Process Improvement is the Key to Winning
February 2, 2021
My golf game is a lot like manufacturing. Here’s a story that explains why: My “household plant manager” and I hold regular budget meetings. In one of those meetings a while back, I had a specific goal: to push through a $500 golf appropriation. I was lucky that day – the plant manager approved my request.
Technology vs. Process Improvement
How I used the money was up to me. I could take 10 lessons from a local pro, swing at 10,000 practice balls on the driving range or invest in a new set of irons. While it was a good choice to have to make, it also was a tough one: Should I focus on improving my game or take the more exciting route and buy new clubs?
Like many golfers, I had my old, trusted set of clubs, perfectly functional but slightly out-of-date. If I were to purchase new ones, I surely would automatically feel like a better golfer. Plus, new clubs would be a lot more fun than the long-term investment of time required if I opted to hit thousands of practice balls or take private lessons.
This quandary is exactly the kind that many managers in manufacturing and metal-fabricating plants face as they struggle to improve their measurable performance. Like my golf allocation, funds usually are limited, so managers often must choose between investing in new technology or improving existing processes by using the tools at hand.
Should they lean toward shiny new technology or maintain a steady focus on process improvements? Which strategy is right? Can they be considered together?
Experience has taught me that the tools at hand, whether in my golf bag or in a metal-fabricating plant, often are not quite as substandard as originally thought. Even though it may not seem apparent at first glance, the greater gain usually comes from working on process improvement. Ask yourself: Who’s the golfer you want on your team? The one always angling for the trendy new club or the one spending the most time on the practice range? In a metal-fabricating plant, would you prefer the people on your team be those constantly asking for new equipment or those constantly looking for ways to improve plant processes and procedures?
A Winning Approach
Sure, tools occasionally need replacing or updating. Every golfer needs a sand wedge; if the string is unwinding from the hozzle of the golfer’s persimmon head driver, it needs to be repaired or replaced. But the tools are simply an entry fee to the tournament. To win, fabricators must work on perfecting their processes and procedures: training, streamlining, repeatability, waste elimination, problem-solving. It’s tempting to buy new technology – and sometimes it’s in the company’s best interest – but the real benefits come from discipline, dedication, hard work and sacrifice. The most successful fabricating shops will spend time on the equivalent of the golfer’s practice range and lessons.
Now, back to my $500 golf allowance. I did become the proud owner of a new set of irons – but not right away. Instead, I spent my plant manager’s allocation on some lessons, and I practiced and practiced. My efforts toward process improvement paid off. I was able to win some prize money on the local weekend tour. Then, I invested my winnings, or “profits,” in the new clubs I wanted.
Build profits from process improvement first, then invest in new technology – that’s a pretty good way to manage a manufacturing or metal-fabricating plant.
Authored by guest contributor John E. Boyer, Jr., President of J. E. Boyer Company, Inc., a management education and consulting company. Mr. Boyer works with company executive teams, boards, managers, and operational experts from all types of industries to achieve profitable growth and improved return on investment. Practice areas include One-Page Business Planning, Organizational Accountability, Budgeting, Performance Measurement, Sales and Operations Planning, Date Management, Inventory Engineering, RB-DDD Production, ERP System Setup and Use, 5S World Class Look-and-Feel, Factory Layout and Design, Setup Reduction, and Remanufacturing. For more information, visit www.jeboyer.com.