In manufacturing, there is an optimal point where you have achieved the ideal balance between technique and speed for a process. The trick is knowing when you have struck that balance; and the answer may not be what you think.
I have a son and a daughter who are just shy of two years apart in age. They have a completely different approach to learning a new thing. Swimming, for example, is one of the things they are learning to do at the same time. My son’s approach is to go as fast as possible. He doesn’t care how much energy gets wasted in the process or if he has nailed down the proper stroke or anything like that. He just wants to go fast. In the manufacturing setting, he would be like the supervisor who speeds up the production line to the point where it begins to take a toll on quality, morale, and even machine lifespan; all for the sake of getting the most units produced for that day. For my son, the budding swimmer, the consequences are not so severe. His agility and strength will quickly improve, especially while he is young. He will achieve a pretty good speed early but potentially peak out before he reaches his potential, especially if he remains in the same sport. He will then either need to unlearn all his bad habits and improve his technique in order to get better or he’ll pick up something else where he can win. In the manufacturing environment, speed can be a little more dangerous. For one, running the line faster than it is capable of running reduces machine uptime, quality, and morale. These things cause the production crew to create work-arounds to sustain the increased speed that over time turn into bad habits. You may be able to get some pretty strong results early on but cannot be sustained over the long run due to the amount of wear that it places on the system. Also the higher-ups get “drunk” off of the increased rates (even if they are short lived) and that supervisor finds himself in a position where he is expected to produce ever-increasing throughputs with a declining production system. This approach is best suited for an environment where sheer strength and agility are the predominant requirements such as places with frequent changeovers, constantly evolving product offering, and shorter production runs. However a much higher investment in production system maintenance, and training is required.
I have a daughter who is also learning to swim. She makes little to no effort to go fast, but her inclination is to master the technique of swimming. She will swim laps across the same stretch of pool for the entire time. If you give her a tip to improve her technique, she will incorporate immediately and continue her laps. As such, she is constantly evolving her method and developing good habits. She is also gradually increasing speed as she becomes physically stronger. In the manufacturing environment, her approach would be akin to the craftsman or master artisan, patiently working to perfect the craft. This approach is perfect for environments that experience infrequent change and mastery of delivery is the predominant requirement. Fewer changeovers, longer production runs, and longer SKU lifespan would be the ideal state characteristics. This approach is great for long-term growth but less than ideal for short order production runs.
In manufacturing, you will find both approaches winning the day depending on the needs of the business. However there is a fundamental approach that applies across all types of manufacturing environments. The key is to analyse the perimeters of the specific manufacturing environment and identify those elements of the business that will probably not change for a long time and those elements that change frequently. For those elements that are long-lived, the slow and steady approach to management should be applied. For those elements that are constantly changing, techniques of speed and agility should be mastered. There are four core elements to every business: people, processes, products (or services), and technology. All of these elements evolve at different rates within the company, therefore the management strategy should be selected to fit the rate of evolution for the given element.
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