Even in the 21st century when automation and digital disruption are all the rage, manufacturing productivity is still a people business. It’s not just about software, management theories, or even logic — people are a hybrid of reason and emotion and managing to optimize productivity and other metrics is as much about how people feel, as it is about what and how they think.
That intangible something that is really everything goes by many names: morale, esprit de corps among them, but perhaps one word describes it best: culture.
Culture is fundamental to productivity in every type and size of organization; from publicly traded Fortune 50 unionized manufacturing titans to mid-market, privately held, family owned and operated heavy equipment makers.
Lessons learned from the U.S military, one of the largest, most efficient, and effective organizations the world has ever seen, applies. This perhaps is no surprise, as military operations are literally a matter of life and death, as are many manufacturing businesses including auto and material handling equipment manufacturing. In demanding, high-pressure environments, nothing but the very best practices will suffice.
Productivity, safety, value, quality, and the ultimate goals of customer satisfaction and loyalty are all a function of one fundamental overarching organizational attribute — culture.
Edward Deming popularized continuous quality improvement (CQI) – continuously and ceaselessly pursuing a better way to get jobs done more productively and above all, safely manufacturing machines in the most efficient and effective way possible. This can be accomplished by using this formula for a productive culture of engaged empowerment:
Establish turnaround time baseline -- Since productivity is simply a measurement of production per unit of time, the first step toward maximization is consensus on how much time tasks should reasonably take.
Compare actual vs, baseline completion time — Stipulate a reasonable baseline turnaround time metric and track actual execution time against it.
Analyze variances--Review variances with the team, diagnose the reasons why, and apply the lessons learned with the objective of continuous improvement.
Provide people with the resources and tools they need to improve — Paradoxically, though productivity is about output over time, one of the most important resources management needs to give workers is time – time to think and talk about how to be more productive.
A manufacturing toolbox may include:
- Workplace 5S, 6S
- Kaizen events
- A place for everything and everything in its place—minimizes time searching for parts, tools
- A3-for more complex problem solving
- PDCA -Plan, do, check, act
- 8D Structural problem-solving tools
Listen to the line workers--Management should observe and inquire. A skilled, seasoned manager will observe bottlenecks on the manufacturing floor, then ask operators questions like "Why is this happening?" and "What do you think should be done to fix it?"
Establish trust--What happens next is critical. Management needs to be humble. Rather than dictating top-down solutions based on preconceived notions or trendy theories, good insights should be taken from the ground up through the ranks of the organization. The manager’s role is to serve as the right messenger for these crucial insights. Workers who see their ideas being taken seriously and implemented will be inclined to share more suggestions, become engaged, feel (and be) empowered, and thus bear down to achieve common goals.
Above all, in military and business, organized and non-organized workforces alike, workers need to know that management has their back, that managers care about and value their people and make them feel part of an organization that cares about them and their families. Business is all about a fair exchange of value, whether the transaction involves products, services, or labor. Recognize the reality that manufacturing companies make their products and thus their revenue on the floor, that manual labor at the end of the day creates the value that goes out the plant door. Let employees know that without letting it go to their head. Humility makes for great managers and workers alike.
The Bottom Line
The most productive manufacturers focus on genuinely caring about their customers and their team, delivering great value propositions to all. The result is a virtuous cycle of continuously finding better, more productive ways to meet humanity’s challenges.
Get in touch with IMEC to see what resources are available to help you boost your organization's productivity.