The Politics of Performance: The Relationship Between Results & Rhetoric in Business

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There is an interesting mix of performance and politics present in any group of people who share resources and work together. Performance can be viewed as any activity needed to help the organization to achieve its goals. If it’s a basketball team, performance can be viewed as either scoring points or stopping the other team from doing so. I like sports analogies when discussing performance because it’s one of the most objective ways to measure results. In sports, it’s difficult to deny that Michael Jordan scored a ton of points, which greatly contributed to his team winning a lot of games.

In most other businesses, performance can be viewed as activity that contributes to productivity or sales, a safer work environment, better quality product or service, or any other of the organization’s performance goals. Since these things are rarely, if ever, achieved in a vacuum, it’s not so evident who deserves credit for what aspect of success or failure. This is especially true in the absence of high-fidelity data down to the blocking and tackling level, which is often not practical for most businesses – outside of professional sports of course. Usually, everyone involved played a role in either creating success or causing failure. Who’s to say that what one person did was so much more significant that what the next person did to improve performance? Sure, this guy is in here 16 hours per day but who can say that he is productive for even one minute per day? Likewise, this other lady comes late and leaves early every day but who’s to say that her contribution didn’t accounted for 99% of the outstanding results?

In the absence of granular data and a thorough / objective evaluation of people’s actions and the impact thereof, their contributions are typically measured by one thing – other people’s perception of their performance. And perceptions are shaped by…you guessed it – politics.

Politics often have little to do with actual performance. It determines who gets access to resources, promotions, bonuses, fired, blamed, their way in a disagreement, and sometimes even life and death. Politics is about jockeying for power or control over resources; and exists as a result of scarcity. Scarcity can come in many forms such as financial, credit / credibility, titles, authority, privileges, promotions, etc. One of the rules of politics is – what gets repeated becomes reality; if not immediately, then eventually if it’s repeated enough and by enough people. This is why professional politicians develop “talking points” so that the same themes get repeated and ultimately accepted as truth. Unfortunately, politics can enable people with terrible performance to win and people with outstanding performance to lose. When this happens (as it does more often than you would think) the entire organization loses. The reality is that the poorest performers tend to get really good at politics for the sake of their own survival. Superstar performers are rarely good at politics since they believe the world is generally fair and their results will speak for themselves. However, whenever good results are produced, there are always a few over-ambitious and under-performing sharks waiting for the opportunity to take more than their share of the credit. Likewise, whenever teams do fail, these same people have toolbox full of techniques to deflect blame to someone else.

It can be annoying that we have to play the politics game; especially if you’re no good at it. However, it’s one of those things that will either propel your business to success or accelerate it’s failure. As business leaders, we tend to talk about performance as if politics doesn’t exist. But oh it does – and it has everything to do with how the business performs. But what is the right mix of politics and performance?

Internal politics is never value added but may be necessary. The ultimate goal of politics is to influence people’s decisions in one way or another and to shift / sustain power. There is a certain amount of value-added work that must be done in order for the business to achieve it’s objectives. Leadership should always look to minimize the amount of political behavior and maximize the amount of value-added activity. To do this, there must be a fair way to measure progress against equally challenging targets. Then grant power to those making the strongest strides toward achieving those targets. Thus, adverse political behavior should not be rewarded as it only begets more political behavior. However, when actual high-performance is adequately rewarded, it encourages stronger performances across the board.

The following leadership characteristics encourage adverse political behavior:

  • Favoritism
  • Gossip
  • Being aloof; unaware of people’s actual contributions
  • Incompetence; not understanding the value of people’s work
  • Granting unequal access to face-time, coaching, and mentorship
  • Creating or failing to eliminate scarcity of resources or recognition
  • Failing to acknowledge strong contributions or distribute recognition fairly
  • Punishing productive or progressive behaviors (even if they fail)
  • Accepting gossip as fact without sufficient investigation
  • Promoting based on political prowess as opposed to verified performance
  • Failing to recognize people’s (or your own) prejudice when considering a point of view
  • Failing to hold people accountable adverse political behavior

On the other hand, the inverse of these behaviors promote strong performance and help keep adverse political behavior to a minimum.

Political behavior can also be beneficial. The truth is that we are all the same; breathe the same air and bleed the same blood. We can accomplish a lot as individuals but a lot more by working together. The process of determining who will lead the group is done through politics. The better job we do of gathering and assessing people’s quality and quantity of contributions, the better results we get when we assign power to someone. We also need to assess our leaders’ capacity for respect for others and ability to get results through people. Unfortunately, by not having adequate systems in place, it’s difficult to truly size up someone’s contributions; and often use other people’s perceptions to make these pivotal decisions instead. What’s the solution? Be systematic. Continuous Improvement assumes you have a system in place to improve. Without a system (or standard) for assigning power to people, you have nothing to perfect. Once you have something, you can effectively assess each success or failure on its own merit and use that information to engineer a more perfect system over time.

One example of a great system for assessing true performance is the Factory Operating System (fOS). It helps to evaluate the members within the manufacturing operations chain of command based on the same metric. The metric is based on the principle of OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) but improved so that it can measure the performance of people, assets, and entire systems. OEE is regarded as the benchmark for measuring performance against perfection and assessing the gap to World-Class execution, or 85% OEE. The fOS calculates the performance of shop floor operators, managers, and executives alike. It considers the performance of the leader to be an aggregate of their direct reports’ performance, which ties everyone in the chain of command up to the CEO to the execution on the shop floor, which is where value is created for the customer.

 

 

Why Lean Can’t Succeed Without Operational Discipline

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Managing people and building the perfect manufacturing system are works of art. There are an unlimited amount ways to effectively get the desired result – being the perfect system and its flawless execution. However, manufacturing itself is an exact science; it is not an art. There exists one-right-way (ORW) of doing every single thing needed to execute the core functions of a factory. There is no need to re-engineer and execute a new process for each individual unit of production. This is immensely inefficient. In the absence of work standards, you are likely doing some version of this. The ORW minimizes cost and safety risk while maximizing service, quality, and morale. The essential job function of a front line supervisor or manager is to a) determine the ORW for all required actions needed for executing operations and b) ensure that everyone is doing it every time. This is why the world needs front line supervisors / managers. The supervisor’s effectiveness can be measured in terms of the number of deviations from the ORW of their direct employees. In other words, the manager’s performance can be primarily measured in terms of operational discipline, or the consistency of actions in which operations are executed. In an ideal state, one would possess the capability to evaluate the exact actions of every person / machine in the production process to ensure strict compliance to standard procedures. Since this is not practical in today’s world, we usually only evaluate compliance to standards after there has been a significant failure; sometimes resulting in some poor soul’s chastising or even worse, public shaming and/or termination. Many companies have turned to (or are turning to) Lean manufacturing to develop the operational discipline needed for operational excellence.

If you break down Lean Manufacturing into it’s two base components, what you are left with is:

1) Industrial Engineering – This is the process of designing and implementing the perfect manufacturing system. It requires understanding the expected outputs of the system and making the changes needed to minimize cost and safety risk while maximizing service, quality, and morale. The key aspect here is making changes to the system. Lean manufacturing applies many IE techniques that happened to be developed in Japan, such as kaizen, poke-a-yoke, 5S and others. Although IE techniques vary in degree of complexity, just about all of them can be taught to a person of average intelligence within a few days or so. The creators of TPS and Lean have done an amazing job of simplifying the discipline of IE for the common factory worker to understand and employ. Significant improvements in manufacturing efficiency can be gained with just a base level competency in IE. The more involved tools and methods are typically highly specialized for a given situation and result in marginal additional improvement. (This excludes the equipment / plant design aspects of IE, which can be highly technical as well).

2) Operational Discipline – This is the systematic and consistent execution of necessary actions. As stated above, this responsibility falls within the core job function of a front-line supervisor / manager. This does not require an Industrial Engineer, Lean expert, consultant, or other specialized technical background. This just requires good managers; being those who are highly disciplined and consistent as well. Managers are typically empowered with all the tools and resources needed to control their employees’ behaviors such as performance reviews (for career advancement), incentive programs including bonuses and pay increases, and others. Many companies launch Lean initiatives believing that Lean will automatically create operational discipline. This is not exactly true. Although Lean can help design and implement systems that help drive operational discipline, Lean itself cannot make the administrators of the Lean system more disciplined. Only effective leadership can ensure or increase discipline. Lean is not a substitute for leadership.

This brings me to the main point of my post. Your Lean initiative cannot succeed without sufficient operational discipline. Lean is a system; but all systems need competent and disciplined administrators. As a manufacturing leader, you don’t need Lean to develop competent and disciplined managers, supervisors, or shop-floor employees. You don’t need a Lean practitioner or Industrial Engineer to establish Standard Operating Procedures and ensure everyone is following those procedures without deviation. These are manufacturing fundamentals that help you get the most out of a Lean expert or IE should you choose to consult / employ them. It’s like saying that your basketball team of 6-year-old’s is struggling because they need more advanced plays. In actuality, they would dominate just by boxing out on rebounds, minimizing turnovers, moving their feet on defense, and making their layups (This was also true for my adult men’s league team so it’s something I’m quite passionate about). With that said, your Lean / IE / Consultant can help to accelerate your CI journey by applying industry best-practices and proven techniques for improving performance. However, if you find that your Lean initiatives aren’t sustaining, then maybe you’re not ready for Lean. You may want to take a step back and figure out how to increase operational discipline.

 

Exclusive Interview with Norman Bodek, Pioneer in American Lean Manufacturing Movement – Part 4 of 4

In this exclusive interview with Manuficient Consulting, Norman Bodek shares some of the fantastic details of his career as a one of the pioneers in the American Lean Manufacturing movement. Norman is a publisher, professor, and author who has published hundreds of Japanese management books in English and other languages. Most recently, Norman co-authored the Harada Method, a step-by-step process for setting and achieving personal and corporate goals. Listen to Norman’s fascinating story and powerful insights into how American companies can overcome the challenges to achieving world-class execution.

Copyright © Calvin L Williams blog at calvinlwilliams.com [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.

Exclusive Interview with Norman Bodek, Pioneer in American Lean Manufacturing Movement – Part 3 of 4

Norman BodekIn this exclusive interview with Manuficient Consulting, Norman Bodek shares some of the fantastic details of his career as a one of the pioneers in the American Lean Manufacturing movement. Norman is a publisher, professor, and author who has published hundreds of Japanese management books in English and other languages. Most recently, Norman co-authored the Harada Method, a step-by-step process for setting and achieving personal and corporate goals. Listen to Norman’s fascinating story and powerful insights into how American companies can overcome the challenges to achieving world-class execution.

Copyright © Calvin L Williams blog at calvinlwilliams.com [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.

Exclusive Interview with Norman Bodek, Pioneer in American Lean Manufacturing Movement – Part 2 of 4

Norman BodekIn this exclusive interview with Manuficient Consulting, Norman Bodek shares some of the fantastic details of his career as a one of the pioneers in the American Lean Manufacturing movement. Norman is a publisher, professor, and author who has published hundreds of Japanese management books in English and other languages. Most recently, Norman co-authored the Harada Method, a step-by-step process for setting and achieving personal and corporate goals. Listen to Norman’s fascinating story and powerful insights into how American companies can overcome the challenges to achieving world-class execution.

Copyright © Calvin L Williams blog at calvinlwilliams.com [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.

Exclusive Interview with Norman Bodek, Pioneer in American Lean Manufacturing Movement – Part 1 of 4

Norman BodekIn this exclusive interview with Manuficient Consulting, Norman Bodek shares some of the fantastic details of his career as a one of the pioneers in the American Lean Manufacturing movement. Norman is a publisher, professor, and author who has published hundreds of Japanese management books in English and other languages. Most recently, Norman co-authored the Harada Method, a step-by-step process for setting and achieving personal and corporate goals. Listen to Norman’s fascinating story and powerful insights into how American companies can overcome the challenges to achieving world-class execution.

Copyright © Calvin L Williams blog at calvinlwilliams.com [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.

How to Increase Manufacturing Agility in Consumer Packaged Goods

Manuficient Consulting - CPG Agility

Agility is paramount in the CPG industry. This is driven by rapidly changing consumer tastes and preferences, competition – which drives the need for greater differentiation, varying degrees of automation and manual labor forces, constantly changing packaging technology and platforms, and several other factors. Agility is simply defined as the efficiency of change. In other words, how efficiently can you go from your current state to your desired future state? In the CPG industry especially, the future state is a constantly moving target. If your supply chain can’t keep up with the rate of change, then it has no alternative than to become obsolete. This explains the significance of increasing Manufacturing or Operational Agility.

There are several benefits to increasing Manufacturing Agility (this list is not completely exhaustive):

  1. Satisfy a more diverse SKU portfolio with fewer production lines, requiring a smaller manufacturing footprint
  2. Drastically reduce the product development cycle from ideation to commercialization
  3. Scale production capacity to fit fluctuating demand without inflating costs
  4. Significantly reduce the time frame from improvement idea to gainful implementation
  5. Create opportunities to increase asset utilization by picking up orders from competitors and store-branded products

In the CPG industry, the more agile factories or operations win in the long run. Agility helps to keep costs low while making the changes needed to stay competitive. It also brings down the risk of changes significantly since they are less cost prohibitive. There are three main areas where CPG companies need to focus on increasing Agility; people, processes, technology. And there are several approaches to increasing Agility in each of these areas.

PEOPLE

People Agility is referred to as scaling the labor force up or down to meet immediate production needs without inflating costs. This can only effectively be done without compromising critical process knowledge and skill sets. Many CPG companies experience significant peaks and valleys in demand throughout the year. In many cases, manufacturers build inventory or find some way to avoid needing to scale man-power, maintaining a flat workforce with “normal” work hours for each employee. What ends up happening is that they eat labor costs during valleys because productivity slows and people are idle; then they eat labor costs during peaks due to excessive overtime. When you maintain a full workforce when productivity slows, the workforce loses its operational discipline, which is needed for when production demand is high. This creates frustration for both management and the labor force. Its also an expensive way to manage a factory. Below are a few ways to increase the scale-ability of the labor force:

  • Use a fixed crew and fixed production rates but vary production hours based on demand. This would make for inconsistent work hours for employees but help maintain the operational discipline needed for peak volume times. During valleys in demand, production could be scheduled at standard rates; when the crew finishes the work, they could be deployed to other productive work or process improvement projects.
  • Have a fixed full-time crew (based on business case analysis) and use temps to support surges in volume
  • Run with a fixed crew (again, based on business case analysis) and outsource surge volumes to contract manufacturers

PROCESSES

Process Agility refers to the efficiency of changing processes and procedures to meet business needs. In CPG, as well as many other industries, processes need to change constantly to increase competitiveness, reduce costs, increase quality, improve safety, increase moral, improve service levels ,and many other important reasons. Processes in this sense include the specific steps taken by people or technology to get something done. The more Agile a factory or operation, the easier it is to change processes to suit the needs of the business. For a factory that lacks Process Agility, it requires at least 5 years to implement a Continuous Improvement program such as Lean Manufacturing. Contrarily for a factory with great Process Agility, Lean could be implemented and self-sustaining in as few as 2 years. Below are some techniques to be employed to increase Process Agility:

  • Implement systematic management systems that drive operational discipline such as Impruver. Impruver sets standards for the management function and is designed to drive the discipline needed for Continuous Improvement. Click this link for more information on Impruver.com.
  • Develop and execute a world-class training program. This helps to significantly reduce the learning curve for on-boarding new employees and implementing process changes with current employees. Click this link for more details how a world-class training function works.
  • Employ Lean practices such as Standard Work to develop efficient processes and reduce learning curves. Also use tools such as Kaizen and Root Cause Analysis to drive rapid process improvement.

TECHNOLOGY

Technological Agility refers to the ease of changing the technological capabilities used for the efficient making of a product. This could mean changing packaging ability from a canning to a pouch filling; or from vacuum sealing to over-wrap; or from a carton to a sleeve…I think you get the idea. In the CPG industry, formats change frequently. By now, every marketer in CPG has identified the impact that an attractive new packaging format has on product sales. Those same marketers can tell you how frustrating it is when they get push-back from the manufacturing folks that “there’s no way we can do that”. Well the truth is that it can be done – it can always be done. The only factor is what it’s going to cost, which is a function of Technological Agility. A factory with high Tech Agility can run multiple packaging formats on the same production line. On the other hand, a factory with low Tech Agility needs a separate line per format at best; and at worst, simply doesn’t have the capability to efficiently process different formats. Below are a few ways to improve Tech Agility:

  • Use of sensors and servo motors to automatically adjust for changes in package sizes. This also helps for automating product changeovers.
  • Design line layouts that allow processing equipment to be swapped in and out based on production needs. This creates modularity and makes better use of the factory footprint.
  • Outsource smaller runs to contract manufacturers to test market results instead of investing in new equipment
  • Employ 3D printing for late-stage-customization to increase SKU variety without making significant changes in other production areas
  • Engage plant technology and process experts in the product development and design processes. This reduces the time wasted on designs that are not feasible and cannot be manufactured.
  • Leverage data sharing systems so that information from across the supply chain can be used in the product development process. This allows people to understand performance data, capabilities, capacities, costs and other key information across the supply chain.

As new generations usher in new ways of experiencing life, manufacturers in the CPG industry need to have the Agility to keep up with changes without inflating costs. Agility not only enables market leadership, it also removes a significant amount of risk from experimentation – bringing the fun back into the factory. An Agile factory or supply chain creates business opportunities for itself and its customers, who may also need contracted work for store-branded products in new and exciting formats.

Copyright © Calvin L Williams blog at calvinlwilliams.com [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.

20 Reasons You’re Paying Too Much for Raw Materials – And How to Reduce Costs

Manuficient Consulting - Wasting Money

Raw material is often the single greatest expense for any manufacturing operation. It could range anywhere from 35 – 75% of total cost of goods sold depending on industry and the nature of the supply chain. Unfortunately, many manufacturing companies simply accept this as a “cost of doing business” and are reluctant to explore some of the many opportunities to reduce raw material costs. Some of these opportunities could be captured relatively easily and some require the execution of a longer-term Continuous Improvement strategy.

There are fundamentally three segments of your supply chain where there are opportunities to reduce raw material costs. Those segments are in sourcing, manufacturing, and post-manufacturing. The following are 20 reasons you’re paying too much for raw material:

Sourcing

  • Accepting higher prices instead of taking advantage or supplier market competition. Why not conduct a periodic sourcing analysis to determine the pricing and reliability of competing suppliers? This would give you the information you need to either negotiate prices or source new suppliers.
  • Paying higher prices by ordering smaller quantities from too many suppliers forgoing bulk discounts. The alternative would be to use a smaller number of suppliers to provide more of your materials, resulting in greater purchase volumes and lower prices.
  • Accepting higher prices due to not leveraging payment terms that would be favored by suppliers. Instead, offer to pay suppliers sooner in exchange for lower prices.
  • Accepting higher prices instead of utilizing points of leverage in supplier contracts to negotiate lower prices. The idea would be to assess your relationship with the supplier (including their past performance) to see if there is room for re-negotiating prices.
  • Accepting higher prices due to unwillingness to collaborate with your competitors to get bulk discounts.
  • Utilizing materials that are more expensive than what is needed for the product’s function.
  • Accepting higher prices due to unwillingness to commit to long-term purchasing contracts.
  • Purchasing materials at full rate instead of leveraging bargains. Conversely, monitor your supplier’s business cycles to identify when they would have excess inventory that they would be interested in selling at bargain prices. However, you will, in turn, need to maintain raw inventories and incur any shrinkage, obsolescence, and handling costs. This method is not typically recommended by could be effective in some cases.
  • Purchasing based on your manufacturing schedule instead of supplier’s production schedule. Suppliers are willing to offer discounts if you purchase on their schedule so they don’t need to maintain finished goods inventories. Again, you will, in turn, need to maintain raw inventories and incur any shrinkage, obsolescence, and handling costs. This method is not typically recommended by could be effective in some cases.

Manufacturing

  • High variation in filling or packing processes resulting in high fill targets and over-fill / over-pack. Instead, apply Six Sigma approaches of reducing variation so that overall target weights and over-fill can be reduced.
  • Scheduling using a “push” production model resulting in excess and obsolete inventories. The alternative would be to establish a “pull” production model using kanbans and safety stocks, resulting in controlled inventory levels and less excessive / obsolete materials
  • Scrap and material yield loss created by “leaks” in the system. The approach would be to identify and quantify the impact of leaks. Then implement process changes to close leaks and convert more wasted material into sale-able finished goods.
  • Too many low-consumption raw materials caused by high SKU complexity. Conversely, SKU’s could be rationalized so that smaller orders of raw materials could be reduced.
  • Over-application of material that customers do not find valuable due to over-designing products. Instead, work with customers to better understand the product’s function and remove materials or functions that are not useful to the customer.
  • Over-application of material that customers do not find valuable due to inefficient design. Again, work with customers to better understand the product’s function and explore design options that sufficiently address the need using less material.

Post-Manufacturing

  • Material lost in the supply chain process being scrapped or sent to the landfill instead of being recycled or reclaimed
  • High production costs for suppliers, which can be reduced by providing process improvement or project management services. An approach would be to provide Continuous Improvement services to help reduce the supplier’s operating costs in exchanged for reduced prices. This could be lucrative for suppliers since it helps them increase profit margins with other customers.
  • High supply chain costs for suppliers, which can be reduced by providing warehousing and distribution services. This allows your suppliers easier access to your local markets by utilizing your warehouse and distribution services. Then, you can negotiate lower prices and services fees per activity.
  • Accepting higher prices due to not leveraging buyers to take advantage of bulk discounts. Instead, work with your buyers to have them procure your raw materials. They can often get bulk discounts from your suppliers that you may not have access to. You can also offer your buyers lower prices since this will often result in significantly lower raw material costs on your end.
  • Too much shrinkage, or goods being lost, damaged, or stolen in the supply chain process.

The key to driving substantial improvement in raw materials is to use big data to quantify the opportunity for improvement in each of these areas and develop your plan of attack. The areas that have a combination of high impact, quick results, and low cost of implementation would receive higher priority. The items that do not provide a high short-term impact but contribute to an overall more efficient supply chain would require a more strategic approach to implementation. Most of these items have a place in your Continuous Improvement Strategy and if executed effectively, would set your supply chain up for significant cost reductions in raw material.

Copyright © Calvin L Williams blog at calvinlwilliams.com [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.

Inventory Reduction: Bringing Your Working Capital Cash Back to Life

Manuficient Consulting - Pulse

Inventory is a fact of manufacturing life. It is accumulated and maintained for raw materials, work in-progress (or WIP), and finished goods. We like inventory when it means we can be highly responsive when the customer needs us to be. We don’t like inventory when we start to realize that it a) ties up a substantial amount of working capital, b) can be expensive to store and maintain, and last but not least, c) it weakens operational discipline – meaning is cultivates manufacturing and supply chain inefficiency. Thus creating a double-edged sword where you could get burned quickly for not having enough inventory and you get burned in the long run for having too much inventory. The Ideal state would be to not need inventory at all, but this would require you to have a supply chain that can deliver orders on-demand. This means having the right products at the right place in the right quantities and so on. This means immaculate execution on the part of your supply chain in terms of speed, quality, and reliability. Although this is an ideal state and not within short-term reach for most (if any) companies, it should be the ultimate goal of any company’s Continuous Improvement path to world-class execution.

Inventory accumulates for a few main reasons, including but not limited to: unpredictable demand, over-purchasing, over production, unreliable manufacturing / supply chain processes, insufficient manufacturing capabilities, insufficient manufacturing capacities, lack of agility, and a whole host of other reasons. The main thing to understanding is that all of these reasons are driven by addressable gaps in performance; which are ultimately resulting in a “push” manufacturing model. If a company is maintaining any level of inventory, you can be assured that they are suffering from at least one of the items on this list if not multiple. The system-level key to reducing or eliminating the need for inventory is to close performance gaps in these and other related areas.

With that said, some of the root causes that result in the need for increased inventory levels cannot be resolved in the immediate future. You may find yourself with a need to reduce inventory levels drastically within 6 months to a year. It is not realistic, for example, to expect drastic changes in manufacturing capabilities or capacities in such a short time frame, especially if you don’t have the capital readily available to make significant engineering changes. For this reason, I typically recommend a time-phased approach to reducing inventory levels that drives both immediate gains and sets the supply chain on a path to world-class execution. The phases are as follows:

Phase 1 – Crisis Mode – Fire Sale: The goal here is to minimize the damage of further obsolescence which is what happens when excess inventory expires or is no longer demanded. The best case is to aggressively seek new customers who will absorb the excess (and/or obsolete) at full rate. The next best case is to offer the overages to the highest bidder. Another approach would be to donate excess or obsolete product (if applicable) and write-off losses.

Phase 2 – Short Term – Safety Stock Implementation: Apply appropriate safety stocks and tie inventory levels to demand. In Lean terms, this is an intermediate step to creating an actual pull system called a supermarket. Once the initial wave of excess / obsolete inventory has been reduced, the next step is to determine and implement the appropriate safety stocks. Safety stocks are determined through an algorithm of past sales (considering seasonality), expected future sales, and plant production capability among other variables. In this model, the production schedule should be driven by replenishing safety stock levels.

Phase 3 – Medium Term – Safety Stock Optimization: Match inventory to demand by SKU and apply additional reduction based on your factory / supply chain’s delivery capability. In order to execute this phase, you need to understand your factory and supply chain’s capability by SKU. It also requires categorization of product SKU’s into active (A), slow-moving (B), and excess / obsolete (C). A thorough analysis can help to determine the optimal levels of SKU’s in each category considering manufacturing performance and capability. Again, the production schedule is driven by safety stock replenishment requirements. The next step in the process is to provide suppliers with safety stock status information so that their production schedules can be driven by your needs for stock replenishment. This along with synchronizing with your customers effectively establishes a pull system, which the ultimate method for controlling inventory levels.

Phase 4 – Long Term – Inventory Quality Ratio Implementation: Implement the Inventory Quality Ratio (IQR) model that strives to minimize slow moving and obsolete items and maintain active items – measured as a percentage. IQR = Active Inventory Dollars / Total Inventory Dollars; in other words, the IQR would be 100% if all inventory were active. The definition and speed of turns of “active inventory” varies by industry but is generally the fewest number of SKU’s that makes up 80% of units sold. The IQR is a metric that can be implemented immediately or at any of the prior phases; however, the phases leading up to this one provide the foundation and information needed to implement IQR, which then lends itself to eliminating excess or obsolete inventory altogether. For slow moving SKU’s, the supply chain needs to be made reliable enough to execute effectively.

Ideal State – Ultimate Supply Chain / Demand Alignment: Match manufacturing and supply chain capabilities with demand to the point where orders could be filled on-demand with no inventories required. This is the classic model of “don’t even make it until after it’s been ordered by the customer”, which constitutes a pull production system in the purest form. This requires developing your manufacturing and supply chain processes to levels of world-class execution, or 85% OEE. This requires tremendous Operation Discipline and should be the ultimate aspiration of any Continuous Improvement program. Ease of implementation of this model depend heavily on the predictability of demand, but with the right science and analytics, any manufacturer can reach heightened levels of success.

Manufacturers need to establish an effective balance between supply chain reliability, safety stocks, and market demands. Inventory builds as a reaction to supply chain processes being incapable of meeting orders on-demand and the use of a push manufacturing model. In an ideal state, the customer could place an order, the factory could make the product and fill the order shortly afterward, and deliver it on time and in-full to the right location; this defines the supply chain’s level of execution. However, what actually happens is that manufacturers build inventory so they don’t have to rely on their supply chains to deliver within such a short window of time, risking failure to meet customer service expectations. Over time, this practice encourages greater and greater inventory levels, which only serves to hide the very inefficiencies that result in needing the inventory in the first place. Without effective inventory management systems, there is no check and balance to continuously drive down inventories, freeing up working capital (cash) that can be used for more productive purposes.

Copyright © Calvin L Williams blog at calvinlwilliams.com [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.

Manufacturing Change Management: Leveraging Forces of Change to Grow

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In manufacturing, change happens – rather you’re ready for it or not. Sometimes these changes are expected and sometimes not so much. There are many forces acting on the manufacturing system (or any business system for that matter). These forces create pockets of pressure and vacuums that ultimately result in disruptions to the manufacturing system if not handled effectively. There are many sources that these forces can emerge such as: corporate mandates, governmental mandates, personnel changes, competition activity, technological advancement, customer taste changes, new market pursuits, improvement events, etc. This list barely chips the iceburg. When the forces of change becomes strong enough in any direction, the manufacturing system has to have the agility to quickly adapt and sustain acceptable productivity levels. Change is risky but absolutely necessary; it is also unavoidable. With that said, how can a manufacturing system be in pursuit of perfection, when the system is in a constant state a flux? While I’m a huge proponent of Lean Manufacturing, the reality that the manufacturing system is in a constant state of flux highlights a limitation of Lean, which sometimes assumes that processes remain generally the same. It also exposes the urgency of Agile Manufacturing.

An effective Change Management System is essential in our pursuit of the perfect manufacturing system. This is based on the definition of a perfect manufacturing system being one that can sustain above 85% OEE, even under changes of any frequency and magnitude. This being a manufacturing system that is both Lean and Agile – or Leagile as some are now calling it. A Change Management System can help prime the organization for upcoming changes as to minimize disruption and avoid compromising any element of manufacturing execution. There are several critical components of any effective Change Management System:

1 – Change Tracking Log – This provides a database of past and future changes and allows effective prioritization. The log allows for changes to be spread out on the factory’s calendar so that non-critical changes can be scheduled around critical ones. The Tracking Log also helps to predict how upcoming changes will affect one another. Finally, the Tracking Log helps to identify which key stakeholders have signed-off on the change and which buy-offs are still pending.

2 – Change Management Communication – CM Communication provides the critical change information to the right people on a regular basis so that all stakeholders remain aware of what changes are coming down the pipeline. This helps leaders to predict how upcoming changes will impact their areas of accountability and allows them time to take steps to prepare. The CM Communication could occur in the format of a weekly meeting, emails, publishing printed documents or whatever works best within the context of your manufacturing environment.

3 – Risk Assessment – This is a process that provides a safe format for all key stakeholders to assess risks and voice their concerns about an upcoming change. The Risk Assessment also provides a platform to collaborate on any mitigating actions needed to sustain acceptable business performance.

4 – Key Stakeholder Buy-offs – Stakeholder Buy-offs allow key stakeholders the opportunity to approve or dis-approve on the quality of execution of the agreed-upon mitigating actions from the Risk Assessment. Depending on how your CM System is designed, the owner of the change will likely have the obligation to provide as much evidence as needed to validate effective execution of mitigation actions. This could include test results, photos, training sign-off sheets, or any other form of proof.

5 – Change Management Review Process – The CM Review Process is a step to ensure the integrity and Continuous Improvement of the CM process itself. Its possible to develop CM metrics to measure the team on the effective execution of the CM process. For example, one metric could measure if the change owner obtained 100% of required sign-offs before the change actually took place. Another could measure the delta in OEE% for a process following the implementation of a change.

Implementing an effective Change Management System is an initiative in itself. Just like any initiative, its success or failure depends primarily on the discipline of its leaders to see it through even when others have not bought in. An effective Change Management System can be a tremendous asset for people on all levels in the factory and the company at large. It provides a systematic way to drive the changes that need to be made. So if you’re an operator on the plant floor, you can use the CM System to initiate a change for much-needed improvements in your production area. Likewise, the Plant Manager can use the CM System to ensure team engagement and support before engagement. Additionally, in the most Agile organizations, CM Systems are used company-wide to affect changes initiated across different business units such as Marketing, Sales, Distribution, Finance, or other.

Copyright © Calvin L Williams blog at calvinlwilliams.com [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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