I’ve invested the vast majority of my long career in operations. I find it fascinating.
Regardless of industry, operations includes the technologies, processes, materials, and procedures that delivering value on each order involves. Many would look at those words and see no similarities between making mac and cheese for millions of consumers and making aerospace parts for a limited number of engines.
Yet my transition from operations of the first to the second was fast and easier than you might imagine.
I am NOT a technologist. Making frozen prepared foods I worked with food scientists. Making aerospace parts I worked with metallurgists and ceramicists.
I AM a business and operations expert. Both food and aerospace industries, and I could give many more examples, must obtain and keep customers, must know what materials are needed when, what critical steps are involved in converting those materials to the end product sold to the customer, and must comply with regulations while delivering cost effective quality reliably.
The choreography of information, materials, equipment and decisions is one giant puzzle to be solved. The production system is what solves that puzzle.
Many manufacturing businesses see the complications and distinctions that can make their operations difficult. The better ones focus on the similarities, simplifications, and apply lessons from everyone in their improvement processes.
Both leaders and shop floor employees of the majority of, for example, tool and die companies believe that they are job shops, that every order is unique, and that because of those two facts there is no production system that makes delivery times reliable. Internal scheduling for them is one reaction to the last customer call after another.
That thinking is simply wrong, and contributed heavily to outsourcing tool and die production to cheap labor markets.
While the intricate details of the metal removed from the block of steel to create the specific shape required by the customer do differ, that is a very small part of the program that controls cutting.
The production systems of tool and die shops are basically buy metal, write program(s) for the specific equipment that will cut the metal to shape, set up the machine, run the program, perhaps do a few secondary operations, and get it to the customer.
I have helped many job shops, including tool and die, incorporate visual factory concepts and simple scheduling easy to follow, resulting in 50% reductions in lead-times and doubling of on-time delivery to customers. And of course profits skyrocketed.
How? By seeing the similarities and not being controlled by the distinctions.
Restaurants, hair salons, and tool and die shops are all job shops. All of them do the same things over and over, with the intricate details changing but not the overall production systems.
As someone in operations, it is crucial that you understand the questions the system must answer, the challenges it must overcome, and the repetitive nature of the vast majority of both. The 80/20 rule is powerful, especially when we learn widely from the 80% that you share with the rest of the world.
If you like putting together a puzzle, designing beautiful choreography that is easy for all the dancers to follow, or generally making it easy for others to do their jobs well, operations is for you. Don’t let the varieties of production systems in existence become confusing. Take the best from each and create operations in your business that are the best you can make them, as of now.
Tomorrow is a new and better today if we respect important differences, while we focus on similarities and learning.