For any major improvement initiative to be successful, it has to have the full support of top management. That such an obvious statement is repeated so frequently in management books and at industry conferences is sad testimony to the lack of such support at many manufacturing companies.
In contrast, this year's 10 Best Plants winners can all boast strong backing from their corporate leadership. Such support is embodied by Jerry Mosingo, the newly appointed CEO of Collins & Aikman, Troy, Mich., which counts three plants among this year's top 10.
When IndustryWeek spoke to him in mid-August, after two weeks at the helm of the $4 billion company, Mosingo was in the process of having the value-stream maps from his company's manufacturing operations hung on the walls of his new office. (A visualization exercise that has been embraced by many of this year's winning plants, value-stream mapping uses simple icons to represent the material and information flow from suppliers, through a factory, all the way to customer delivery. Practitioners sketch out a map of the current flow, and a related picture of where they would like it to be, and then figure out how to get there.)
With 90 manufacturing plants worldwide, those value-stream drawings that didn't fit on the walls of Mosingo's office are now on display in the lobby of the company's corporate headquarters.
"Value-stream mapping is a tool that puts the hourly workforce and management on the exact same page," Mosingo says. Moving up to his current position through the operational side of the business, Mosingo casts his current role in a similar light. "My view as CEO, or as an executive vice president, or as a senior vice president, is that I am a resource to the plants. That's my job. If we set an objective like lean [manufacturing], then I better be prepared to give them all of the help they need and the resources they need, to accomplish those goals."
Among this year's 10 winning plants, such top management support is perhaps most evident in their record of continuous improvement. Over the past three years the Best Plants winners improved quality by an average of 34%, decreased inventory by 25%, improved productivity by 21%, and reduced customer lead time by 46%.
Such figures are doubly impressive considering the difficult economic conditions in some of the markets served by these manufacturers. On the subject of numbers, to complete the 17-page questionnaire, the participants in this year's competition had to report how their operations were doing in more than 100 separate performance areas. As with value-stream mapping, tracking such metrics helps plant personnel, from managers to hourly workers, understand how they are doing.
For the Best Plants winners, measuring and reporting performance is an art form. Not only do they prominently post and regularly update their quality, efficiency, delivery and inventory numbers; if you stop anyone and ask him or her to explain the tables and graphs on display, it quickly becomes obvious that all clearly understand what the numbers mean, and how their jobs impact that performance.
Characteristically, the winning plants also set the highest benchmarks. For example, the quality yield metrics they track are not only the pass/fail results at the end of the line or process, but a combined yield that accounts for rework and repair completed in cycle. Likewise, machine availability figures are calculated using more than scheduled uptime; they factor in equipment setup and changeover times.
Such stringent measures drive world-class performance because they quickly focus attention on problem areas. And when the people have the skills, the top management support, and a reward system that recognizes their effort -- as the 2002 Best Plants winners repeatedly demonstrate -- the zeal and energy brought to bear to solve such problems is truly a wonder to behold.
Methodology IndustryWeek began accepting nominations for the 2002 Best Plants awards in October of last year. Almost 300 plants were nominated. A panel of IW editors reviewed the completed questionnaires, which reported management practices and performance in such areas as quality, customer and supplier relations, employee involvement, application of new technologies, productivity 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 from the list of 25 finalists was aided by a team of outside experts: Sherrie Ford, principal, Change Partners LLC; Robert Hall of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence; Peter Ward, associate professor, Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University; John Puckett of Visions of Excellence; and John Sheridan, founder of IndustryWeek's 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 site visits by IW editors to validate the performance data and management practices reported in the applications.
Best Plants Conference The best source of knowledge for any journey is a personal guide. IndustryWeek is pleased to announce -- as a result of a new partnership with the Association for Manufacturing Excellence -- that manufacturers will be able to hear the stories of the 2002 Best Plants winners in person. Representatives from the winning plants will be sharing their best practices and success stories at a conference next spring, June 1-4, 2003, in Boston. Watch IndustryWeek.com for forthcoming information.