Shattering Expectations

Dec. 21, 2001
The 2001 IndustryWeek Best Plants Winners set high goals -- and consistently meet them.

People frequently ask how their manufacturing facilities can become one of IndustryWeek's Best Plants. They generally want to know how the competition works, what questions we ask on the application, and exactly how IW picks the final winners -- all information that we dutifully provide.

But there's a bigger issue here, one that recalls a scene in The Natural, the baseball movie starring Robert Redford based on the novel by Bernard Malamud. In this scene a psychologist counsels the hard-luck New York Knights, telling the players that losing is a disease, as contagious as polio, syphilis, and the bubonic plague. To win, he implies, they only need to think like winners.

Of course, the team isn't cured of its disease until it begins to win games.

The same observation can be made about manufacturing plants. "In order to have a winning team, to make people feel like winners, you have to win. This factory has been able to do that since it started," says Ron Bradley, director, worldwide manufacturing and product supply, imaging-cameras, for Eastman Kodak Co.

2001 IW BEST PLANTS Aircraft Evacuation Systems, Goodrich Corp. BorgWarner, Diversified Transmission Products Inc. Dell Americas Desktop Operations Kodak de Mexico, Single-Use Camera Div. MKS Instruments Inc. Northrop Grumman Space Systems Div./Aerojet Electronic Systems Superior Graphite Co. Textron Automotive Co. de Mexico SA de CV Textron Automotive Trim Div., Port Huron Operations Vertis Inc., Webcraft DMS

Although he is specifically referring to the Kodak de Mexico, Single-Use Camera Div., in Guadalajara, Mexico, he could well be talking about any of this year's winners. "They set really high expectations from day one, and they delivered."

High expectations are, in fact, universal attributes of Best Plants winners. These expectations take the form of company mission statements, plant and team goals, performance scorecards, pay incentives, and management's day-to-day leadership.

But it's one thing to say you're going to be the best -- just ask any baseball team manager at the beginning of the season -- and quite another to go out and win on a consistent basis. When picking the Best Plants winners, we focus on results.

Representing diverse industries -- automotive, aerospace, industrial equipment and consumables, computers, and printing -- the superior achievements of this year's honorees are remarkably consistent. As a group the 25 finalists, from which the top 10 are selected, report a median 97.5% first-pass yield, 99% on-time delivery rate, and 17 total annual inventory turns. In comparison, the 3,000-plus respondents to IndustryWeek's most recent Census of Manufacturers logged a median 95% first-pass yield, 95% on-time delivery rate, and seven annual inventory turns.

Demonstrating a strong record of continuous improvement, the Best Plants finalists report a median 39% increase in productivity over the last five years. Less than a quarter of Census of Manufacturers respondents reported a five-year productivity improvement of 20% or more.

What lies between expectations and achievement? What does it take to become one of IW's top 10? The best answers to these questions come from this year's winners. In the second stage of the application process we asked the finalists to tell us, in their own words, the key lessons that they've learned in their continuing pursuit of excellence.

In general terms the winners attribute their success to having the right people, both inspired leadership with a clear vision and an effective strategy for achieving that vision, and a talented, energized, and constantly learning workforce. They also cite a clear understanding and measurement of team, operation, and company goals, as well as long-term supplier and customer partnerships. And finally, the winners share a plant culture where everyone expects to be the best and expects to win, and nothing less will do.

Best Plants Methodology

IndustryWeek began accepting nominations for the 2001 Best Plants awards in October of last year. More than 300 plants were nominated and received copies of the entry form and guidelines. A panel of IW editors reviewed the completed questionnaires, evaluating the entries in areas including quality, customer and supplier relations, employee involvement, application of technology, productivity improvement and cost reductions, manufacturing flexibility and responsiveness, inventory management, environmental and safety performance, new-product development, and overall market results. Selection of the final winners was aided by a team of outside experts: Sherrie Ford, principal, Change Partners LLC; Robert Hall of the Assn. for Manufacturing Excellence; Peter Ward, associate professor, Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University; and John Sheridan, founder of the IW Best Plants program.

Their evaluations, along with additional information provided by the finalists, were considered in the final stage of judging. The selections did not become final until after site visits by IW editors to validate the performance data and management practices reported in the applications. Each of this year's 10 winners will receive a commemorative award at ceremonies to be held at their facilities. To help other manufacturers discover and pursue best practices, which is the overall mission of the Best Plants program, all applicants receive a statistical profile summarizing the performance of the 25 finalists for 2001, and all previous years of the competition.

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