Aug 07 2014

Social Networking in Manufacturing: Like or Unlike?

enterprise_social_networkingDo you take social networking seriously in your manufacturing enterprise, or is it just another fad?

Social networking used to be considered about as far from manufacturing concerns as one could get. But things are changing rapidly, and these days enterprises are starting to use a new group of social networking tools designed for implementation within enterprise environments to increase collaboration and, ultimately, competitiveness.

In June of this year, the Manufacturing Leadership Council partnered with Dassault Systèmes and Microsoft to present a Think Tank session on the topic of “Enterprise Social Networking: Fostering Corporate-Wide Collaboration.”

The session uncovered a lot of interesting facts, trends and ideas, so I thought I’d share some of them here.

  1. First, we heard about a research report by the Manufacturing Leadership Council on “The Collaborative Future: Driving Enterprise Social Networking in Manufacturing.” This report found that enterprise social networks are growing rapidly, and that manufacturers are increasing their investments in it, even while they struggle to understand it. The most common applications are messaging and meetings; the biggest users so far are sales, marketing and services groups.
  2. Next, a report called “Perspective on the Value of Social Networking for Manufacturers” was presented by Eric Green. He proposed that enterprise social networking would soon impact other areas of manufacturing such as product design and quality, where real-time market data can better allow manufacturers to be more proactive in resolving problems and seizing new opportunities. In particular, companies with high levels of product and supply chain complexity stand to benefit the most from these collaborative efforts.
  3. Finally, the session ended with an open discussion among Manufacturing Leadership Council members and attendees at the summit. Here are some of the most interesting ideas I heard:
    • Manufacturers are not measuring the effectiveness of social networking yet, but they’re increasing adoption of it anyway … nobody wants to be left behind
    • Executives are most excited about the potential for increasing the speed of idea generation and execution within their companies, as well as the promise of market influence and thought leadership
    • Monitoring and responding to customer experiences and comments in real time is seen as a major value
    • Not surprisingly, enterprise social networking is growing most rapidly where senior leaders not only support the technology, but have actively used it themselves
    • Manufacturers believe a new generation of younger employees will help drive accelerated adoption of enterprise social networking


I’ll end with what I think is one of the most important conclusions of the summit: adopting enterprise social networking will help attract a new high-performing, next-generation workforce. These future workers use these tools in their daily lives. They’ve grown up with them. They will expect them in their jobs.

Like it or not—it appears that manufacturers will need to adopt social networking if they intend to recruit the best people and remain competitive.

Interested to learn more and hear about a customer case study? Register for a free webinar featuring Frost & Sullivan and Manufacturing Leadership Council representatives and Tim Rowland, a vice president at Lexmark, in a deeper discussion on this topic. Register now.

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Aug 05 2014

The Biggest Obstacles to Making Manufacturing Leaner

pragmatic_lean_manufacturingBy reducing waste from operations, implementing Lean manufacturing steps into your business can improve your profitability. Unfortunately, there are issues that present obstacles that must be addressed to achieve this goal.


Tightening any manufacturing process takes time; it is not going to happen overnight. You must make a commitment to leaning your process and you must get everyone on board, working together. The actual amount of time required greatly depends on the number of problem areas a business is facing. The length of time can be reduced with the correct resources, the right systems, designated targets, adequate training and cooperation across all departments.


Without the right materials or resources, a manufacturer cannot make a product, and Lean manufacturing cannot be achieved. Resources include Six Sigma or Kaizen training, software and IT systems, and a budget to identify and embrace process improvement.

With regards to the software systems, there are many to choose from, each playing a different role. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is management software ideally suited for keeping a record of production as it relates to financial tracking, with individual applications that can be integrated to meet an industry’s needs. Manufacturing facilities can benefit greatly from Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) and Supply Chain Management (SCM) systems. The variety of solutions is vast and ERP is no longer just for larger enterprises.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are designed to collect information from the factory to gain insights into operational performance and quality management. This program can also be integrated into an ERP solution.

Correct targets

Too often, time is lost by focusing on the wrong targets. Companies must be able to look at the entire manufacturing process – from initial order to product delivery – to identify each individual area that is impeding progress. If communication between departments presents an issue, the problem must be corrected. If communication is not an obstacle, the area can be marked as a function to watch.

Many manufacturers will find key areas in inventory, engineering and quality. Once a section of production has been identified, the cause of the failure needs to be analyzed. If duplicate or wrong materials are being purchased, the inventory control system must be updated. These issues require an in-depth evaluation. An inventory issue could be coming from outdated bills of materials or from old engineering designs being used for parts orders.

Rework or production that does not pass quality control is an expensive (and avoidable) cost of manufacturing. The company must determine where the quality is failing, which involves looking at each step of their production process. The problem may not be in the materials used or the skill of the production workers, the problem could be coming from machinery that is out of calibration.


A lack of knowledge of what Lean manufacturing means and how the objective is achieved is a large barrier to progress. Lean manufacturing is the elimination of waste in all production areas including production, material flows, quality, delivery and costs. From Just-in-Time systems to reduce inventory to the efficient use of energy, all aspects of production can be improved. In fact, so too can the management process as well.

Managers often present an obstacle in improving the production flow. This may be unconscious or conscious resistance. Many individuals in middle management positions do not want to release the control over operations and may even fear losing their positions.

Production workers can present several obstacles. A large portion of Lean manufacturing is more production in less time at the same or better quality. Employees can be resistant to change and feel that lean manufacturing will require them to work harder. This issue must be addressed by showing workers that the benefit is in streamlined production that is designed to make the work easier.

Without adequate training, employees cannot be expected to manufacture more products while retaining the desired quality level. An investment in training goes a long way toward increasing production and reducing the workload to decrease the resistance.

Follow through

Once your company begins to see the results of a Lean manufacturing program, you must continuously monitor the effectiveness. Backsliding into old habits will occur if no one is paying attention. Lean manufacturing is not a one-and-done function. Kaizen is directed toward waste elimination and continuous improvement — with the key being that must be continuous.

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Jul 31 2014

Lean Management Part 2: Continuous Improvement

lean_management_continuous_improvementIn my last blog post, I wrote about how visibility into real-time manufacturing intelligence can let management improve and enhance Lean programs. This improvement can be accomplished with access to real-time production information, ideally aggregated from across the enterprise. Better, faster access to information allows management to act with greater efficiency, which contributes to improved Lean performance.

But what if we took the idea even further? What if manufacturers could continuously improve the management process itself, in the same way that they continuously improve a production process?

After all, they are both processes. When something happens in the enterprise that requires judgment and decisions, such as a quality crisis or a market shift, a management process is initiated. Management receives information (or doesn’t), investigates the situation (or not), and takes action (or fails to). Furthermore, there are meaningful metrics involved, such as time to discovery, time to resolution, outcome of resolution, and profit/loss impact.

Looking at Management as a Process

If management decisions affect Lean performance, and if there are metrics that can be tracked, compared, and improved upon, then in theory, couldn’t we use this information to continuously improve the actual management processes? I think the answer is yes.

When a manufactured part begins to trend out of performance, you know this because you are tracking all such parts being produced globally. If one part from one plant is out of spec, you take action. Perhaps you find the plant is not following best practices, so you take steps to correct the problem and deploy the proper processes.

The same approach can apply to management decision-making. If an enterprise tracked how managers performed in these situations, I’ll wager there would be significant differences discovered. Some management teams would accomplish more with fewer resources. Some would resolve problems faster. Some would deploy new processes more effectively than others. These differences could be tracked by an information system—let’s call it a Management Intelligence System.

Management Intelligence System

Suppose, for example, that a particular Lean production initiative was being deployed globally. If we had a Management Intelligence System, we could track and compare how different regions deployed the initiative at the management level. We might find that one region was far ahead of the others in certain key metrics. For instance, we might find that the successful management team accomplished more with fewer resources, but had more regular inter-departmental meetings to facilitate problem-solving.

We could then identify and deploy these management best practices around the enterprise, just as we deploy best production practices.

Is this Concept Possible, or Just Fantasy?

Well, in theory, this type of system could be created using the manufacturing intelligence technologies available today. It would simply require the creation of a new set of metrics—time spent, resources used, departments contacted, etc. This data could be captured by the same system that managers use to investigate production issues, through their computers and mobile devices.

The data is probably there; it’s simply a matter of figuring out how to access and use it.

Let me be clear—I’m not proposing that “big brother” automate the management process. That would be small minded and doomed to failure. Management, by definition, involves human judgment and will never be as cut-and-dried as a production process. But certain elements of management could be measured and improved. What about “Mean time to Resolution?” And if used judiciously and fairly, a Management Intelligence System could yield significant information about how management is performing, and more importantly, where it could be improved.

In other words: Lean management based on continuous improvement.

How about it? Do you think such a system would be feasible, and would you consider it for your enterprise? Leave your thoughts below.

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Jul 29 2014

A Lean Approach to Management

Leverage manufacturing intelligence to gain insights on how to improve the management process.


lean_approach_managementManufacturing enterprises have invested heavily in Lean practices for many years, wringing the inefficiencies out of every operation in the production process. Supply chains have been tightened, inventories reduced or virtually eliminated with just-in-time processing, and production operations at every stage streamlined and optimized.

But there is one area in the Lean revolution that often is not considered—not because it doesn’t matter, but because it has been so difficult to deliver a solution. That neglected area? The management decision-making process.

Consider a global manufacturer that has practiced continuous improvement for a decade. Products roll off the assembly line with precision. The Quality team is on top of production worldwide, so yields are consistently high. Warehouses operate at top efficiency. And then one day, a supplier problem develops. A key component, let’s say, begins trending out of spec.

What does the company do? That depends on the managers who have responsibility. How quickly can they identify the problem? What actions do they take? How soon can they correct the problem, and how accurately?

Applying a Lean Approach to Management

All of these things depend on information getting to that decision-maker in a timely way. And this is where Lean systems can fall down. Global manufacturers have complex supply chains and multiple plants that often capture data in different ways and report in different formats. That data has to be gathered, transformed, cleaned, stored and analyzed, and then delivered to each person in the enterprise who needs it, in a form appropriate for their role.

The plant manager may spot a problem quickly, based on local data. But what if it’s a regional problem that is only apparent when looking at aggregated data? Then it will take longer, perhaps a good deal longer. There are companies that are happy if they get aggregated global manufacturing reports on a weekly basis. But a lot can happen in a week. Faulty products can ship. Quality can get bogged down with testing. Warehouses can accumulate parts waiting for a management decision.

A New Use Case for Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence

This is why some enterprises are now implementing a new generation of manufacturing intelligence systems that provide global management reporting and analysis in close to real-time. This approach requires more than a graphical front-end that simply “dresses up” disparate or incomplete data. It requires real-time information gathering from all the plant floors, the ability to clean and aggregate the data from multiple sources, and the means to deliver that data up the corporate chain “as it happens”—all the way to the corner office if needed.

Such a system is not trivial to implement, and IT may grumble about yet another information project that will stretch its already thin resources. But there are solutions on the market that are relatively easy to deploy, and the investment is small compared to the efforts already expended on global Lean initiatives.

Besides, without a manufacturing intelligence system, Lean organizations are only Lean when nothing unexpected happens. And, as every manufacturing enterprise knows, that is almost never the case! One unexpected event can undo months of savings and efficiencies.

For enterprises that are serious about continuous improvement, it would seem that manufacturing intelligence for managers is a necessary step. For my next post, I’ll explore this idea further—to continuously improving management performance itself.

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Jul 24 2014

In Case you Didn’t Notice … Corporate Accountability just Moved into a Fishbowl

corporate_governance_fishbowlWe have always lived in a world where shareholders (and the SEC) demand financial transparency, where global supply chains and business operations require visibility, and where manufacturing strives to make quality and productivity the priority. These are excellent pillars upon which manufacturers can build an agile, competitive company. But, as we’ve all witnessed, we don’t live in a perfect world. There are cracks in the corporate foundation for some organizations. That fissure is in the form of accountability—or, rather, the lack thereof.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) introduced major changes to the regulation of financial practices and corporate governance, with an objective to improve visibility and accountability. SOX is widely credited for strengthening at least two major areas of investor protection:

  1. CEO and CFO responsibility and accountability for all financial disclosures and related controls; and
  2. Increased professionalism and engagement on the part of corporate audit committees.

Yet some continue to question its overall value, citing, as an example, its failure to prevent the situations that led to the financial crisis of 2008. Several other examples come to mind of companies that have not had “full disclosure” across their operations.

I would propose that the ultimate solution really can’t come from legislation or rules passed by companies or governments. It has to come from within. But, unfortunately, not everyone has such clear morals, especially when role models continue to reveal their less than stellar judgments. Perhaps a more realistic and less benign perspective might instead be that people will continue to try and take shortcuts for as long as they think they can “get away” with it – a risk vs. reward perspective.

Business as usual in 2014 is very different than it was in 2000. Today there are many new technologies and social media platforms that make it easy for employees to share information. One wonders, however, even with all of the communication avenues available in the exchange of information, are people utilizing them? If it is not ingrained within the culture and people are not empowered to question management decisions—probably not.

Sometimes out of tragedy comes change for the better. One of the large car manufacturers is currently dealing with their own crisis. They are now on a mission to fix the cracks in corporate communication. They are not alone. Every large manufacturing organization faces similar, daunting challenges. People want to do the right thing, but, a series of poor decisions can often cascade into a really big problem – one that lacks a clear, easy solution. What is needed is to set a new industry standard for safety, quality and excellence.

If done right, this way of thinking could offer a pioneering transformation in the manufacturing industry in which transparency permeates the very manner in which people work. It is an approach that moves everyone in the organization from a defensive to an offensive mindset. The widespread acceptance and usage of social media might just be the catalyst that can make this transformation occur.

This concept is outlined in the book The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence by Vala Afshar & Brad Martin. And, it’s not easy to accomplish, as it requires an internal culture change, the authors explain: “How can an organization go from a defensive to an offensive, proactive, preemptive mindset if it is fearful that engineering will be upset if they proactively bring up the question of product quality?”

It’s a mindset that must be reinforced by the leaders of the organization. “Discipline, transparency, and adherence to service level agreements drive the culture of accountability,” the authors note.

While the book mainly focuses on the use of social media to reinforce the relationship with the external customer, it all starts within the organization. It requires an internal cultural re-definition that outlines how people should act. At its core is a cross-functional, inter-departmental cooperation and empowered employees who feel safe sharing constructive feedback—even to the CEO– without feeling that there will be negative repercussions.

“This requires a practiced ethos of working together, where everyone rows the same boat in the same direction,” the authors said.

Regardless your organization, as a leader of a global manufacturing organization, you need to get everyone driving down the same road to quality—quality in the products your manufacture and quality in the daily dialogue. Time will tell. If done right, we will see a new trend emerge over the next few years whereby corporate accountability becomes completely transparent, and we as consumers don’t get any more surprises.

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