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The 5 Disciplines of Strong Manufacturing Management

May 2, 2023
Instilling these principles in your organization just requires time, patience and for top leaders to recognize the right talent.

While our society lauds highly effective people leaders, strong manufacturing management is at the heart of every manufacturer with high levels of execution.

Manufacturing management is focused on integrating all your systems to create flawless execution. The result? A well-oiled machine that keeps employees safe, maintains high levels of quality, delivers orders on time and does it all efficiently to preserve and grow your profit margins.

You may be wondering, how is this done? In short, with discipline. There are specific disciplines that leaders inside a manufacturing business should adhere to, to maximize execution—and therefore, the bottom line.

Team members may not currently possess all these disciplines; the good news is that all five are relatively easy to learn: they just require time, patience, and for top leaders to recognize the right talent.

I’ll explain each discipline in more detail below:

1. Performance Management. A leader with performance management discipline focuses on measurable performance—key performance indicators, facts and statistics that tell the story of current performance (safety incidents, internal defects, on-time deliveries, productivity, equipment reliability, etc.).

This type of leader continuously uses such information to understand gaps in performance and where to focus improvement efforts. They take full ownership of performance and improvement under their responsibility.

Finally, this discipline requires leaders to understand their role in supporting the business and its strategic initiatives.

2. Process Management. This discipline is focused on creating stability and predictability within your business. Leaders establish, and document procedures and protocols for processes (i.e. standard work, checklists, guides, etc.). Leaders recognize that variation is the enemy and that to improve, everyone must understand and execute to a common standard.

3. Technical Knowledge.  Leaders that recognize the importance of developing technical knowledge spend significant time on the shop floor; they seek to understand the intricacies of the product, equipment and processes (specs, tolerances, equipment maintenance and operation, customer requirements, etc.). Additionally, these leaders recognize the value of learning the Lean principles and practices. These leaders understand that technical knowledge will earn them credibility with the team and improve their leadership and decision-making process.

4. Data-Based Decisions. A leader embracing this discipline seeks data a layer deeper than just KPIs—and  sees the value in uncovering the root causes of problems by digging deeper into the issues and finding why, where, when and how abnormalities happen. Tools such as Pareto charts, control charts, time observations, etc. are invaluable. This leader values experience but embraces the old adage from W. Edwards Deming that says, “Without data, you’re just a person with an opinion.”

5. Problem Solving. A leader disciplined in problem-solving recognizes the use of a structured approach to uncover the root causes of problems. We observe this discipline when leaders lead, champion or participate in improvement activities (i.e. brainstorming, mapping processes, interpreting data, etc.). This discipline goes hand-in-hand with performance management and data-based decisions: both serve as inputs to the problem-solving process. It requires patience, focus and the engagement of other colleagues in finding a solution that eliminates the problem. Also, biased toward action, this type of leader is not afraid to experiment and challenge the status quo.

I recommend that owners and senior leaders of manufacturing businesses seek to develop these disciplines in their staff. Having strong systems and processes in place will enable your business to maintain profitable growth as people come and go in your shop-floor workforce.

Here are some things to look  for with potential candidates:

  • Can they see the bigger picture?
  • Are they organized and disciplined?
  • Do they enjoy spending time on the floor understanding processes, equipment and technical information (i.e. drawings, specs, equipment manuals, etc.)?
  • Are they curious and persistent in finding the truth and driven to be better every day?
  • Do they show creativity and resourcefulness when dealing with everyday problems.

Embracing these disciplines is not easy. It requires senior leadership support and ownership, as adoption will fundamentally change your organization’s culture.

 Operations veteran Dan Burgos is founder and president of Alphanova Consulting, a Dallas/Fort Worth-Based business transformation and lean consultancy.

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