Assessing your manufacturing operations – from the customer perspective
A lot of consultants will audit your company and come up with a long list of opportunities for improvements, and if you follow their advice you will conceivably make your manufacturing operations very much more efficient. You might also end up with a white elephant. What matters most is to improve your performance in ways your customers think are important and which will influence their future purchasing decisions.
Typical of the sort of performance improvements your customers might want most are:
- Shorter lead times
- More reliable delivery services
- Improved design (e.g. packaging, features, appearance)
- Increased quality product/service (e.g. fewer defects on delivery, lifetime reliability)
- Enhanced after-sales support and service
- Reduced operating costs
- Lower initial price
Reviewing Manufacturing Operations
Your potential customers will select some of these as particularly crucial to their operations: the ones they most want to see improved. Once these have been identified, you can look at your own operations; firstly, to assess how badly or how well you are doing at the moment and, secondly, to assess how well your performance matches up against your competitors.
Assessing your strengths is useful and likely to offer easily identifiable factors. However, too much emphasis on perceived strengths, as opposed to addressing weaknesses, is a common error when attempting to define an organisation’s relative competitive advantage.
My advice is that weaknesses need to be focused on, because it is these that you will most need to concentrate on if you want potential customers to buy from you in the future.
For example, if your customers are more concerned with product cost, then any weaknesses you may have in your product design, or in your manufacturing or process engineering support, will be of high priority.
If your customer places high emphasis on reduced lead times and flexibility in respect of batch sizes (i.e. they want you to provide a ‘just-in-time’ service), then a
lack of cell manufacturing facilities would be a serious weakness, because these are usually an essential element of JIT (Just in Time) oriented manufacture.
From Assessment to Development
Once your review has been completed, you will have sufficient confidence about how to improve and develop your company’s manufacturing resources towards achieving its customer-orientated goals. In drawing up your plans you will need to cover all aspects of manufacturing, including:
- Product design
- Equipment and processes
- People (particularly training needs)
- Reducing rigidity, improving flexibility
- Make vs buy decisions
- Quality Performance
Assessing your operations does not stop with these details, though; you must also consider the state of your core competencies, and the attitudes of your workforce.
Focusing on core competencies
When reviewing all aspects of your manufacturing operation, the opportunity should be taken to consider what your core competencies are. First class practise is to concentrate manufacturing activities on core products and services. If you are not good at any or some of these at present, then something should be done about it. Likely actions may span from dropping those products or services; outsourcing them or improving your equipment or skills until you achieve the necessary competency.
Never Overlook Attitude
All too often overlooked is your people’s attitude, in particular their attitudes towards customers and to quality. Restructuring your manufacturing operations to be more in tune with customer expectations, will, in many cases, require a change in people’s attitude in both respects.
It’s worth employing outside consultants to carry out an attitude survey across your organisation to analyse how significant a problem this may be. Such a survey can provide a benchmark for the future in assessing how successful your attitude-changing initiatives have been.