Recently, I came across a
best-selling book on the history of physics and was intrigued by the many stories
of discovery over the centuries, but equally interested in the challenges of
what we have yet to understand. In the 4th century B.C., ancient
Greek philosopher Democritus postulated that the world is made up of atoms, particles
too small to be seen, which are the building blocks of all matter. The next 2,300 years were filled with
competing ideas about the nature of the universe, but it wasn’t until the 20th
century that this “Atomic Theory” was finally confirmed.
The beginning of the last century
was the dawn of a new revolution, unlike others before. Industries were
developing methods of mass producing goods and delivering to market more
efficiently to drive down the cost per unit. Governments were finding new
ideologies, nations were preparing for war, and technology was developed to
gain strategic and tactical advantages. It is clear that science was moving
beyond millennia of observation and intuition into an age of experimentation
and measurement. It was in 1905 that a young Swiss patent clerk’s ideas would fundamentally
change the way we understand the universe.
This young man was Albert Einstein
and, he did what no one over the millennia has been able to do: confirm that
atoms in fact existed. Until this time, scientists could not figure out how to
measure an atom, much less view one. Einstein’s solution was simple. He would measure
the amount of wiggle that particles like pollen or dust exhibit while in a
fluid. Basically, these molecules vibrate and drift while in suspension, and - by
measuring this amount of movement or drift, you could calculate the size of an
atom based on their collisions, thus confirming 2,300 years of intuition.
As a result of Einstein’s
confirmation of the atom, photoelectric effect, and the theories of general and
special relativity, quantum physics emerged as a new field with a focus on
understanding sub-atomic particles. At this smaller-than-the-atom perspective,
things do not occur intuitively. In fact, much of classical physics principals
no longer apply, as observation and logic alone could not be used to understand
this quantum level. Measurement and
mathematics emerged as the best way to unlock further understanding.
Likewise, in the second half of the
20th century, Japanese engineers were developing methods to improve
efficiency in their manufacturing plants in order to rebuild their war-torn
nation’s economy. Lean manufacturing, as we know it today, is the combination
of those techniques and the use of quantitative objective measurements by American
engineers focused on understanding and refining manufacturing processes. Years
later, Six Sigma methodology was born as an extension of these objectives to
control variation in processes. In more recent years, advances in technology
have provided teams of operational leaders with the tools needed to understand
what is happening on their shop floors. Gone are the days of using intuition to
determine whether or not you had a good day.
Today, tools like Factory MES provide you with real-time metrics
captured directly from your operation.
In order to remain competitive and
continue to improve your complex manufacturing processes, it is essential that
you have the data readily available to make informed decisions and drive
actions. Now, when you want to know whether you had a good day, you simply pull
up a report and, based on your predefined criteria, you no longer have to guess….you
know. Intelligent, real-time action can be taken, problem solving activity can
be launched, and countermeasures deployed, all with the use of data captured
from your shop floor.
Let Aptean partner with you to ensure
that your Factory MES application is optimized and providing you with the
critical information you need. Over the more than ten years of working with Factory
MES at customer sites across the globe, we have developed a gold standard of
what system and user configuration looks like. We have examined what strong
users are doing, developed modules and functionality where a need exists, and given
attention to new and creative ways the application is being used. We want to
hear your voice and engage with you and your team to make Factory work even
better for you.
Another NFL season football has come and gone, and the
big game did not disappoint. It was a game for the ages, among the most
entertaining in our modern football era. However, I considered turning the game
off after halftime as Atlanta appeared to be coasting to victory. Fortunately,
I was steadfast and told myself to just watch one more series after another,
hoping it would get better, until it became not only interesting, but
As I reflect back on the game and season, I am
struck by several observations that are relevant to all of us who are focused
on operating our businesses and positively affecting our areas of
responsibility. Like in football where you strive to outscore your opponent, we
are all laser focused on improving our bottom lines. How do we transform raw
ingredients into the highest quality finished goods with less overhead, optimal
material, and labor costs all the while maximizing the usage of our assets in
the process? We not only have to compete with others in the open market, we have
to continuously improve relative to our historical performance in order to
position ourselves to be successful.
I consider the reasons why the New England Patriots have been so dominant over
the last decade, I am left with one conclusion. While the easiest assumption
would be to attribute their success to having arguably the best quarterback to
have ever played the game, I prefer to think it is more fundamental than simply
one player. Like any organization, football is a team sport. While you need
quality players, perhaps even a few stars, you need everyone working together as
a unit, towards one goal: winning championships.
Green Bay Packers Coach, Vince Lombardi once said, “The achievements of an organization
are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” Today’s successful
teams preach a message of next player up, focusing on the philosophy that
success is not solely about an individual, that it is really the team that is fundamental
to winning. Players get injured, others are lost to free agency; however, the
winning teams seem to doggedly focus on the process of developing, training,
and maximizing the talents of each of their individual players to perform as a
team. When unfavorable personnel events happen, these teams are positioned to
continue winning in spite of the personnel challenges.
As in football, we often
lose our “players” for one reason or another, and we must guard against losing
the momentum we have worked so hard to achieve. Each successful organization
has a goal and vision of where they want to be at the end of each quarter, each
year, or even five years. A team approach is critical in meeting the challenges
along the way. When an organization faces the inevitable turnover of seasoned
workers, it must guard against losing its ability to compete and win. It really
is next man up.
As you focus on equipping
your team on driving the results that define wining for your organization,
please keep in mind that you have a partner in Aptean. Factory MES is a
powerful tool, providing the essential real time metrics needed to make
intelligent decisions to improve your operational activities; however, due to
turnover, your team may be faced with a gap in proficiency with the system. We
want to work together with you to help you achieve your goals, and be best
prepared when it becomes time to rely on the next man up, we want to help with
any training needs you may have. Please reach out to us and we will work
together to develop and deliver training that is specific and tailored to your
In a recent interview, famed
fantasy writer George R.R. Martin discussed how flags were a large part of
developing such a creative mind at such an early age. Martin tells the story of
growing up in New Jersey overlooking Manhattan and watching ships sail in and
out of the harbor from all across the globe. He would look at the flags flying
high atop these ships and craft stories about the peoples and lands from where
they came. The author marveled at how something as simple as flags can convey
so much information and create such a level of curiosity.
In our post today, we
will draw comparisons between flags and a means of succinctly conveying
information in our businesses today. What does a flag really do? What is its
purpose? I would argue that flags are used to communicate information about
nations and organizations in as simple a way as possible while remaining easily
identifiable. Flags primarily use colors and shapes and, at their very best,
are immediately recognizable. Take the flags of the USA, UK or Germany as
examples. These would likely be recognized by the majority of the world’s
population, and all done with just the use of colors and shapes.
So what does this have
to do with us as we are busy running our businesses? Isn’t there something that
you use daily, or perhaps many times throughout the day that is essential to
communicating information in its simplest form? How about Dashboards? Are you
getting the most out of yours?
Dashboards exist to
provide an organization with a means of conveying data to their audience. But what
are the elements of really effective ones? Let’s consider these four essential
elements as we consider how to make best use of this tool to better improve our
operational performance. Dashboards should be:
Aligned to goals
Visual in nature
A good dashboard should
be aligned to your organizational goals. Think of what is on your dashboard as
prime real estate. Only the essential information should be included here so
you don’t risk anyone tuning out due to a busy screen that they have to parse
through to understand. This is your means of conveying key metrics that you
want to communicate to your teams, so keep it simple and direct. This will also
provide you with a means of aligning your team to your objectives as everybody
will be looking at the same things and clearly understand what is important to
Dashboards should also
be visual in nature. Consider the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand
words”. You want the viewer to immediately understand what is being represented
and equipped to take action without having to ponder about the content on the
screen. Try to use as many charts and graphs as possible and make sure to use
colors to identify important elements of the data. The key here is to make certain
the information is understood clearly and immediately.
element of an effective dashboard is that it is highly accessible. You want
your team members to always be able to gauge how they are performing without
having to seek out the information. By distributing this data effectively, it
reinforces that everyone is on the same page. This allows for real time
adjustments and a visual means of seeing the effect(s) of teams working
together to set and achieve their goals.
The information you are
distributing on your dashboards should be relevant. It should be refreshed
frequently or be precisely the data that you want to communicate to drive
action (last shift, last product run, last week, last month, last quarter, etc.) Be mindful to continuously review what you are distributing with your
dashboards to ensure it is exactly what you want to communicate, or you run the
risk of losing employee engagement.
I hope you like my idea
of dashboards being flag for your organization. Everyone should immediately
understand what it is being communicated and operate as a team under one
banner. I strongly believe in their ability to drive excellence in your
organizations if utilized effectively.
If you would like to
discuss how to improve your dashboard, please reach out to me or your account
executive to discuss how Aptean can work with you to make your dashboard a key
element in delivering results for your organization.
A woodsman was asked, “What would you do if you had
just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first
two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.” The first time I heard this
statement, I recall thinking how profound it was. While it effectively communicates
the power and importance of preparation, upon reflection I feel like the
message is inherently flawed. When viewed through the lens of continuous
improvement, I think about all the potential that may exist if he acted differently,
if he acted intelligently.
For our purpose, let’s imagine that the woodsman
not only has to chop down one tree, but an entire forest. This scenario would
apply the message to many of our challenges we face today, as we are tasked
with operating efficiently, making decisions, and taking action to improve our
bottom line. What if the woodsman arrived at the forest with an
already sharpened axe? What if he purchased a technically superior axe that
only requires sharpening every 10 trees? Does his axe really require two and a
half minutes of sharpening to perform better than just one and a half minutes
spent in preparation, or does it really even need sharpening at all to perform
adequately to cut down the same tree in the five minutes?
All good questions, but
what our woodsman would really benefit from is a means of measuring actual
performance to determine what provides the best relative balance of return. If
our woodsman was interested in cutting down more trees in less time and doing
it more consistently, it would be beneficial to know exactly how long it took
him to chop down a sample of trees with his axe in its current unsharpened form
as a point of reference. He could then begin sharpening his axe in incremental
units and compare against past performance (rate of trees felled) to identify the
point of diminishing return and act intelligently to determine and deploy the
best course of action (Uptime/Downtime). Isn’t this what any business process
owner really wants to know: what is really happening on the shop floor before and
after a change is made?
In fact, this is what
Factory MES provides. In our example, I would argue that Factory would allow
our woodsman to not only see the trees before him, but to actually see the
forest because of the trees by providing him a means of collecting data on each
individual action. This visibility would give him the competitive advantage he
would need to reach, and perhaps even surpass his goals. Armed with this
information, now easily at his disposal, he could not only affect change
in-shift, based on trending data, he would also know where to focus his energy
to improve his performance over time. Equally as important is the visibility he
would now have to determine the effectiveness of how his countermeasures are
affecting current performance. In effect, using Factory-derived data, he would
now act and react intelligently rather than just chopping away.
It’s this uncertainty
that we all want to bring to light. We all want to do what we do more efficiently.
With Factory MES, we have a powerful tool to meet the challenge as it is
specifically designed to provide
reliable and relevant data to give you that competitive advantage. Next week we
will take a look at Dashboards, their purpose and best use in driving
performance on your shop floor.
We have all heard anecdotes of the handyman whose only tool is a hammer and perhaps a roll of duct tape; some have even witnessed his work firsthand. While it may be possible to fix a leaking roof or patch a fence so equipped, I think it is apparent that the handyman will be quite limited in his scope of projects, and the quality of his work is questionable. The reality is that many businesses continue to operate like our handyman, by using the same approach and resources to tackle whatever problem arises.
Noted psychologist Abraham Maslow once said, "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." Now consider how you might approach individual challenges if you had at your disposal the precise tools to handle the task at hand. More importantly, imagine if you had the right tool and the expertise to wield it. Rather than seeing every problem as a nail, you would likely approach each challenge very differently, have increased energy and a renewed attitude to get the job done. Perhaps, you would even take on some of those challenges that were before so big and daunting, that these game changing improvements now become not possibilities, but reality.
In today’s business world, we are challenged to continually improve or be passed by. New methods and different, more precise ways of achieving excellence and eliminating uncertainty are now the norm. In the previous post, we touched on taking small steps and embracing a culture of experimentation as a means of driving your organization towards its targets, but what do you need to breakthrough and consistently outperform the competition?
The simple answer is that you need tools; not just a hammer and tape, but the right tools at the right time, and the knowledge of how and when to use them. What you really need is operational visibility in real-time and a means of analysis to determine the effectiveness of your actions and countermeasures. All businesses have to make real-time decisions to affect operational activity in the moment: in shift, during a product run or while getting a down-time issue resolved. In order to effectively change, set, and realize targets, you also have to reflect and determine the root causes responsible for the challenges you are facing and determine informed courses of action to close the gaps.
Not all businesses have the visibility we mentioned above, or at least not a comprehensive, consistent and immediate source of the invaluable data that Factory MES delivers. Aptean’s purpose built application is chock full of capability out of the box and configurable to fit your specific needs. Upcoming blog posts will dive into the individual tools that are built into Factory MES and those that are complimentary of its capability. Whether it be Metrics, Reporting, QA, Problem Solving, or Coaching, the intent is to help you extract the most out the Factory actionable intelligence application and equip you with the tools to excel.
Over the coming months, let’s build complete tool boxes together and load them up with proven tools made for specific applications. Let’s discuss their functionality, capacity and when they are the best tool for the task at hand. A hammer is indeed a very effective tool, but to be competitive we need the precision that job specific tools offer. So stay tuned as we open our tool boxes, put our tool belts and discuss the best tools available to us.
What a strange thing it
may seem to encourage someone to think small while one is in the pursuit of excellence.
It does seem counterintuitive to actually think small while our culture
continually impresses upon us to do the just the opposite. However, I will lay
out why it often makes sense to think differently, to think in incremental
terms in order to make the right changes that move you closer to your goals.
Recently, I watched an
interview with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and what struck me was his strong
belief and strategic use of experimentation across all of his organizations. He is a staunch believer that an organization
must continually change in order to be excellent. Not dramatic, bet the farm
types of change, but small steady steps that enable you to monitor whether the
change is actually working and, if necessary, be positioned to change tack
accordingly and swiftly.
These experiments are
the small steady steps that many of today’s most successful companies leverage
to effectively drive their change efforts. The challenge is knowing exactly what
to experiment with. What are the right questions to ask? What are the correct
actions to take? Luckily, there are answers to these questions if you know
where to look.
It’s in the data. The Factory
MES data that you collect on your operational activities is the key to informing
effective real-time actions and driving successful improvement activities.
Equipped with this accurate and relevant data, you are now ready to take a step
or multiple forward…or simply experiment. Embracing this philosophy of
experimentation has the ability to yield significant results. This mindset, coupled
with structured problem solving to get to the root cause of issues and to develop,
deploy, and analyze countermeasures, equips one with a strong set of tools to
achieve the big things they are after.
While the reality is
that occasionally these experiments do not yield the desired results, you
ultimately gain the knowledge of what doesn’t work, further reducing
uncertainty and leaving you one step closer to what actually does. By taking
small measured steps, you steadily move forward, even with an occasional
setback…indeed a continuous process towards excellence. The idea is to have
your eye always on your organizational true north, to keep you aligned with
your vision while climbing the ladder upward rung by rung.
In order to achieve your targets, a change
from your present state must take place. The competition is changing and
industries are evolving in search of more efficient and cost effective ways of
getting things done. The choice is to accept the status quo and risk getting
passed by, to change using risky uninformed actions based on intuition or
emotion, or to take steady measured steps that are based on actual data. Think
small and deliver big by using your Factory MES data to inform your actions and
create a culture of success.