Lessons Learned

2001 Best Practices from the IndustryWeek Best Plants winners.

Best Practices is an overused phrase for good ideas that manufacturers can steal. This article provides additional "how they did it" information from the 2001 IndustryWeek Best Plants winners, which they've generously agreed to share. It may help power future improvements at your facility. Management and Leadership

  • "It starts at the top. [Change] has to begin with a clear vision by senior management, one that is consistent in purpose and non-negotiable. This vision must be clearly communicated throughout the organization, and continuously reinforced in thought, word, and deed at all levels." -- Aircraft Evacuation Systems
  • "Good teamwork is directly linked to shared vision. Without a shared vision, team members are not willing to set aside personal agendas. Our vision is simple: 'Be a plant of growth.' We test everything we do against the vision. The vision is the glue that binds individuals into a team." -- Borg Warner
  • "It is easier to create a new culture in a new plant than it is to change an existing culture in an existing plant. Our plant had the benefit of being started from scratch. This is extremely important because, in our opinion, the biggest single factor in fostering world-class competitiveness is having the right culture." -- Kodak de Mexico, Single-Use Camera Division
  • "'Set the stage' correctly from the beginning. . . . We have a very simple but powerful vision: Be simply the best -- the highest quality, lowest cost, fastest equipment manufacturer in the world. From the very beginning we created a culture where we expected to be the best and be successful in everything we did." -- Kodak de Mexico, Single-Use Camera Division
  • "The start up team did extensive benchmarking to understand what the best companies were doing in molding assembly, and people management. They took this information and then built upon it to create the current operation. The resulting factory was significantly different from what a traditional Kodak factory would have been." -- Kodak de Mexico, Single-Use Camera Division
  • "There needs to be agreement at all levels that any endeavor is a long-term journey with risks and failures along the way that must be allowed and tolerated. We utilize Hoshin strategic planning, which is similar in concept to Management by Objective, to ensure alignment and synergy." -- MKS Instruments
  • "Of course leading by example has been a key during these tough times. We, as management, utilize only the best business ethics in our daily operation. Not only do our customers see this, but also our employees. They know that we are honest and upfront with our customers and them, and that is the only way we do business. Our supervisors and management, believing in leading by example, have stepped into the lines to fill gaps, dig holes, or whatever the situation has dictated."-- Superior Graphite
  • "We found stability of management/key contributors to be a key factor in our success, as constancy of purpose and vision are facilitated by avoiding a 'merry-go-round' at the top." -- MKS Instruments People, Training, and Empowerment
  • "Empower employees and teams, and deliver training based on strategic need. [Northrop Grumman's] High Performance Workplace initiative mobilizes employees to achieve excellence by providing training that emphasizes employee involvement and empowerment. Empowerment is achieved by providing teams with fiscal, performance and schedule responsibility."-- Northrop Grumman Space Systems Division (formerly Aerojet)
  • "No one person can manufacture a transfer case. At Muncie it takes 1,250. . . . The 'contribution' of an individual is far greater when that individual is organized into a team with a common vision and the desire to support their fellow teammates." -- Borg Warner
  • "Although it's often given lip service today, your greatest asset is your people and they are truly the most valuable resource a plant can have. Hire the best and do what is needed (within reason) to retain them.... Provide extensive training at all levels. Encourage on-going education through readings, seminars, conferences, and the like. In short, treat them as your most valuable resource and reward them accordingly." -- Aircraft Evacuation Systems
  • "The second major contributor to the success of this operation was the focus on people. . . . We have a passion for training, certification, and recertification. Training is important but having a certification program that validates that people are truly understanding what they are being taught, and will be able to apply it appropriately in their jobs, is just as important." -- Kodak de Mexico, Single-Use Camera Division
  • "We have learned that the most important job in the factory is the first line supervisor (especially with a workforce as large as ours [2,000-plus]). We treat this job as truly a professional position. We have developed a supervisor certification program and are working with a local university to create a 'master's program' for first line supervision to allow them to continue to improve their supervisory and coaching skills." --Kodak de Mexico, Single-Use Camera Division
  • "It is important to have documented values and you must continually work to ensure that everyone lives by these basic values (respect, trust, integrity, continuous improvement, and personal renewal). This has aided us in building a work environment where everyone feels they are valued and can contribute to their fullest potential." -- Kodak de Mexico, Single-Use Camera Division
  • "We have recognized the value of becoming a learning organization. Training in our processes, values, industry, tools, and products has been an important element of our success." -- MKS Instruments
  • "Through the tough times of the market downturn late last year and early this year, we have been able to remain in operation without laying off a single employee. Our employees know we are working hard to control spending and continue to flourish as a profitable company. With this security they have the comfort of knowing their jobs will be here for them each day."-- Superior Graphite
  • "The key to satisfying our customer needs, our shareholders desires, our managers' internal objectives, and our company's livelihood rests with one group: satisfied, motivated employees who know that SGC cares about them and their families. We create success through well-trained, motivated, and "cared for" employees." -- Superior Graphite
  • "Make people before making the product/process. It is very important to have the best human resources available before entering any world-class competitiveness journey." -- Textron Saltillo
  • "From the beginning of operations in Chalfont, our policies and practices have always been established through a cooperative effort between management and hourly employees. Input from our employees has been not only welcomed, but actively solicited by our management team. Working in cooperation with our hourly employees, our internal processes are continually modified to accommodate the rapidly changing conditions we face in our competitive environment." -- Webcraft
  • "As our facility has increased in complexity, and our production process has become more technologically evolved; the value of an educated workforce has become more evident than ever before. The minimum amount of training each employee is expected to receive on an annual basis is 40 hours. This training is not limited to the technical aspects for their responsibilities, but includes personal development, safety, and physical well-being classes." -- Webcraft Customer and Supplier Relations
  • "[Northrop Grumman] has instituted a Strategic Supplier program for suppliers who are vital to [Northrop Grumman's] continued business success." Reported benefits include non-adversarial relationships that foster long-term partnerships and risk sharing. "To facilitate this process, [Northrop Grumman] has created a Strategic Supplier Board to identify issues of mutual concern, propose and implement mutually beneficial solutions, and provide a forum for integrating supplier feedback into [Northrop Grumman's] processes." -- Northrop Grumman Space Systems Division (formerly Aerojet)
  • "Develop 'partnerships' with customers where possible and appropriate to build credibility and trust, and communicate customer need throughout the value chain." [Northrop Grumman] gathers feedback in regular meetings with resident customers, a formal customer survey, and periodic program reviews." -- Northrop Grumman Space Systems Division (formerly Aerojet)
  • "Production employees also have access to [Northrop Grumman] customers, and regularly attend major activities in the field such as rocket, satellite, and payload launches at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base as well as demonstrations at various customer sites."-- Northrop Grumman Space Systems Division (formerly Aerojet).
  • "It's no coincidence that our plant's performance improvements coincided with the inception of our 'supplier alignment' program in 1995. In manufacturing, a plant is only as good as its weakest link and too often, the weakest link is the suppliers. . . . We are highly dependent on our supplier base and it is truly viewed as an extension of our enterprise." --Aircraft Evacuation Systems
  • "One of the most important lessons we have learned at Superior Graphite Co. is how to take excellent care of our customers. . . . We have the personnel trained to travel to any our customers' locations on a moment's notice. By having this staff trained not only in electrode usage and consumption issues, but also in efficient furnace set-ups and capacities, we are able to consult and train any of our customers who may be experiencing difficulties." -- Superior Graphite
  • "It is imperative that customers and suppliers participate within our organization from the conceptualization of our product/process/project throughout the entire life cycle . . . . The robustness of our products is equal to the participation and involvement of the working team, by three different entities integrated as one." -- Textron Saltillo
  • "We conduct Client Education seminars many times a year to educate our customers about Webcraft's capabilities and the intricacies of our manufacturing processes. These sessions provide our clients with an understanding of our internal operations, providing a common reference and level of understanding between our staff and our clients." -- Webcraft Communications and Metrics
  • "Develop a 'Balanced Scorecard' approach containing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and metrics to make data-based decisions. The key to making this system work is to develop the right KPIs for a particular business area, and then demonstrate how improvements in the KPI metrics affect organizational success." [Northrop Grumman's] KPIs include measures for customer satisfaction, employee involvement and development, marketplace competitiveness, supplier partnerships, and community relations. "The scorecards cascade throughout the organization to each process/product center, and contain objectives and metrics defining operational expectations." -- Northrop Grumman Space Systems Division (formerly Aerojet)
  • "Each area within the plant, including the plant floor, develops scorecards of standardized performance measures, which are linked to plant-level key performance indicators. Plant-floor performance is tracked, measured against goals, formally reviewed by management, and posted across the plant on 'metrics boards.' " -Northrop Grumman Space Systems Division (formerly Aerojet)
  • "Everyone has an opinion of what is wrong or what to fix. We learned that we cannot fix the entire plant by sheer hard work and might. 'Show me the facts,' 'We treasure what we measure,' became the battle cry of continuous improvement." -- Borg Warner
  • "You can never communicate enough. A person's support for change is directly related to their understanding of why. At Muncie, we call this statement the 'Communications Paradigm.' It is not enough to share facts about the business. The facts must be targeted to explain the reason for the direction given by leadership . . . . We have learned to err on the side of communicating too much." -- Borg Warner
  • "There needs to be a well thought out, long-term plan or vision for the organization constructed around the mission statement/strategic goals of the company. This mission needs to be embraced by the entire cross-functional organization to ensure synergy, accompanied by action items that are in line with organizational objectives." -- MKS Instruments
  • "We have always emphasized cooperation and communication between departments in the plant. In order for us to be efficient while making electrodes, each unit has to work closely with the one supplying it and the one that it supplies. . . . We have conducted team-building activities among supervisory staff in order to build and promote these relationships. The 'off the court' activities that we sponsor and encourage help build camaraderie among the employees and management thus building teamwork and trust between everyone." -- Superior Graphite
  • "Share knowledge across the organization. Make sure adequate operating data and information flows through the entire organization. Avoid any misunderstanding by posting performance results of key indicators." -- Textron Saltillo
  • "We value the open and honest communication we have fostered within our organization. We recognize that effective communication is two-way, and our management has become adept at creating opportunities for feedback from our employees." -- Webcraft Lean Manufacturing
  • "Adopt a formalized process improvement system for attacking variation and eliminating waste." [Northrop Grumman's] strategy combines Six Sigma with lean manufacturing, and includes plant-wide 5S, lean product development, design for excellence, kaizen events, value-chain management, high-performance work teams, and value-stream analysis. "The focus on lean and Six Sigma provide a common methodology for problem solving and creates a corporate mindset for process improvement." -- Northrop Grumman Space Systems Division (formerly Aerojet)
  • "Excellence must be enterprise-wide for any individual facet to be successful. Production becomes quickly constrained if supporting functions don't keep pace. Initially that means creating 'best in class' operations functions such as scheduling, purchasing, manufacturing engineering, etc. Later, it includes leveraging the functional competencies of other departments such as Engineering, Marketing, Quality, etc., and tying them together in a common purpose." -- Aircraft Evacuation Systems
  • "Believe in the tools of lean. Do not look to lean as a 'quick fix,' although the temptation is there for many plants to do just that. Lean is a philosophy that requires an unwavering commitment and it may take several years to realize the vast potential." -- Aircraft Evacuation Systems
  • "In the western world we are great implementers. We cherish a challenge. Show us a problem and we mount and all-out assault. Muncie is no exception. We are great cowboys. . . . Cowboys often wrestle the same steers. Because we did not have adequate controls in place, we too often solved the same problem more than once." -Borg Warner
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