Complexity abounds in manufacturing management; can you rise to the challenge?

Complexity abounds!  Supply chains are extended. Risks must be mitigated. Rules and regulations are increasing. Talent is in short supply.  95% of business is outside the U.S. yet expanding internationally brings challenges and complexity. Customers are demanding more for less – with quicker turnaround times than ever before. We live in an information overloaded society and must be able to pull together the “right” information at the “right” time to make informed decisions. Thus, manufacturing management must rise to the challenge.

In manufacturing, I’ve found few “quick fixes”. Success almost always boils down to a day-to-day approach of combining continuous improvement with a touch of radical change from time to time. Unlike sales managers who might grab the elephant deal and be the “hero”, manufacturing managers must keep many balls in the air to navigate the daily grind while continually pushing for operational excellence and customer loyalty with exceptional customer service, just to remain in the game.  Thus, when you find the select few leaders who can successfully manage in today’s complex world, recruit them, retain them, and develop them.  A few of the keys to success to simplifying the complex to accelerate results include: 1) Lead by example.  2) Focus.  3) Metrics rule!

1. Lead by example: People are your #1 asset.  Look for folks who lead by example.  Begin with the company’s principles, vision and goals. Tie manufacturing’s goals to these. Communicate, communicate, and communicate. It is critical that people understand why the company’s vision is important (how the product or service helps humanity, customers, etc.) and how they fit into that big picture and add value to it.

Principles are not a “touchy feely” topic.  Only the best organizations communicate and live by core principles. Have you noticed that they become the successful ones? Culture is key. For example, is the company passionate about customer service? Integrity? Teamwork? Manufacturing management must lead by example. Do what you say you’ll do.  That alone can make you stand out in the crowd. In my experience, I’ve found that 80% of success begins with people.  Lead by example.

2. Focus: Focus alone can achieve wonders. Vast results follow. It sounds quite simple yet is rarely done. The day in the life of manufacturing management includes many conflicting priorities and fires to fight. Instead of jumping into the fray, it is essential to remain focused. Give me focus any day over expensive capital improvements. Undoubtedly, new levels of performance will be achieved.

For example, at one mid-market manufacturer, a team of operational experts succeeded in increasing production efficiencies by 20% through focus alone.At first, it seemed an impossible feat requiring many equipment upgrades, additional resources and complex analyses; however, after stepping back and creating a focused team, the results occurred within a three month timeframe with a focus on the basics – people and process.

3. Metrics Rule: The only way to win the race is if you know where you’re going and whether you are on track to get there. Again, simplify the complex. What 2 or 3 key metrics will tell you whether you are making progress? Ignore the rest.

Think about the key cost drivers for the facility. Is the majority of your product cost based on materials? Labor? Freight? How important is cash flow? Why would you spend countless hours measuring production efficiency to get an idea of your labor utilization if your #1 cost driver is freight?  You might think, “Who would do that?”. If smart people such as Board of Directors who have successfully run many companies can make this mistake so can you. It’s easy to get sidetracked with what is popular, talked about in the news, what was important at a similar company.

Instead do a deep dive on the key metrics which will have the largest impact on your business success. Discuss during a daily meeting. Make progress visible.  Identify roadblocks to improvement. Identify internal best practices. Set goals, track progress & celebrate small wins.

Manufacturing has become complex. Those who simplify and focus will thrive amidst the chaos.  As manufacturing continues to gain momentum, those who are ready for success will grow their business and will attract top talent. Will it be you?