less so then. Farm accidents still happen, and many are fatal.

As people left farms to move to the city, they took jobs in manufacturing. It was known until recently as dark, dank, and dangerous. It took OSHA and unions to bring safer work environments to manufacturing, but we still have a long way to go.

Better manufacturers, the only ones I would want to work with, rarely have recordable incidents. Many look at “near-misses” now.

I’m proud of the drastic improvements in safety in manufacturing environments. We’ve addressed many of those we can see.

It’s time to turn to those we don’t see. Ergonomic injuries.

An employee out with a back injury or shoulder strain is not pulling a fast one. She is suffering from the way her job is designed to be done.

In offices, few chairs are ergonomically sound, and many desks and tables are at inappropriate height for safe work. In the factory, reaching, carrying, lifting, lowering and more are all potential causes of ergonomic harm.

If your engineers and maintenance professionals are not trained on ergonomic design, how can they be expected to provide a safe work environment for everyone.

I encourage you to take the following two actions: (1) do not sign a capital expenditure request until you are comfortable that every aspect of design, operation, maintenance, and material handling have considered ergonomics and eliminated poor work processes that will lead to injury, and (2) one day per week, walk through your operations to specifically observe work. Look for anything that requires reaching, lifting/carrying/lowering of anything over a few pounds, and work with the employees to figure out how to eliminate the unsafe practice.

Yes, I said “a few pounds,” not the 25 or 40 pounds many discuss. Strength is one thing; ergonomically safe another entirely. If you think it’s no big deal, I invite you to do a job handling over 25 pounds repeatedly throughout the day.

No, I don’t. I don’t want you to get a soft tissue injury that can be as serious as those lost fingers or bruises that are easier to see.

“Reducing Lead Time” is Ambiguous

In last week’s podcast I suggested any effort to reduce lead time start with the obvious (not to all, sadly). Define it. And I encourage you to define it from the viewpoint of your customer.

Then measure it. Then break it down into component steps and look at elapsed time for each of those. Your metrics must reflect the truth, not excluding the miracle you pulled off or those orders that took forever but it wasn’t your fault.

Your customer expects you to be reliable, and faster over time.

Now it is time to define where you’re headed. “Reduce Lead Time” has no real meaning by itself.

Do you want to eliminate those outliers? Do you want to shift the entire performance curve to the left? Do you want to control the range so variability in performance is limited?

Now that you know what lead time means for you, and you have honestly measured performance over a period, and broken the total elapsed time into component steps, and you have stated your goal, you’re ready to move forward.

Start with simplifying.

The vast majority of lead time is wasted time, not time invested in actually adding value. In most manufacturers the value-add time is close to 5% and the wasted time close to 95%.

Is it easy to read a work order, or do employees need to find someone to ask a clarifying question? Is it easy to know what to work on next? Does an employee have to ask sales a clarifying question? If so, that means that early in the process we are not providing all the information needed.

By this process of identifying where variability of lead-time is high, it is easy to spot where simplification and completeness would help.

Do it.

Don’t accept “that’s not my job” from anyone in the process that should be accountable for providing complete information in an easily understandable means.

You’ll be amazed by the reduction in wasted time by simply resolving these frustrating issues. Frustrating to your employees, and to your customers.

To Reduce Lead-Time, First Define It

Leadtime is either a competitive advantage, or a competitive disadvantage to your manufacturing business. Most of you want to improve it, i.e., reduce it. That will also reduce your cost structure.

So how do you start?

First, you must have a clear definition of leadtime. It means different things to different people. To improve something, you must first define it.

I encourage you to think of your leadtime as your customer does: from when he decides he wants it to when it is actually in his hands exactly as ordered. Yes, that includes multiple steps over which you have no control, but it also includes many steps that are yours and yours alone.

Unreliable suppliers impact your leadtime to customers? That’s your problem to fix, not your customers.

The first three steps to improving lead time are:

1) First, define it clearly

2) Second, measure it accurately. No excuses.

3) And third, break those measurements into clearly defined substeps in the process.

Lead time is not only a function of Operations. Internal order processing, customer responses to questions, outgoing shipping to the customer — even if it is their truck.

Only by knowing what your current performance is: average, highs, lows, and reliability and predictability, can you begin to improve it. Otherwise, you’re chasing rainbows.

Lessons From Children Bowling

Think about bowling. The American kind. Where we, hopefully, roll the ball down the lane to knock over a set of 10 pins.

As children, the bowling alley manager would kindly place bumpers in the alleys on each side of the lane to keep our balls from all falling in there and never hitting a pin. As we get better, the bumpers could be removed. We still put the ball in the alley every now and then, but at least most of our balls hit a pin — or several!

The lessons from children’s bowling are rich.

We want them to try without massive frustration. As they get better and better, we remove the bumpers. If they backslide, we can again use the bumpers.

You’ve given your team mission, vision, and core values. You’ve defined the strategy. And now it’s time for them to execute that strategy. But how do you ensure they can be successful as they learn? Of course, by using bumpers.

Bumpers for your strategy define what is in, and what is out, and provide a viable logic test for every attempt to execute the strategy. Is what we’re doing within the bumpers? Are we forgetting about the guidelines and using company resources to pursue every great idea we have — even those well outside the bumpers?

Even the highest performing organizations need bumpers. They define the outside limits of alignment. We do not need to march single file to the goal, but we also can’t wonder aimlessly that general direction and expect success.

This podcast suggests how you can capture those “in the alley” ideas for later consideration, if you choose to, but focuses on how and why the bumpers are important.

Why Strategy Must Lead Product

It’s easy to become enamored with a product concept. The concept of the possible is exciting. But if you want to make a difference, or profitably provide your product to the world, a strategy must come first.

What problem does it address? What potential does it create? Who cares, and how fast will they care? How will you source it, produce it, and get it to market? How will the part of the world you intend to sell it to even find out about it?

There are very few cases of “build it and they will come.” And most of those get the attention of better financed and staffed organizations. What is your plan?

Of course passion about your product idea is important. If you don’t care why would anyone else? But passion alone leads to frustration when no one seems to know or care how great it is.

I know an existing manufacturer sitting on an outstanding product because, despite investing years and millions of dollars, it has not figured out how to make it for a price anyone would be willing to pay. The proof of concept was completed over five years ago. And here they sit, frustrated, watching a potentially huge advantage slip away because they won’t partner with companies that could solve their problem.

Falling in love with a product is fun; getting it to market requires a strategy.

The Why, When, Where, and How Much of Data Collection

Industry 4.0 is all about the wise capture, analytics, and use of data. Typically companies seek to improve the speed and quality of decision-making, often automating the implementation of rules-based decisions, in their IIoT efforts.

Digital transformation uses data for those, and even more forward looking scenarios that currently are impossible or very time consuming to consider.

As always, the first and most important question is “why?” Why do we want to begin collecting and using more data? Again, better and faster decision making is often the answer.

Actually implementing decisions automatically requires that various data sources can connect with one another and initiate action of some kind. Providing information to improve product capabilities or reliability is a different set of data and different processes.

The what, when, and where of data collection depends on the problem you are addressing.

Your steps into Industry 4.0 will require comfort with data analytics at some level. The basics you can likely handle with existing staff even at a smaller company, but without an intro to statistics level of understanding even that can be dicey.

Yes, algorithms exist that can do the math, but who will determine which algorithm is appropriate? Your engineers will have some basic statistical understanding, but remember they study math much more than statistics.

To begin, first answer the business question of why? Once the high-level why is understood, prioritize based on low level potential as you learn. And again, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

For example, collecting data on whether or not a machine is running is easy, but who would do what when based on that data? Correlation of data is often important. Measuring the temperature variation of the fluids in a machine can be useful, but is more useful when correlated with production data, machine speed, or other variables that help you understand if the temperature variation matters.

Every manufacturer has long been collecting data, much of it of poor quality and useless. You can’t afford to continue accepting those weaknesses. As you begin a pilot, draft data governance rules and responsibilities. Just as you’ll learn from the pilot, you’ll learn from the draft of data governance. And remember: More is NOT necessarily better.

Once you’ve begun a pilot, enforce assessment, learning, and then move on. Improve that pilot, or better yet, expand that experiment.

Pilot purgatory is no better than ignoring Industry 4.0 completely.

To Automate, Or Not To Automate

Industry 4.0 is the topic of conversation in manufacturing today. But most of us have not yet figured out all we can and should do with Industry 3.0. What’s the difference, and do we need to wait?

Simply put, Industry 3.0 refers to automation, and Industry 4.0 refers to data — the collection, analysis and improved, faster decision-making it can enable.

But does anyone really care what we call it?

Likely your manufacturing business can benefit from both, even today.

In deciding what to automate in your manufacturing business, I suggest four initial areas of focus. Those are safety, speed, precision, and leveraging human capabilities. In this podcast I discuss those four, and how to think about why you would consider each.

In my next podcast, I will discuss Industry 4.0 — how to think about data in propelling your business forward.