The pressure to ‘do more with less’ is one of the biggest challenges manufacturing managers now face.
As well as maintaining safety and compliance across the plant, managers are leaned on to:
- Continuously improve the production process
- Compete with outsourcing by producing more with less
- Improve quality and traceability, and
- Implement new technologies that could improve operations
This expectation impacts on any continuous improvement, KPIs, quality, maintenance and production processes, as well as supply chain and staffing decisions across the business.
To succeed today, managers need to find new and better ways of doing things with the resources they have. This means innovation is required to meet daily production demands and improve operations into the future. Easier said than done with a busy workload and high-pressure environment.
To help, we’ve identified 5 habits that we’ve noticed are common among effective manufacturing managers and innovators in our space.
1. Create regular thinking time
Operations and manufacturing managers are time poor. They’re often so involved in the responsive day-to-day that very few create space in their diary to think. They often have KPIs for continuous improvement, but are limited in their capacity to point their curiosity in new and potentially impactful directions.
Make the habit: To allow yourself this ‘space’, book an hour of time a fortnight to read industry news, or analyse your shop floor data in a new way.
Consider different perspectives and possibilities and visualise how you’d do things differently. Then pick up these ideas in your next scheduled slot, and share the well-formed ones with your team or manager, so they can be actioned or developed further.
2. Connect to the customer
The production cycle is a continuous loop with no end: meeting KPIs; solving production issues; managing staff; maintaining plant equipment. There’s rarely time for internal collaboration, let alone consulting with the customer.
Connecting with the customer will help you understand their pain points, desires, new focus areas, future plans, and company updates. This information can be used to improve production.
For example, if new traceability regulations are top-of-mind for your downstream customers you’ll be able to re-focus your efforts in quality checks, training for staff, or product and materials tracking technologies and even suggest new business initiatives.
Make the habit: Attend industry forums, organise informal client lunches, and talk to customer-facing employees in your organisation. Aim to do at least one of these per week. Understand customer pain points so you can prioritise improvement activities around these.
3. Create opportunities to 'kill two birds with one stone'
Be purposeful about solving multiple problems.
In any task, project or strategy, it’s possible to hit multiple outcomes with a deliberate approach. It's more time efficient and effective. Rather than just following the structure of a done-to-death process, look at it and ask, ‘what multiple objectives can we achieve if we tackle them together?’
For example, implementing a continuous improvement process like 5S might aim to achieve ‘less waste in production’, but if you deliberately aim to achieve ‘greater engagement with the team’ and ‘staff training and empowerment’ as outcomes you might go about it differently.
You might create a goal, and delegate key staff to take ownership of the program, do some lean improvement training or take turns in reviewing its success. This would also increase the chances of program success through staff engagement.
Make the habit: Whenever you begin a new initiative, think about how you can use it to achieve more than one objective. Involve your team in strategy sessions for better collaboration and to gain support for new initiatives.
4. Create opportunities for everyone to contribute
Getting bogged down in urgent tasks can stop the important things like incremental improvements, from being addressed. That's where your staff can come in.
Many of the best ideas come from employees, and higher levels of staff involvement will get the greatest buy-in for change. What’s more, it can also boost company performance.
But how do their ideas get through?
Make the habit: Make it easy for improvement suggestions to be fed back into the system through an improvement suggestion program:
- Use the intranet, a social forum or a suggestions box
- Recognise all suggestions publically via official written communication or at monthly catch ups
- Verbally encourage ideas from all staff levels
- Provide a framework: outline how improvement ideas should be tied to businesses goals
- Publically reward any actioned suggestions, provide rewards for the best idea
- Ensure the business is actively assessing and implementing suggestions, to keep staff motivated to contribute
- Showcase or demonstrate ideas that were successfully implemented and executed.
Importantly, make work a safe place to contribute by regularly encouraging suggestions, giving feedback and admitting your own mistakes.
“Staff need the psychological safety of the knowledge that they can experiment, that it is OK to take some risk and that mistakes are allowed,” says Karin Sanders, Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNSW Business School.
5. Empower staff to be innovators
Employee’s performance and enthusiasm for change will determine the company’s success. And, as the baby boomers start to retire, manufacturers face a key challenge in educating and developing the next generation of skilled workers in digital manufacturing.
Spend some time developing your production staff to offload some of the day-to-day burden and save the business time and money. Empowered staff are more proactive, make the right decisions independently, problem-solve and champion change programs.
Make the habit: Some actionable ways to empower employees are to allow paths to promotion, provide relevant training, facilitate peer-to-peer training, involve employees’ in decision-making and strategy, and design job roles for autonomy and play. For a detailed guide read: Automation training: How employee empowerment can maximise productivity at your plant
Employees directly tied to company growth and success
The Harvard Business Review’s service profit chain outlines the direct connection between employee engagement programs and company growth:
Making a habit a habit
All the good intentions in the world don’t make habits.
While everyone has a different method of making something ‘stick’, we suggest choosing one or two of these habits to focus on and scheduling in diary time to achieve them. Even the smallest of actions every week will build the habit until it becomes ingrained.
It’s worth noting that it’s hard to create an innovative culture where challenging the current systems is safe and actively rewarded. This is especially true of manufacturing where the risks are high and experimentation and change may be actively avoided.
In the end, companies with skilled staff who drive change and continuous improvement will be the most competitive and able to react quickly to the challenges and opportunities ahead.