I’ve had the opportunity to work in both well-established food and beverage companies that have been around for many years and also, I’ve worked in various automotive startups. In both capacities, I’ve always been on the production side! Production is fast moving - it’s assembly lines, equipment, materials, and people! It’s been a pleasure to energize and ignite teams to persevere and break records consistently - driving team members to truly band as one and work cohesively to make it happen, day after day. And if there is one thing my experience in manufacturing and logistics has taught me it is to always prepare for the unexpected. While strategizing and working to ensure your plan is solid, it’s critical to understand that there will always be something that will pop up. Agility and Flexibility can often be confused, but both are important to driving success in Manufacturing, Logistics, Warehousing, and the whole supply chain. It all starts with winning the day which starts with winning the shift and that means winning by the hour. I thought I would share how I came to appreciate the impact of agility and what I took away as three key lessons to always ensure I was prepared in an ever-changing environment.
New product launches are hard…
Across all of my roles, my day starts relatively the same… Extremely early, before the birds awake and before the sun makes an appearance, I walk into a bustling facility with bright lights, fast moving motor driven equipment zipping by hauling huge boxes of materials, people walking in a fast-paced manner to get to their next location, and an assembly line full of people and equipment running at lightning speeds. I quickly catch up with my team on how we performed overnight against our metrics and start collaborating on how to resolve any equipment failures that occurred (or were still ongoing). On top of that there are other requirements such as ingredient/material changes, new introductions and reasons, schedule and demand for the day, and lastly our changing labor needs.
I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity of leading teams of various sizes and skill sets ranging from 12 to 500, from front line operators to production managers and engineers. Through the daily complexities of managing any operation, what I know for sure is that your team – your people – are your best and most important asset in your business.
Introducing new products is challenging enough, but launching them on the manufacturing floor and into production is a highly complex plan. At one point we were launching multiple products at the same time and we inevitably needed more personnel. We did what most companies do: we developed a job description and posted it, we reviewed resumes, we worked with our talent team to assess and interview candidates and then we onboarded them. Over weeks and weeks of interviewing we learned that most of them were great candidates but the work we did was difficult – and time consuming. This factor coupled with the fact that many of the individuals we brought on had other objectives in their life, including continued higher education that would aid them to return to our operation as leaders in the future, put them (and us as leadership) at risk for high turnover (which we endured without ever asking “is there a better way”).
The time commitment (weeks and months of time) to do these tasks while testing new equipment, technology and material, along with setting new quality standards, and still maintaining the other lines that were already operational put extreme drain on the Operational leaders daily. Every new item introduced to a market is always on a tight schedule so meeting that schedule was critical to our success. We were running up against that time bound schedule and when we did, we panicked, and when we panicked in the chaos of it all, we reacted with lots and lots of overtime for everyone!
After we launched these new products and through continuous improvement, we identified new baselines of operation and we discovered we indeed overstaffed. The panic of “we need people and we need them fast” was upon us and the natural reaction was to hire, hire, hire. But in doing that, we learned we overshot. We wasted a lot of time, energy, and money in onboarding, training, and re-training for quick attrition we incurred. We saw that we had created a wind storm for no reason at all and now had to clean up our mess because unnecessary costs were putting the budget and the launch at risk. We then did what most companies do: we let go of hundreds of individuals. Months later - another new launch, great news for the company but the operations team was still recovering from the last one. This time, we had to move quicker and did not have the time to even think about onboarding. The logical resolution at the time seemed to be a temporary staffing agency. The challenge with the staffing agency was having hundreds of individuals being sent that had no idea what they would be doing and quickly were not a good fit which meant constant reach outs and resending of individuals on a daily basis. And again, more process improvements which then led to more rebalancing of personnel and again, another round of the hiring process.
This constant up and down motion was exhausting to say the least. We couldn’t respond fast enough when needed – too many people destroyed our costs, and too few delayed our production outputs, put a strain on the team, and drove overtime costs. Here’s where agility comes into place.
Here is what I learned…
1. Agility affects Metrics.
For your business…
Being able to meet demands on time from customers and leadership alike is critical in achieving your targets. One thing we all know: the only constant in life is change, so the ability to change course quickly is pivotal in ensuring your success in any scenario. Getting comfortable with only one way of doing things is a recipe for disaster. If you are able to show customers a track record of success through meeting demands with quality at the rate in which they require, your business is golden!
Remaining open to new ideas, new people, new ways of innovation is what drives constant performance improvement in any sector. And at the end of the day, numbers always speak the loudest and being agile raises the bar on what you can achieve. Your metrics will speak about you when you’re not even in a room - that alone makes you stand out from the crowd which brings us to the next point.
2. An Edge on the Competition
For your business…
Staying ready so you never have to get ready is truly understated. When you are ready for whatever may come your way, you automatically get an edge on any of your competition. Being agile allows you to respond at the appropriate time, not too early, and not too late, but just in time (everyone’s favorite lean principle!). You bypass the panic and stress of “what do I do?” and effortlessly move to “I have a solution.” And who wouldn’t want to work with or partner with a company that has this type of organizational structure in place.
Being agile and pivoting not only puts you at the front of the pack, but it allows you to teach others the same so everyone can continuously improve, challenging each person within your organization so you can all collaborate and compete against the real giants: your company's competition. This shows your leadership you were prepared for the unpreparable – you were strategic – you were ready for the unexpected. Your response time is now unmatched, leaving you as someone who is reliable and again, standing ahead of your competition.
3. Agility gives you Speed
For your business…
When you are agile, you can move at a pace that no other company is able to. In manufacturing, speed is a very good asset to have. The quicker you can resolve failures, solve crises, and/or react to the unexpected, the more likely you will be in achieving your daily goals. When you meet your goals, you make profit.
While endurance may be more important than speed, having both places you in a lane all of your own. This will look like you’re just quick on your feet, but you have mastered the ability to strategize ahead of time to be ready for anything that you may encounter. This lightning speed response time aids you in spending less time on the things that aren’t so critical so you can focus on the things that are.
There was (and is) never a dull moment in the life of manufacturing for operational teams. The work is gruesome and exhausting but it’s also thrilling! You break records, you set the bar against your other sister sites, and feel a level of accomplishment that’s hard to replicate while sitting on the sideline waiting for something to happen. This all requires strategic planning and actioning in an agile way. With these couple of tips above we are just scratching the surface, and if you are looking for a deeper understanding of how to do this, you should check out Execution for Operations and Demand Driven Planning. These certifications are free and will give you an invaluable edge in operations knowledge and how to put them in action to drive the results that are going to set you apart.
As operations managers, there’s a ton of things you must juggle, from safety, to quality, to lines being down, to cost efficiencies, to personnel matters, to reports and data analytics and so on. Using a tool like Veryable will improve each of the above-mentioned items and allow you to focus your attention on the bigger picture and be proactive in tackling the tougher challenges that drive substantial results for your organization. Agility is the key – Veryable can help you get there.