If you have ever worked with me, then you have probably heard my hover car analogy. This post is for the rest of you, as the concept certainly plays out for anyone trying to solve the complex problems faced in manufacturing.
Having spent the last 20+ years in a product management capacity (am I really that old?), I found that there are definitely similar characteristics between all different types of manufacturing from cars to cosmetics, cell phones to software. The whole ‘Hover car’ analogy starts with an EVP usually in marketing or sales walking into your office and saying, “If we deliver ‘x’ we could own the market!” Or, even worse, “We should do ‘y’ and then all our problems will be solved.” The former is what we typically get on the supply side of the business; the latter is what my counterparts in operations get. These brilliant ideas are proposed as the perfect answer to address everyone’s challenges, if only we had been smart enough to think them up in the first place. Sadly, it then falls on us rational people to painfully explain the realities, such as gravity, which gets in the way of designing a hover car in the first place.
So what has changed, what has happened to my sarcasm and cynicism? In truth, I still cringe every time EVP’s walk into my office with a spring in their steps and a glowing smile, so in that respect, nothing is any different. But, with regards to manufacturing operations, there may be some easing of gravity. Let me explain.
For many people in manufacturing operations, the root of much frustration comes from having to manage and support a plethora of systems, each having their own unique representation for the operational area they control. Unfortunately, many times the separation between the different systems is messy, with overlap and duplication of data and function. This often results in not only confusion, but the creation of an impossible environment. Now, take this plant level snapshot and duplicate it across the enterprise, and you can see that this challenge grows exponentially into a black hole of chaos.
For the Operations guys, this is their worst nightmare. Their hover car is when management asks for the seemingly simple task such as a report showing supplier performance across the enterprise, along with the resulting impact on production and inventory levels combined with quality scorecards. Even worse, comments such as “I’m sure by increasing supplier quality and on-time-delivery by 5% we could see a 7% improvement in margins! Please create the analysis to validate and show this.”
So what has changed to lessen the black hole and reduce the gravity of the situation? New, next generation solutions for manufacturing operations management is what happened. The introduction of a group of solutions covering a broad operational functional base has reduced the duplication and data complexity of managing manufacturing operations across the enterprise. This has been referred to as “IT rationalization.” No, this is not a silver bullet to magically fix all of your systems integration challenges, to simplify how all of your IT systems work. This solution requires both a vision on how to accomplish coupled with a commitment to making the change happen. If you are committed, the technology now exists.
Amusingly, it looks like the days of my “imaginary” hover car story may be near an end. It appears Honda might have a new hover car model out soon (see picture above). Maybe the time has also come for you to implement a manufacturing intelligence solution such that information can be readily extracted and be instantly available to perform any performance evaluation you can imagine.