Continuous improvement is key to manufacturers' success
Manufacturers have invested heavily in new technology for the shop floor. But their back offices have largely been left untouched.
Let’s nerd out for a minute. Do you know where the term “software patch” comes from?
In the old days, users were literally required to cut and paste code to keep their computers updated. And I do mean literally.
Back then, computer instructions were written on tape and punch cards. So when software suppliers issued an update, they mailed updated tapes or cards to users. Recipients were provided instructions on where to cut out the old code and patch in (hence the name) the replacement.
As you can imagine, updates were a rare and time-consuming occurrence.
But as technology evolved, updates became more efficient and commonplace. These days, I can hardly pick up my laptop, phone, or tablet without being prompted to approve a bug fix or installation. And that’s on top of the many updates running automatically in the background.
So here’s my point: updates and improvements should be just as common in our organizations. But they aren’t...not even close.
Mid-sized and small-enterprise manufacturers are particularly lagging especially once you go beyond the shop floor.
When I walk into the offices of manufacturing companies, I often see green-screens and dot matrix printers. For you Millennial and Gen-Z readers, those are a slight improvement over the punch cards I described before. Oh, wait… I forgot. They aren’t reading this, because those generations are largely missing from the manufacturing sector.
Which brings me to my next point: the equipment isn’t the real problem. It’s our culture. Our people, our mindsets, and our processes have failed to keep up.
It’s like trying to run Office 365 on DOS. The system is going to crash. And if we don’t find a way to speed up our acceptance of change, so will our industry.
Manufacturing leaders could gain a lot by applying a modern software patch approach to drive change in their organizations. Here are 5 change management strategies manufacturers should steal from software providers.
Think in terms of bugs. Find the specific pain points in your organization. Even better, find the hardest problems your company faces. Tackle those first, before you look to optimize or enhance. Solving your team's problems and eliminating inefficiencies will lead to early wins. That momentum will drive adoption and fuel further innovation.
Don’t give people a choice. Software providers like to make it seem like you have a choice. But you know, sooner or later, they’re going to force you to update. Set a reasonable deadline for everyone to migrate to or implement your new system and stick to it. You can iron out wrinkles with ongoing bug fixes. If you try to perfect a process or wait for unanimous buy-in before go-live, you’ll never move beyond the planning stage.
Sell them on the benefits. Document and communicate how your changes will benefit the company and your team. Think about how mobile app developers outline fixes and improvements in their app store listing. Or how Google creates short tutorials demonstrating the ways new features make your life better or easier. Follow their lead. E-newsletters, company meetings, and instant messaging forums are great channels to highlight successes and benefits.
Make small changes constantly and continually. This one comes back to culture. Work with leaders at all levels of your company to build an environment where continuous improvement is expected and encouraged. Ask for feedback often, and implement ideas for small fixes and efficiencies right away when possible. Positively reinforce these type of gains by giving team members credit for their contributions. Over time, progress and innovation will become a habit.
Make big changes a monumental (and less frequent) event. The success of major operational overhauls depends upon thoughtful consideration and well-planned executions. Moving from a green-screen to a Cloud ERP system, for example, typically requires months of planning, significant monetary investments, the engagement of cross-functional teams, and ongoing user adoption training. To avoid creating change fatigue in your organization, undertake efforts of this magnitude occasionally — once or twice a year at most. And when you do launch a major initiative, take a page out of Apple’s playbook. Build excitement and tout the value of your innovations by treating major systems upgrades as a monumental event for the company.
A version of this article was originally published on IndustryWeek.