As I was watching a documentary on the Christopher Columbus expedition to the New World, it occurred to me just how audacious he and other early explorers really were. Imagine setting off into the unknown with only your experience and wits about you . . . and, perhaps, some technology.
In fact, whether it was Columbus sailing for the East Indies and landing in the Americas, Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigating the globe, Sir Edmund Hillary scaling Mount Everest, or even Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, they all relied on the technology of the day to aid in their quests to be the first to achieve their own unique and daring goals. Incredibly and against sizeable odds, each were able to make discoveries still celebrated today, and technology played a significant role in every journey.
By Marianne Chikos, Vice President Customer Solutions
The vision at Aptean is to enable our customers’ long-term economic success by delivering relevant and trusted technology solutions. A key component of our mission is providing not just software, but rather a solution for the customer’s success. The software is an enabler for change, but real improvement comes from behavioral and organizational change, not simply switching a piece of technology. Part of our Factory MES solution is performance coaching to help drive change at these higher levels and ensure the greatest impact on the company’s performance.
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 4 th 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 20 th century that this “Atomic Theory” was finally confirmed.
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 captivating.
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.
When 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.
Legendary 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 needs.
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:
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 their organization.
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.
Another important 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.
For any manufacturing organization, achieving the highest levels of operational excellence is built upon the engagement of its employees. Employees are expected to be active in collecting information, surfacing and resolving problems, and recommending improvements that could be made as a result.
Unfortunately, all too often their insight is not acted upon, and the impact on factory-floor morale is considerable. They feel like they are simply doing it 'for the sake of doing it.' When an employee feels that the tasks they are being asked to do have no positive impact on them and the way they work, they almost immediately become disengaged with the entire process.
They might feel that their voice is not being heard or, in the worst case, that the feedback and data they are providing is not trusted by their superiors. That, in essence, indicates to them that their professional integrity is being questioned, and they are not truly valued, rather they are simply a workhorse whose intellectual contribution is effectively irrelevant.
This is the worst use of people, the strongest asset companies have available. These are the people who have the benefit of years' of experience; they understand the issues, and it is of utmost importance that their innate knowledge is collected as data, transformed into information, and converted into the knowledge that a company needs to improve operational efficiency.
Finding a means to engage your people on a company-wide basis is the route to achieving this.
The tools to perform
By giving operators a simple, unobtrusive tool that makes their working life easier, it becomes very straightforward to enter their knowledge and experience into the company's system. But not only that, it should be a sophisticated, intelligent tool that allows this feedback to be presented in real-time, meaning it can be acted upon immediately, and employees can see that their input is being used and is trusted.
This real-time element is key. Waiting until a shift has ended is too late to analyze performance and quite often, valuable insight gets lost among the noise. This gives the impression to the employees that the company is 'driving in the rear view mirror'- without focused direction, missing the factors that can keep a business on track.
The ability to review the data, both in real-time and at key intervals during the shift, means action can be initiated to ensure inefficiencies are removed from the process in-flight. By performing these frequent reviews, operators see that their input is being used to drive continuous improvement. They feel trusted. They feel engaged. They feel motivated to continuing to perform to the highest standards, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of the team. Quite simply, they won't see any reason to consider leaving, which of course has its own business benefits in terms of preventing high staff turnover and the associated costs of employee churn.
Furthermore, satisfaction and pride in their employment will inevitably lead to them vocalizing this outside of the workplace- to their familiy and friends, or to potential customers and even prospective employees.
Developing a coherent, lasting working relationship- from the upper management through to each individual contributor- will only service the company well in the future.
Good data in equals good data out
Of course, realizing this operational nirvana is dependent on the quality of the data and the system being used to capture it, and on how this system is integrated into day-to-day operations.
That means collaborating with a software partner that not only installs and implements the software, drawing upon years of experience of successful projects in the specific business vertical, but implements a system aligned to common manufacturing metrics. At the same time taking care to balance the organization's needs and its working culture, to ensure high awareness and engagement so employees can execute their roles in the most productive manner. Factory-floor employees are the ones who can identify the biggest, most frequent pain points that need resolving. Then, the solution can be tailored to match, and thus, built to make positive gains in the key areas.
A business might have a problem with a wasted product, a culture of costly overtime, or an issue with machines not being optimized to their full capacity. There are so many factors that impact operational efficiency that, if neglected, impact employee engagement. It may surprise you how quickly an effective manufacturing execution system will deliver a return on investment- not only in terms of efficiency gains and your company's bottom-line- but in the overall happiness of employees.
Having insight into manufacturing inefficiencies means businesses can be more agile in production and allows them to continue to meet production demands and growth targets in a structured, manageable way. A way that says to the employee, 'you are what makes this business work'- from the operators, to line managers, to data analysts. Once the stream of data flows into a sea of knowledge, the strategic decision makers will be better placed to identify historic trends, build analysis and make changes for the better.
Quality data and a quality system to capture it are the keys to driving a collective culture to never stop improving. Only by recognizing and acting upon employee input can the circle of engagement be complete.
Bringing Back the Human Factor to Manufacturing
In an age of increasing technological sophistication in manufacturing processes, its people are the most important and valuable resource a company possesses. The human element is what dictates true operational efficiency – that is, if it can be optimally integrated into a business’ production practices.
Uniting the people to the process
Having effective MES software is not just about trusting your staff to oversee the production processes; it is about empowering your staff with an MES that specifically spotlights their abilities and personal performance levels. This approach is known as ‘human MES’.
The Best Human MES
The best human MES solution gets operators involved from the start and makes it easy to use the system. Everyone understands the need for the system, and is in no doubt about “what’s in it for them”. Being a part of the MES solution removes any morale-sapping doubts that result from lack of transparency between factory floor and management. It also gives staff the personal satisfaction of knowing that their actions have made a sincere difference to the company.
The MES software itself should automatically:
More than Software
A human MES solution is designed to be more than just a software system. It encourages a holistic approach to refining the manufacturing processes. A human MES encourages communication and operational optimization based on the intelligence achieved through the integration of the human and the machine.