Avoid These 5 Pitfalls in Manufacturing Change
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What happens to new product ideas at your company? I ask because nearly every project that we start comes to us as a new idea from our manufacturing customers. Manufacturers are looking for ways to improve their products and processes. We begin with a review in what we call the “feasibility consultation”. If the review shows that friction welding would be viable, then customers usually proceed with a Request for Quote (RFQ).
Do you bring suppliers into your process with an RFQ? That is a traditional approach, and it works well with many commodity products. In our case, with a unique process, we find that quoting is not an effective starting point. Many ideas die with the quote. Seeing this pattern led us to examine the causes. We compared “failures to launch” to those successfully launching a new product idea.
Research showed that many quotes are requested by one person with a great idea. However, ideas founder on these recurring pitfalls:
- Lack of Organizational Support
- Lack of Focus within a stated timeframe
- Fear of Changing Traditional Processes
- Team Member Trump Cards
- Customer Confusion
On the other hand, ideas that moved forward into successful projects avoided a majority of these five pitfalls. Building organizational support is the essential factor that cannot be skipped in making a successful start.
If you bring an RFQ to us, we will ask you for names of other team members who are involved in a project. If there are none, this is a big sign. It is a big sign that we should ask you for an opportunity to coach for success based on our past experience. First, we are ready to listen and will take good notes to understand the operations at your company. If it makes sense to proceed, our coaching will cover the basics of preventing the five pitfalls.
This will be critical to your project. Who is on your team? Who holds authority for approval? Think about enrolling those leaders with authority early in the process. Ask:
- What would happen if the problem goes unsolved?
- Is management open to new suggestions?
- Will they support your effort to introduce a solution?
- What is the process for evaluating a solution?
Would it make a difference to your efforts if management supported the enrollment of cross-discipline team members in your project? Who are the critical players? Manufacturing Engineers, Design Engineers, Supplier Development Managers, Purchasing Managers, Quality Assurance Managers, and Marketing Managers come to mind. Tailor this list to fit your operations.
Focusing on a Timeframe
Time limits will make a huge difference in your effectiveness. Publish a timeline. What if you obtain commitment to the timeline from team members and supply partners? Include a “Go or No-Go” date, and hold participants accountable for meeting their responsibilities on schedule.
You can build confidence with logical proof. Would it help your cause to gather case studies of similar problems already solved? Can you order material coupons or prototypes for testing? Demonstrate your findings to the team, and agree on next steps. Are adjustments necessary, or have you reached a production-ready solution? Communicate those next steps to your company team and supply partners. Making change takes courage.
Stop Trump Cards
Every team member has a trump card they like to throw down if a project is not making sense to them. Prevent this disruptive play by illustrating the consequences of not changing. Can you speak to the concerns of each discipline? We have heard resistance along these lines:
- Manufacturing: Cannot afford to shut down the production line to implement a new assembly process.
- Design: Does not have staff and time to evaluate this change in this part to see how the finished good is affected.
- Purchasing: Has already issued contracts for materials and parts that meet all of the management’s cost models and profit goals.
- Quality Management: Does not have criteria for testing this new process.
Alleviate Customer Confusion
In many OEM environments, customers make significant capital investments in equipment. News that last year’s model is now found lacking might cause disappointment. Can you communicate and demonstrate the value of improvements? Reaffirm your credentials as a “Continuous Improvement” company working to raise quality, efficiency, and reliability. Consider upgrade incentives to support product loyalty, and share news of improvements with the market to attract new customers looking for innovation.
If you are willing to prepare, your likelihood of success will improve by:
- Organizing Support
- Focusing on a Timeline
- Alleviating Fear
- Eliminating “Trump Cards”
- Avoiding Customer Confusion
Good luck with your projects, and we would love to hear about your experiences.