Monthly Archives: August 2015

For many industries, the skills gap is a troubling issue. Every year, more and more experienced workers retire, taking valuable expertise with them. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the harmful effects of high turnover at your organization.

The Continuous Improvement philosophy is especially beneficial in this area. Using this philosophy, you will work on continually improving your operations and as such, you will have to document all of your processes and train new staff. Through these activities, you will be able to transfer the knowledge of your skilled workers to the next generation helping to close the skills gap. It is important to remember that continuous improvement is not just a concept – it represents a willingness to question what you know and work on becoming better. Accordingly, here are five ways you can use continuous improvement to lessen the impact of the skills gap at your organization.

  1. Map processes and identify areas that are not well-documented
    The first thing you should do when working on a continuous improvement project is use process maps to get an accurate view of what your processes really are. You may find that some of your processes rely greatly on the knowledge and expertise of a few individuals. Those are the processes that are accomplished through tribal knowledge and require documentation and transference. Once you thoroughly map out all of your processes, you can begin to facilitate the necessary knowledge transfer, which is done with education and training. MindTools pointed out that continuous improvement requires an ongoing effort to look at processes and solutions from new perspectives. The way a certain activity has always been done may not be the right way going forward.

“To close the skills gap time should be spent developing new procedures and plan for training.”

  1. Turn tribal knowledge into actionable items
    Once you have identified what your processes ought to be, you also need to identify who your organizational influencers will be. These are the people you will spend time with developing new procedures and implementing training. The best way to do this is to make the experts a part of the initiative. In that way, no information or business activity will be overlooked. Your teams can then begin scheduling changes and educational sessions.
  2. Conduct regular training sessions
    At this point, you know what your new processes are and who you can rely on to carry the changes. Regular training programs can help to bypass the skills gap by ensuring that all your employees are given the tools and knowledge to do their jobs well in the future. If you want to make continuous improvement a part of your culture, training has to become an ongoing activity at your organization. Because your experts will be heavily involved in the training, the sessions are sure to be more effective than just having outsiders bombard staff with new information. According to MindTools, teamwork is essential for solving problems and strengthening operations.
  3. Eliminate unnecessary activities
    Continuous improvement is meant to help you improve your operations As such, the philosophy involves eliminating overproduction, improving quality, operating more efficiently, reducing idle time, and getting rid of unnecessary activities. As your operations become leaner, you will see the benefits in the form of cost savings and increased profitably. It is relevant to point out that money can always be reinvested in the business for expansion purposes, whether to take on new product lines or investment in more training and technology.
  1. Use software to streamline your processes and unite systems
    With new processes and regular training sessions taking place, the last piece of the puzzle is having a sophisticated and comprehensive management operating system. Using an MOS will allow you to keep track of KPIs, monitor the effectiveness of your processes, and maintain visibility on the plant floor. Additionally, all the improvements you do will be reflected in the system, as it will be the link between all your various IT assets and production lines. Having one centralized system allows you to manage your plant in a more streamlined and holistic way. All the efforts of your continuous improvement program will feed into your MOS and be accessible throughout your organization. The idea here is that what used to be tribal knowledge, localized to a few senior workers, is now documented, stored, and reflected in the technology that comprises your operational backbone. Passing it on to newer workers will help close the skills gap.

Skills Gap
Don’t let the skills gap affect your organization.

Make learning and growing a priority
It goes without saying that a big part of making continuous improvements has to do with learning. In reference to the skills gap issue, IndustryWeek pointed out that in an increasingly technology-reliant industry, the rate at which employees learn new skills and become technically proficient is advancing rapidly. Edward Hess, professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, explained that organizational leaders need to account for what they don’t know and continue learning in this sophisticated environment.

“Cognitively we all are naturally fast, lazy, reflexive thinkers who seek to confirm what we know,” said Hess, according to the news source. “It is important to learn how and when to make your thinking more intentional and deliberate. You must actively seek to develop your critical thinking and innovative thinking skills.”

The lesson that Hess points out is at the core of continuous improvement – education is key. Manufacturers that demonstrate an eagerness to improve their own skill sets will be able to circumvent many problems related to the skills gap. You can employ this approach and ensure that, not only will tribal knowledge be preserved in your organization, but you can build upon it as well.

The way that small manufacturers operate holds valuable lessons for the industry as a whole. Armed with quick and flexible production schedules, as well as strong quality control standards, small manufacturers are able to compete with larger companies in a sophisticated market. While small manufacturers don’t produce the same type or quantity of products as their larger peers, the way that they operate is indicative of a tight and efficient management style that adheres to the lean manufacturing philosophy. These niche facilities are able to steer clear of common problems such as overproduction, over-processing and product defects.

Small manufacturers make big moves
In the U.S., the manufacturing industry has evolved through many iterations. Today, according to Manufacturing Global, there is a growing number of small manufacturers, indicating that the outsourcing trend may be reversing slightly. In 2015, there were more than 270,000 small manufacturers across the country. Many of these facilities have less than 50 employees, however, these companies are also responsible for 60 percent of U.S. exports. Contributing approximately 12 percent to U.S. Gross Domestic Product, it is clear that these entities are doing something right.

Small manufacturers adhere to slightly different management philosophies than larger companies when it comes to production. These facilities are able to achieve product customization by maintaining fast and agile production schedules. Employing the same methods that a larger facility would for achieving more efficient changeovers, smaller manufacturers understand that planning and scheduling make a big difference on output and the bottom line. Manufacturing Global pointed out that small manufacturers keep production costs low by following made-to-order production plans. The benefits of this approach include lower inventory levels, no overstock situations, and quality production. Inherent in this type of operation is a strict adherence to following procedures and doing things by the book – something that sometimes larger facilities let slip.

It is important to point out that supply chain costs increase substantially when companies either do not follow standard operating procedures or do not have the best processes in place. Product defects, idle time, and bottlenecks can occur when standards are loose, and these situations are best avoided through careful planning and execution. Small manufacturers are able to avoid common manufacturing pitfalls because production is based on continuously meeting sales goals. Additionally, small manufacturers emphasize the necessity for rigorous quality control standards, which leads to fewer manufacturing defects.


more careful and diligent management style
According to IndustryWeek, the manufacturing industry is going through a business transformation. In response to shifting consumer expectations, global competition, and advances in technology, facilities are accelerating their production cycles to meet market demand. Similarly to small manufacturers, larger facilities must now exert greater control over the supply chain and adjust business models to meet customer expectations and keep the bottom line healthy.

When it comes to flexible production styles, quality control is key. Accordingly, if you want to make sure your organization is committed to quality, focus on these 3 points:

  1. Make quality a part of your culture
    Strong leadership is essential for achieving a culture of quality. Management cannot just give directions to plant staff, they must make quality management education a regular item on the agenda. Today, at many organizations, executives think of quality as a department, not a company wide priority. Since the majority of facility employees do not work in the quality department, the responsibility of fostering a culture of quality falls initially upon the executive management team. When each person in a facility acts like a stakeholder in the production process, defects and deficiencies are significantly reduced.
  2. Align your KPIs inline with your end goals
    At your facility, you should be able to monitor the success of any process at any point in time. Without effective organizational metrics, executives will not be able to track progress, set goals, or achieve results. Whether measuring costs, quality, or equipment effectiveness, having KPIs in the right places is paramount.
  3. Unite disparate systems
    Quite commonly, facilities manage disparate systems – likely as a result of sporadic technology investment throughout the years. The best way to address a lack of uniformity in plant equipment is to make sure you have an effective management operating system. With one central resource standardizing processes and reports across departments, you will be able to operate in a more streamlined manner. Using the right system, manufacturers are able to manage fractured manufacturing operations, mitigate nonconformances, and take corrective and preventative actions when necessary.

What makes small manufacturers able to accurately meet their budgeting goals is avoiding costly production mistakes. Larger facility operators should follow this example and make quality an integral part of processes, culture, training, and management.

Process maps can help you improve operations and add value to your organization.

In lean manufacturing, process maps are powerful tools that can help you understand what your current processes look like now, and what they should be. On continuous improvement projects they are essential. If you have embarked on the journey of making your facility more efficient, but are facing difficulty figuring out exactly where you need to make changes, you should consult with proven operations consultants who can use process maps to help identify your problem areas and eliminate them.

Process maps provide a realistic view of a production process
According to Six Sigma Material, that process maps involve the creation of detailed flow diagrams of processes, using color coded symbols. These maps provide a high-level view of what operations look like and how processes work with one another. The intention behind using process maps is to help you see your processes as they really are. This can be a very valuable learning experience for you, especially if you are ready to start making improvements.

“Consultants can help you identify automation opportunities, duplication, redundancy, delays, and idle time.”

Using process maps, operations consultants can help you identify automation opportunities, duplication, redundancy, poor decision-making, delays, and idle time. Addressing any one of these areas can raise efficiency at your plant, but addressing them all is a game changer. In lean manufacturing, this is known as waste elimination. Process maps are documents that should be updated and analyzed on a regular basis. The more detail they have, the easier it will be for you to have the best process and capture opportunities.

Enhance your value stream with process maps
According to Lean Manufacturing Tools, process maps can add value and reduce costs in an organization. They are one of the most important tools in a consultant’s kit. It is important to point out, however, that process maps are only helpful if you take action. It is essential to have a clearly defined goal to work toward. In this way, the analysis of your process map will be based on amending existing processes to get you to where you need to be.

A comprehensive process map captures your value stream – the processes that your product goes through, from raw material to customer delivery. In your value stream, a product goes through a series of steps that either add value or waste time. Done right, a process map will find those weak areas and allow you to improve them. All non-value adding steps and delays should be fixed and reflected in the next iteration of the process map. As previously mentioned, this involves taking action, which will necessitate educating and training plant staff – another area where manufacturing consultants shine.

Lean Manufacturing Tools also pointed out that depending on the purpose of the mapping, there are various tools that can be employed. Before mapping, you should know exactly what it is you are trying to achieve. Are you trying to fix an individual work cell or the whole supply chain. Value stream mapping, for example, will help you see your whole process, but it won’t provide enough detail to analyze a specific process.

Process Maps
Use process maps to improve your operations and add value to your organization.

A comprehensive view of a facility’s processes
Six Sigma Material explained that a successful process mapping exercise combines all types of diagrams and should show you your processes from a macro bird’s-eye view as well as on a granular level, but accomplishing this will require effort from your whole team. Additionally, improving your operations will involve educating everyone on what the processes are like and how they should be improved. Some improvements are self-evident, others need a little bit of extrapolation.

If you attempt to create process maps on your own and they don’t end up perfect, don’t worry. There are many software programs that can help you handle the complexity involved. These solutions can help you identify rework loops, communication issues, delays, and other issues. Additionally, you can create a brown paper process map, which combines many different mapping tools on a roll of paper that is often hung on a wall. You may be shocked to discover the number of steps involved in creating one of these, as well as the people and forms involved in a basic process. You may also find yourself wanting to dig deeper. However, if this seems difficult, you should probably consult with a manufacturing consulting firm with a proven track record in lean manufacturing techniques. Lean principles are all about improving your value stream by removing obstacles, delays, and other inefficiencies. In this area, getting outside help is a good idea so that you can successfully achieve your desired results.

Most companies are experts in their respective fields, but still struggle to make progress in their continuous improvement initiatives. This is why you should rely on the expertise of skilled consultants to help you determine and monitor the right key performance indicators (KPIs). Having the right KPIs helps you achieve your desired results.

Choose the right KPIs and monitor them
A big part of developing stronger management techniques is knowing which numbers to keep track of. Many executives base their managerial style on end results and forget that syncing current processes with end goals is the only way to achieve lasting success. If you find that your planned improvements are not materializing in the way you expected, you might want to focus on making KPIs more central to your management philosophy. Additionally, try to make sure that your KPIs are linked to actionable items. For example, when attempting to raise efficiency at your manufacturing plant, the right KPIs tell you where you are in relation to where you want to be. If faster changeovers is what you need, your areas for improvement should be clearly indicated in process documents. Accordingly, you can focus on maintenance, schedules, idle time, staging areas, or whatever issue is causing the delay in production.

Often, consulting engagements involve a process of re-education where clients are shown a better way to use their existing systems. Just because a particular company has skilled technicians and makes a good product does not mean they are operating at maximum potential. If you believe you have areas where you can improve, ask yourself these questions: Are you focusing on the right outputs? Do you interpret your reports correctly? Are you getting information from the plant floor with the necessary frequency?

“Integrate your technology systems and tools with existing processes.”

Technology is secondary to processes and training
You have sophisticated systems in your facilities. You might even think that the various projects you have planned, such as manufacturing line optimization, reliability centered maintenance, and installing smart sensors can get you closer toward your production goals. While that may be true, knowing how to use your technology well is of paramount importance. By bringing in outside perspectives, you can realize where your technology systems and tools may be out of sync with your operation processes. A new set of eyes can help you see how your technology systems and existing processes should work together, then assist you in teaching your staff on best practices related to the equipment. Automation alone will not solve your problem in the same way that having more workers does not necessarily mean more productivity.

Embedding your existing technology in processes and training, you will find that you can significantly bolster the bottom line. This type of management approach is also greatly aided by automated data capture and having a sophisticated management operating system. Armed with these tools, you can make lasting changes at your facility.

Train employees to become project stakeholders
One of the first things a good consultant should do at your site is identify key personnel that can carry the changes and promote new methodologies going forward. Keep in mind, training stakeholders on how to effectively use KPIs, integrate automated data capture, and document processes ensures that improvements continue to take place long after a project is officially over. You can also rely on these staff members when training new employees on best practices.

Some companies like to focus on the financial information, other companies lean toward engineering metrics and raw data. Either way, by putting certain individuals in charge of the KPIs that matter the most, you can make the continuous improvement methodology work for you.

Having the right KPIs lets you leverage all of your assets to work in unison.

Linking disparate systems together

It is not unusual for companies to have disparate systems, from different eras, located in one facility. If this is true for you, you may not need to replace your current equipment, but you do need to match outputs from the assets to achieve uniformity. An operations consultant can help you connect the outputs from different machinery for accurate KPI reporting. Also, if you rely on dozens of computer platforms to manage your assets, virtualization could be your next step toward efficiency.

Virtualization offers firms the opportunity to consolidate IT assets, reduce expenditure, and update applications from one central location. Perhaps plant equipment will remain the same, but the software and execution system you use to manage those assets can help unify them. This can greatly strengthen your IT capability.

As previously mentioned, addressing processes is an essential part of optimizing plant production. The more diligent and organized you are about updating your standard operating procedures, the easier it will be for you to achieve consistency in workflows and train staff on best practices. Today, technology is advancing faster than people are gaining skills and expertise. If inefficiencies continue to bother you, fix your current way of doing things. Then a new automated system can follow.