Are you the owner of a small or medium sized manufacturing company? Are you the head of a profit center or a Business Unit that is part of a company group? If you are, it is very likely that you are one of the business leaders, trying to find ways to keep your business above water. Some of you may be concerned about growing your bottom line and in rare occasions seeking ways to further grow your business. But, no matter what your needs are, it is certain that you are facing the stiff winds of global competition, cost pressures, challenges from outsourced operations and above all a sense of uncertainty about the future.
We believe that such pessimism and the sense of gloom and doom about manufacturing industries and their future is not warranted. It is true that there are stiff head winds and it is also true that the waters are turbulent. But, you are not up the creek, with out a paddle!
Have you ever sat back and asked yourself, “How did we (your business unit) get here?” No, I do not mean, how you got into a situation of stiff competition and low profit margins and high costs. These are all obvious and readily known to every one. But, have you figured out how your business or operation grew from its beginnings to where it is today? It did not happen by chance or by some luck or through magic! It happened because you and your people along with your suppliers and your customers contributed their share of knowledge and know-how that resulted in the products you manufacture, the processes you use to make them and also the applications know-how through which your customers use your products. The “Products. Processes and Applications knowhow” are your core capabilities. These core capabilities are embedded in the knowledge of many people connected with your company – through your employees, suppliers and customers and their customers.
You might say “It is indeed true that we did not grow out of thin air. We built our company, brick by brick though our products, manufacturing process capabilities and our know-how to help our customers use our products better. Then, whatever happened to my business or operation, over the years? Why are we struggling today with low profitability and shrinking margins and low to no growth?” One can ask such valid questions and wallow in misery or merely be nostalgic about the good old days for ever. Instead, you can muster the passion to dig deeper.
Your product is not any widget you put in your shipping box. It is not merely something you identify by a product number or a bar code. Product is something of value to some one (the user), who is willing to pay you (the manufacturer) something of value to you. Can you describe your “Product” using the above definition? Is there any one in your sales, product design/development, manufacturing/production, tech-support or general management who can describe your product in terms of the value to your customer and the expected value for you in return? Do you know who they are? Do they all have the same understanding of the user value and manufacture’s value or are they speaking over each other in different languages? Your journey for the future can start right here and now, by developing a common definition of your “Product” and developing a core team across the business functions that speaks the same language about your product.
How well do you know your Processes to manufacture your products? They are not “black box” that nobody knows anything about, after Joe Smith retires from the company! All processes in your manufacturing floor have well defined Inputs, which are converted into Outputs. All processes are “Input/Transformation/Output” system. No, we are not talking about Ph.D language. In the past years, few who knew about the process could tweak them and keep them going, while others were simply pairs of hands to help them out. We can not do that any more. All processes can be diagnosed (using proper sensors and IT tools for measurement), repaired, improved and in some cases changed dramatically. But, you can not do any of the above, if you think that the processes in your shop floor are merely “black box” put in place by some one who left the company years ago! Your journey for the future can start right here and now, by developing a common definition of the key “Processes” in your manufacturing floor and developing a system view of these processes across all the business functions that support such processes. You would not like to see any medical professional with out a stethoscope and a thermometer. Then, why would you not want all your manufacturing process professionals have similar capability to measure and diagnose and cure the problem with respect to your processes and their health?
How well do you know your customer’s processes (Application) and how you can add value in their processes through your products? If software is the enabler of all the growth and success in the IT industry, you can make your AT (Applications Technology) as the enabler for your growth and success in the manufacturing industry. AT helps you to build alliances with your suppliers and customers towards building solutions of shared benefits. If you have treated your process as a black box, it is likely that your customers have done the same with their processes. It is about time, you helped them to do a “health check up” on their processes, while they use your product. After all, strong and healthy customer process is essential for your long term strength and success.
Product, Process and Applications know-how are your core capabilities, which got you where you are today! They are the bench strength of your team. You can do more or less with them enabled by all the plug and play IT capabilities. But, you can not build a manufacturing industry with out the brick and mortar (i.e) Product, Process and Applications Technology. Have you taken the time to cultivate them? If not, may be it is time for you and the key personnel in your team to go through the “Core Capability Boot Camp”?