The Impact of Standards: Path to Productivity

I took responsibility for a collection of manufacturing operations that supported final assembly businesses that were well regarded and considered to be operating “OK”.

However, it was not too long after I arrived that I recognized that the “OK” impression was related to how much their internal customers were complaining regarding on time deliveries within the factory, level of quality and cost to produce.

When things drifted downward in the bad or unsatisfactory direction, people complained, and there was a crisis reaction to make things better – until things were “OK” again.>

The Problem
The “standard” or goal for acceptable performance was based on external impressions and feelings from internal customers – which varied over time. The group consisted of a variety of different operations typical of a vertically integrated electronic manufacturing company.

Each group did their best to be responsive to the needs of their customers independent of the manufacturing schedule. Expediting was very much the norm to support the next group in the process, the amount of material and labor to deliver the expedited part was a secondary concern, and quality – well – “we can rework it.”

Amazingly things got done but under abnormal and super human efforts by expeditors once hired as temporary but now viewed as permanent employees. There were constant meetings to prioritize the “line” and pull jobs forward and move others back in order to get the parts needed for that day.

Corrective Action
With great resistance I was able to convince the manufacturing group that a manufacturing schedule had significance, it was critical to be accountable to deliver to the production schedule and get away from “expediting” parts through the process, and to monitor the time and material applied to completing a job to the standard allowed.

There were initial set backs but as each group moved toward on time delivery the expediting meetings became less necessary and eventually dropped. Surprisingly as each group examined what it was supposed to take to complete an order the time applied to complete the order dropped and the material used approached or fell below the standard for the part.

Results
After a year of consistent effort the group was recognized for their significant contribution toward the overall performance of the company.

  • On time deliveries were very high,
  • Job cost performance was exceptional
  • Labor applied was below the average that had been used as the standard,
  • Material usage was improved due to correct usage, improving the accuracy of the engineering documents, which resulted in an accurate costing of the products.
  • Quality levels also increased due to the increased attention to the overall manufacturing process and engaging various engineering groups in making changes that would improve the manufacturability of the product.

The Secret Sauce
The absence of “standards” was the missing link. An environment of letting crises determine the pulse of the operation had become the norm. Key people were absorbed with expediting and not managing their areas of responsibility. They were just basically surviving day-to-day.

As standards of performance were adopted such as delivery people then looked at what needed to be changed to be able to consistently make deliveries on time. The same was true of labor standards. Operations and scheduling got together to make sure the orders were scheduled and the operations level loaded so that they could consistently deliver the parts using a standard amount of labor and machine time.

As this process continued the groups continued to set better standards so that less work in process was needed. Consequently the financial contribution of the group was significant.

Summary
Where the change started with setting a few standards. Productivity became the focus and reputation of the group. Supervisors and employees became enabled working within their group and with other support groups including engineering to create a very productive climate of collaboration.

While this example was a vertical manufacturing operation the principle can be used in other business models. Professional services, distribution, online, green, home based, etc. can benefit by establishing standards that are the cornerstones of profitability.

Everyone wants to do well. Not everyone intuitively knows what it takes to make that happen. Standards provide the rungs to the ladder to help individuals and teams perform in a manner that makes the business productive.

Setting effective standards sets the path toward successful business productivity!

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