Separating the Men from the Boys

Author – Tim Smith

I remember my high school years and tryouts for the football team. Every fall a ton of new kids would fan out across the field. The coach would start the drills to see who would make the cut. The first round weeded out the boys who were not committed to the time and work it would take to put a team together. If we were lucky there was enough of the seasoned players still left after last year’s graduation to build an effective challenge. After about a week of tryouts the pack had dwindled down to a few determined youths who understood the cost and still were committed to making the team. The amazing thing was how the coach took boys and by the end of the fourth year had turned them into men. Adults with tenacity, commitment, team building skills and so much more. The potential was in the boys that made the cut, but the lasting results were due to a successful regiment employed by an outstanding coach.

What does this have to do with measuring efficiencies? Everything.

The playing field of applications, packages and systems appearing with mind boggling speed into the new Industry 4.0 universe produces a daunting task of comparison and identification of the tools that will make the cut. Just like the first week of tryouts, all the new recruits look the same. The coach had the luxury of running in parallel every one of the new recruits through his time-tested gauntlet and with quick precision culling the recruits down to make his first and second string.

The approach of manufacturers can be far from the well-oiled machine that the coach employed. The need for improvement is universal. The ability to determine how to get there is not. Some companies start with picking a champion to wade into the efficiency universe and figure out “What’s Best”. The approach can take one of three directions:

  1. Bottom up engineering, where an engineer is thrown into the arena. He is either a manufacturing engineer or a mechanical engineer.
  2. Top down, where a plant manager, or other management resource is tasked with finding the best solution.
  3. IT group is mandated to determine which solution should be considered.

For the most part, each of these stakeholder groups have an expertise which can be brought to bear in the assessment process, however unless the group has other stakeholder disciplines involved or a excellent selection process employed, they will develop a myopic viewpoint and impair the selection process.

Let me make a few analogies as it relates to culling the recruits.

Running track and endurance training. Come on guys (n’ gals) nobody really liked running track or cross country as it related to high school. I am ruling out the minority of students who would be better suited to being a gazelle on the Serengeti. What is the track record of the industry 4.0 recruits? Which products have longevity in the market? Longevity proves that the players are in for the long haul. New recruits must prove they have what it takes. Many do not. Are you willing to gamble on the short game?

Does the recruit know the game? The worst thing in the world is to recruit a bunch of prospective players who have limited working knowledge of the game. A coach can lose a whole season just trying to get new recruits to understand the basics. In relation to software, who authored the product? Do they have real world experience from the shop floor or are they only software nerds who cannot relate the workings, processes, and politics of the shop floor? They should not make the cut.

Strength training hardens the body and prepares the player to take the and give the hits expected in the game. A player will not survive long if he cannot take the heat of battle. In relation to software, it must have the ability to scale and be robust enough to accept a ton of data. It must be able to accept both operational and process data without a whimper. If they cannot, they do not make the cut.

Look for candidates who have speed and are nimble. The ability to flow with the games is essential. Shop floors are fluid and the software that makes the cut must also be fluid. Too rigid a structure and the software will try to force procedural changes when unnecessary. Like a great player who can play several positions, the software must be all things to all people.

Strategic thinking of the player means that he is considering both short term and long-term goals. Not just the game at hand but the season. Not just the team he is facing but how it relates to the team he is playing for. The ability of assessing strengths and weaknesses, identifying, and exploiting the weaknesses is critical to both the short term and long-term success of the player and his team. This same analogy relates to operations software which must be able to identify and categorize weaknesses and provide the tools to exploit them. The value in strategic thinking is more than identifying a single constraint but in the ability of relating it to several other factors, tying it to shifts, operations, processes, operators, jobs, material, and tooling. A software application which approaches the complexity of the shop floor with a single-minded approach should not make the cut.

Team mindset is key to creating a tight string who understand each other and can exploit the skills of each member of the squad. Software must not be prim donnas where they want to run the show and take center stage. Open APIs and web subscriptions enabling the interaction of third-party software such as ERP and MRP systems, HR and QC systems should be the norm. Additionally, all data, events and metrics should be available. In the case of ERP systems, can the efficiency software create labor tickets? As the coach asks each player to push beyond their own limitations and rely on the team synergy, a software application also must perform beyond the initial scope of features and functions, leveraging the value of all parties to deliver the objectives of the stakeholders.

A player’s adaptability to changing circumstances means that he can think on his feet. This skill is almost impossible to learn. It must be an innate skill of the player which sets him (or her) apart. This skill makes the difference between MVP and second string. The software then by its very nature can be configured to represent data in yet undetermined ways. A software package becomes an MVP when it can have new metrics added to it, new asset types added, new reports and new views added to it. With changing circumstances, the software can adapt to changing focuses and mandates. Structured systems are good but not at the cost of flexibility. They should not make the cut.

Finally, stakeholders should take a page from a football playbook when it comes to selecting a manufacturing operations management solution. The merit of the system is in its abilities to adapt and deliver. Anybody can have a pretty face, but it is what is under the hood that counts.

A maxim from the game,

“Work hard

Hit hard

Play hard