The Project Managers Skill Gap

September 18th, 2014
bridging the skills gap

With manufacturers and distributors finding it increasingly difficult to find top talent, bridging the skills gap has become a leading managerial task for success and even survival.

According to a recent survey, 87% of manufacturers and distributors cannot find the skills required to successfully run their businesses. These results didn’t surprise me as each day I go into a client, attend a board meeting of one of the trade associations I lead, or talk with my colleagues;  someone has decided to retire, a key employee is leaving for a better opportunity, or my client just cannot find enough skills to fill critical project roles. It has become an epidemic.

I’ve found there are three key areas to ensuring success in proactively addressing the skills gap: 1) Retaining top talent. 2) Training & developing top talent. 3) Being on the lookout for top talent. As it seems the simplest yet is the most often overlooked solution, retaining top talent is a secret to success. How do we retain excellent project managers? Understand what motivates each project manager and start there. In order to do that, it helps to start by defining an excellent project manager. Which qualities are essential? 1) Leadership. 2) Communication. 3) The ability to synthesize data and tasks. 4) Execution ability

1. Leadership: Undoubtedly, there are too few leaders! Since project success directly ties to leadership, it cannot be overlooked. Who has the capability to influence others (whether in the power position or not)? Who does the team look up to? Who is willing to address the roadblocks upfront? Answer these questions, and you’ll have your answer.

2. Communication: One of the surprising facts that arose from the skills gap survey is that communication and presentation skills have risen in importance. Even in traditionally technical fields including project management, executives need significantly improved communication skills. Are you willing to communicate the bad news? Do you just drop it on your colleagues or find a way to bring them into the fold on potential issues and gain their input? Do you keep everyone up-to-speed on the project’s progress? Do you communicate why the project will deliver value? Does each team member understand his/her value? Do you seem interested? No one is interested in following someone who makes the project seem boring – or worse yet, isn’t able to effectively communicate to gain support throughout the organization?

3. The Ability to Synthesize Data and Tasks: You can be the most effective communicator; however, if the project team discovers that you are unable to synthesize the data and tasks to understand the scope of the problem or situation on a quick enough basis, you will quickly lose respect. This does not require that you perform all the tasks yourself or that you understand the topic upfront, but it requires that you are able to ask effective questions, see trends and connections and draw conclusions. Otherwise, you’ve wasted essential time and resources with nothing to show for it.

4. Execution Ability: Are you willing to do the blocking and tackling? Do you follow up? Request status? Provide thoughtful ideas. Help your team overcome roadblocks? Have a rigorous focus on priorities? Manage the critical path relentlessly? In my experience, I’ve noticed that those who have a great ability to execute appreciate solid leadership. Thus, why leadership is #1 – it will create a success loop.

So, now that you’ve identified these skills, you need to find and retain top talent. First, open your eyes. During the last few years, I’ve seen some of the best resources go unnoticed or unappreciated. Forget about the fancy three-ring binder reports and interesting conversations about the latest fad and take a step back to see who is delivering results in your organization. It might surprise you. Once you find this person, retain him/her. It all depends on the person – some people appreciate a simple thank you. Others appreciate interesting work. Yet others appreciate the recognition of their value and autonomy in decision-making. Sometimes it’s as easy as supporting their decisions – how hard is that? And, remember, the bottom line circles back to leadership.

Next, depending on what you find within your organization, search for this talent in the market. Executive recruiters are saying it’s a tough market to find high-skilled resources. Instead, you must be diligent. Do not settle or hire the less expensive resource and hope for the best. This strategy will not deliver the results required to succeed. Typically, relationships and personal connections are your best source. Invest the money in a top executive recruiter – it isn’t expensive if you think about the lost time and money wasted on not delivering results. Do not give up! If you are the leader with access to excellent project managers, you will have a leg up on the competition and deliver exceptional bottom line results.

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Systems Pragmatist: Connecting Processes, Systems, Company Objectives

September 16th, 2014
connecting systems, processes and company objectives

To achieve significant progress on new organizational processes or systems tackle the fundamental to do list first: understand your current processes to figure out where the opportunities for improvement and systems leverage lie.

When applying my Systems Pragmatist viewpoint to analyzing manufacturing processes and systems, I revisit the fundamentals as they are essential to delivering bottom line business results. Those clients who want to skip over the “hard work” of defining and improving processes and leveraging systems are destined to failure whereas those who take the time to ensure that these bedrock concepts are in place thrive.

Undoubtedly, I find the key to success to be in connection points. Is your process documented? It’s amazing how often clients should start here.  By understanding your current process, opportunities for improvement jump out!  Do your processes connect with your system?  Are your employees trained on how to optimize system processes?  How should you handle mistakes in your system? Are there ways to further leverage your system to achieve results? Do you have the right system for your critical business requirements? Perhaps you better take a step back – what are your critical system requirements? If you are upgrading or implementing, have you thought through your critical path tasks? Which are vital to the core functions of your organization? Have you thought through your connection points with your employees, customers, suppliers, related systems, etc.? Do your employees have expertise in project management? And the list goes on….

My best clients understand the value and importance of tying your processes and systems to your objectives. For example, Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP/SIOP) is a system-wide process that ties the entire organization together, and to a great extent, even customers, suppliers and other partners, on one plan. Of course, no S&OP program is successful unless this plan contains the “right” content (the priority end-to-end supply chain topics such as demand forecasting and capacity planning), the “right” people (starting with the executive team and expanding from there), and the “right” systems (inclusive of ERP, business intelligence/reporting, e-commerce, etc.).  When these all come together, results follow. For example, in one client we increased service levels from around 60% to the high 90%’s while improving margins by 10%.

Don’t undervalue your processes and miss vast opportunities. Instead, force yourself and your executive team to pay attention to what might seem mundane yet will propel your company to success.

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Learn from German Success: Apprenticeships to Fill Skills Gaps

September 12th, 2014

supply chain

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, although there is federal and state attention being placed on building apprenticeship programs to fill the skills gaps, it is off to a slow start. According to my research, 87% are experiencing skills gaps. Why not consider options to address?

So far, the vast majority of companies who have signed up are from overseas, especially German companies. Germany has had long-term success in creating apprenticeship programs, and it’s lowest unemployment levels for young professionals of any advanced country speaks to its success. However, there is a stigma in the U.S. that those who sign up for these programs did poor in high school.  Undoubtedly it is a great strategy experiencing a branding problem! Luckily, we each can have a significant impact in our own organization. Consider starting an apprentice program if you’d like to leapfrog your competition by having the “right skills” in the “right place” at the “right time”.

One tip to implement this week: Although partnering with community colleges to create an apprenticeship program is worth pursuing rapidly, it isn’t something you could complete this week. Thus, START the process as you don’t want to miss the opportunity to get ahead of the pack in terms of the skills gap. Next, think about how you can leverage this apprenticeship model on a small scale this week at your company. Can you pair up your long-term skilled employees with your newer/younger employees and find a way to make it a win-win for both? Perhaps start a mentor program? Just this morning, I talked to a STAR employee who is extremely loyal – a small investment in her success goes a long way to creating that loyalty.

Looking for more ideas to keep your supply chain connected? Access more tips and resources on my blog. And keep connected by subscribing to my newsletter and email feed of “I’ve Been Thinking…”


Quality Tips for Manufacturers

September 11th, 2014
ensure quality

Manufacturers can no longer count on customer loyalty but they can expect customers’ continued demands for quality products and service.

Quality has seemingly fallen out of favor in terms of the number of articles and attention in industry circles; however, it remains a bedrock principle for customer service and profitability (and has arisen frequently in the negative aspect re: product quality from China manufacturers, etc.), so I thought I’d resurrect the topic and provide a few Quality Tips:

1. Focus on the customer – quality should exclusively relate to what the customer sees as quality (and what is valued by the customer in the expectation of pricing). It doesn’t matter what Manufacturing or anyone else thinks; the customer’s perception matters.

2. Focus on prevention vs. detection – There tends to be immense pressure when a quality issue arises, so it is easy to run down the path towards too much detection vs. prevention (as I learned by beginning to run down this path before my Director of Quality stopped me). Instead, take a step back and look at the big picture of how to build prevention into the process instead of making quality a separate element of the process.

3. Metrics – track your key metrics such as customer complaints and parts per million. Reviewing these trends can be enlightening and it will provide important data for decision-making.

4. Cost of quality – put some effort into understanding your cost of quality. It doesn’t have to be complex; however, understanding the cost of quality in combination with what customers’ value can provide critical information for eliminating waste and meeting/exceeding customer expectations.

5. Statistical process control – there is value in building appropriate levels of statistical process control into your quality systems. Do not go overboard; however, it is wise to do what will provide you with valuable decision-making data.

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Become the Strongest Link in Your Supply Chain

September 9th, 2014
strongest link in supply chain

With so many variables in manufacturing, distribution, and customer service, bolstering the strength of every link in your supply chain depends on calculated efforts put into strategic improvements.

As The Manufacturing Connector(SM), I work with clients on a comprehensive process to connect the rapid assessment and identification of key priorities with the execution of results through the right combination of end-to-end supply chain expertise and improvements in people, processes, and systems.

When going into more depth on the content side of the equation (the Strongest Link in Your Supply Chain), I find that my most successful clients take the time to think through from a strategic perspective. Which end-to-end supply chain content areas are most important to success? Countless topics could be included in the mix, ranging from operational improvement to integrated planning and scheduling systems to logistics performance to cost accounting to requirements such as Sarbanes Oxley, ISO9000 and AS9400.

Are you staying on top of the latest trends? What is your competition doing? Are you attending industry conferences? How about systems user groups? Are you benchmarking? What technologies are common in your industry? Which ones are emerging? It doesn’t mean you should be first; however, you should be aware. Do you have the right supply chain expertise? What options are available to gain supply chain expertise and information for your organization? What training programs are available? Find out how you can have the “best and brightest” when it comes to the end-to-end supply chain process.

There are a plethora of topics covered in supply chain management. How can you become the strongest link in your supply chain?

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