The Manufacturing Agility Index: Measuring the Efficiency of Change


How well does your organization handle change? Is it managed deliberately or do you use a shoot first, ask questions last approach to changes? What is the level of resistance that you face for easy process changes? What about the difficult ones?

Change is inevitable. The only choice we have is to proactively work to change for the better. And if you’re not actively getting better, then you only have one other way to go. Staying the same is just not a realistic expectation. This is the driving force behind the concept of Continuous Improvement.

In this post, I want to introduce the concept of the Agility Index, which is a measure of your organization or factory’s ability to process change. The lower the number, the more difficult change is; likewise the higher the number, the more agile the organization or process. The term Agile in business is much more popular in the world of software development and project management but the concept of Agile Manufacturing is increasing in popularity driven by the realization that markets are demanding greater variety and Agility can absolutely help drive down manufacturing costs. Agile Manufacturing is a relatively underdeveloped discipline that many believe is the next step in productivity to Lean Manufacturing. However, in my view, Lean and Agile are uniquely independent disciplines. Each is more applicable to some manufacturers than others. The goal of each is ultimately improved customer service and retention. Although Agile attempts to help manufacturers break into new markets sooner than competitors to gain advantage.

Agility can be described as the cost of change. Cost can be measured in time, energy, dollars, or even psychological displacement. And since change is inevitable, its in every manufacturer’s best interest to reduce the cost of change – or increase its Agility.

To measure a manufacturer’s agility, you first need to create a scale that measures magnitude of change. There are three factors that are used to quantify the magnitude of a change: Degree of Change, Scale of Change, and Complexity of Change.

Degree of Change: To get the full grasp of agility, you have to first see the business system as a process (or array of processes). All processes have three core elements – Inputs, Process, Outputs (with Suppliers and Customers being conditional factors as in the SIPOC model). Based on these three core elements, there are 4 degrees of change that I’ll go into detail about in a future blog post. The  greater the degree of change, the more difficult it is to implement. At the simplest level, a product changeover would represent a change from the current state to a future state process.  On the other end of the spectrum, a full implementation of a new product line or production plant would be a change in the fourth degree.

Scale of Change: Scale of change measures how many people or assets are affected either directly or indirectly. Some people will have an immediate need to change their behaviors and some will just need to be aware of the change that has taken place. For obvious reasons, the more people affected by the change, the more difficult the change is to implement.

Complexity of Change: This is a measure of how much of a learning curve is needed for the people affected by the change. A future state process that requires one new process step is much easier to implement than a future state process that requires 100 new steps for example. The greater the complexity of change, the more difficult it would be for an organization to implement and return to steady state.

Each of these factors are measured on a scale of 0 and 100% and multiplied across to measure the magnitude of change.

So here’s where all of this matters. One can fairly easily determine how much a change should cost. For example, if all of the waste was moved from a changeover process, it would require XX minutes. However, the actually process it taking YY minutes historically. The Agility score for that type (or magnitude) of change can be calculated as XX / YY. From there, you can actually calculate a savings potential for increasing Agility to 100% for that process.

Based on this information, you can use what is called the Agility Index to determine what the true cost of changes of greater magnitude such as implementing a new production plant would cost due to poor agility and how much could be saved by increasing Agility. Organizations with great agility will have a much lower “cost of change” than an organization with poor agility. Therefore, increasing Agility in the manufacturing environment would be substantially lucrative in many cases.

Good luck with your efforts to increase your organization’s Agility. Feel free to reach out to us if you would like a 50+ point analysis of your manufacturing Agility with recommendations for what could be done to drive improvement.

© Calvin L Williams blog at [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Calvin L Williams with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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