Written by: Paul Van Metre and David Vuyk

When’s the last time you saw a successful manufacturing leader who was always stressed out, overwhelmed, and confused about what to do next? You probably haven’t. Successful people don’t allow themselves to be confused. They choose clarity above all else. 

Manufacturing team members often balance a multitude of competing priorities. So much so that it feels nearly impossible to make meaningful progress on any one project. Feeling defeated by a lack of headway despite best efforts can certainly wear people down. Being pulled in several directions at one time has its limitations. One major limitation is a loss of focus and clarity.

Maximizing productivity in a manufacturing environment relies on the ability to focus on the right stuff. Focus can’t be achieved when you are being bombarded with new information or pulled in too many directions. This can be a tough cycle to break unless you have the right systems in place to manage it.

Unfortunately, while most of us can usually visualize the right path forward, it’s all too easy to become lost in a sea of distractions. Sometimes we might even choose to be distracted. But why? 

Human beings default toward self-preservation and the avoidance of conflict. Sometimes the next right step might involve something difficult or risky. Perhaps in taking the next step, we risk offending a colleague or creating conflict. Maybe we’re worried about what people might think about us if we do the right thing. Despite what wisdom we have, we either make a bad decision or no decision at all. Though, per the 1980 hit song by the band Rush: 

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice!” 

Sometimes the increased demand for our time and attention keeps us permanently distracted from moving forward on the important stuff.  Other times, we might choose distraction due to personal pride, avoidance of conflict, or fear of the physical and financial consequences.

Are you allowing yourself to operate in a fog? Allowing yourself to be distracted by the small stuff won’t move the business forward. Whether it's a hiring decision, a firing decision, a bold new initiative, or a new revenue goal, it all starts with taking the right first step. Have a disposition to take action. Doing so is a game changer. Progress is always met with resistance, and while I have no supporting evidence to prove it, I'm convinced that this is magnified in a machine shop environment more so than anywhere else. Here are some tips to keep you focused:

  1. Define your critical goals
    What are the top 3-5 critical objectives that will move the business forward? You might have 100 objectives. Distill them down to the top few. It’s really difficult and somewhat unlikely that you’ll stay focused on more than a few main goals. These goals should be realistic, time-bound, measurable, and specific.
  2. Break those goals down into milestones
    Make these goals easier for your team to digest by breaking them down into components or milestones. Share these goals with the team and show how each team member’s daily work correlates with achieving these goals. Talk about the goals and milestones in company meetings to keep the team engaged in what you are collectively achieving as an organization. 
  3. Regularly take a step back
    Leonardo da Vinci was quoted as saying: “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work, your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”

    Despite how hard it might be to make the time, set a recurring calendar meeting with yourself. Remove yourself from the manufacturing environment to get above the situation. Ask yourself tough questions like: 

    • Are we on track to achieve our main goals and objectives?
    • Am I playing to my strengths and delegating repetitive tasks?
    • What decisions or changes need to be made that I've been avoiding?
    • Do I need to make a critical hiring or firing decision?
    • What seems overly complicated right now? 
    • Could I be communicating more clearly with my team?
    • Do I have the right team members in the right seats?

    The answers to these questions aren’t always obvious until you take a step back.
  4. Consistently execute
    Execution is arguably what matters most. The value of setting goals is in achieving them, even partially. This requires effective leadership to keep the team aligned and focused. It also requires a unified team that shows up every day feeling motivated to make incremental progress in achieving those goals. It’s all too easy to allow short-term problems to derail your long-term plan. Staying aligned and on track requires discipline and professional will. Write your main objectives down. Post them on the wall to be reminded every day. Talk about them during your all-staff meetings. Gamify daily progress by celebrating the wins.  
  5. Implement a system for information transfer
    This fifth point will be the focus of the second installment of this 3-part series. The foundation of any system for business growth is an effective means of information transfer. Team members need to be equipped with the critical information needed to succeed in their roles. This applies to specific job training, access to documented SOP’s, customer requirements, and detailed work instructions. When information transfer is handled in a digital environment that is accessible by everyone, less time is wasted, and productivity is increased.   

How Does ProShop Help?
What could you accomplish in the next 3 months if you had less distractions and more focus? ProShop ERP allows you to define detailed processes, plan and execute on complex workflows, handle specific job training, and provides visibility on which tasks to work on next, eliminating confusion and distractions. Specific information placed at each step of the manufacturing process keeps jobs moving towards completion. Defining specific customer requirements such shipping and QC preferences and having that information flow automatically to each work order means that specific customer requirements are being met with each job. If you’d like to understand how ProShop can provide clarity on your most important goals, get in touch today! We’d love to hear from you.

Written by: Paul Van Metre

It probably goes without saying that the manufacturing world is a busy place. Facing each new day as a manufacturing professional requires courage to face the inevitable challenges. Try as you might to plan out your schedule. You’re somehow always derailed by some unforeseen situation that requires your attention. The unpredictability can get frustrating, to say the least. This can be especially true in a job shop environment. The endless cycle of putting out fires only for new ones to appear is exhausting. Be it missed details, customer demands, technical difficulties, or operator errors: an already busy day can flip to straight-out chaos in mere moments. To adapt to the chaos, you and your team have become expert firefighters and hip-shooters in an effort to keep the ship moving in the right direction. To your credit, your success rate isn’t terrible! It seems as though permanently operating in reactive mode is fairly effective, right? Wrong.

Some days just seem to go off the rails before you’ve even poured your first cup of coffee. I’ve had several of those days myself. It gets old, quick. The question is, how do you break the cycle of operating in reactive mode to effectively deal with shop floor pandemonium?  

Way too many jobs go off the rails, become late, or suffer significant losses, because of insufficient planning which results in details being missed, and those misses causing big problems. Flippant decision making, band-aid fixes, and shooting from the hip is not a scalable business practice. It costs too much time and money to operate that way, and it simply isn’t effective at dealing with the root cause of the problem. While certain aspects of running a manufacturing business are uncontrollable, there are things you can control to stack the deck in your favor for a successful outcome. Tough days, competing priorities, and customer demands will come, but when you plan for success, you’ll find that many problems can be eliminated.

In our shop, Pro CNC, one of our employees came up with the 6Ps. Whenever we had something go wrong because we missed something due to insufficient planning, we’d all joke about the 6Ps! I’d argue that the concept could be applied to most spheres of life with great success - like my teenagers. That said, let’s consider how Proper Planning can Prevent Piss-Poor Performance in your machine shop business.

The Concept:
A formal job planning process can go a long way toward reducing problems and achieving a successful outcome. It’s worth making the time to plan up front so that you can avoid all sorts of problems down the line. When small details are missed early-on, they can snowball into bigger problems further in the process. Flying by the seat of your pants often leads to wasted time and money. When the right people are involved in the planning process, you can greatly reduce the opportunity for costly errors. When you summarize and make critical information available to the people who need it most, jobs run more smoothly.  

Why it Matters:
Richard Branson was quoted as saying:

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

I’ve always loved the bold audacity of that statement, and I’d bet more than a few manufacturing entrepreneurs have followed Richard’s advice. I know I have. 

The truth is, this isn’t an uncommon scenario in the world of manufacturing! Shop owners are faced with new manufacturing challenges on a daily basis that require detailed planning in order to get it right. The “right way” isn’t always obvious. When you half-ass the job planning process, you experience poor business performance. If you’ve been winging it for some time, you’ve likely learned to live with the consequences and don’t even realize it. Beyond poor performance and inefficiency, missed details could result in scrap parts and missed deadlines that damage key customer relationships. Put simply, “winging it” is bad for business. Being constantly inundated with avoidable issues limits your ability to successfully run and grow the business. While it’d be naive to say that all problems can be avoided, you certainly can end the cycle of being a full-time “firefighter”.

The Challenge:
Many details go into achieving a successful job outcome - delivering good quality parts, on-time, and with healthy profit margin! Consider every part of the process that needs to be completed correctly. The PO needs to be reviewed and verified. Outside processing details need to be confirmed. Material and tooling need to be sourced. An inspection plan needs to be produced. Toolpaths must be generated. The machine needs to be set-up with the proper work-holding. All of that and often more before anyone even presses cycle start! Consider how many team members must work in harmony for that job to go smoothly. If a mistake is made upstream, how does that affect everyone else down the line? How does the financial impact of that mistake compound with every step that follows? Every step is an opportunity for error, thus the need to get the right people involved to craft a plan that is detailed and precise at the beginning of the job.  I’ve always said that machine shops are the hardest business in the world to run, and this is a prime example of that. Virtually all the stars need to align to get it all right.  But more careful planning and help ensure those stars align a lot more often!

The Benefit:
How much money are you losing due to inadequate planning and preparation? How often is your progress halted because your shop floor staff don’t have the tools or material to complete the job? Waiting on needed information, tools, and materials results in waste. When waste is eliminated by properly planning for the job, you’ll notice the results: Less waste, reduced frustration, costs go down, throughput goes up, and the bottom line improves.  

Where to Start:
You may already have a robust and effective planning process in place, in which case I congratulate you! If you don’t, here are some things to consider.

  1. Perform a contract review process to ensure that the details of each customer order are correct relative to what was quoted. This includes double checking that the part revision, part number, quantities, ship dates, ship address, and terms are correct.  Ensuring any “off drawing” knowledge from sales or estimating is captured properly.
  2. Develop a planning process for production. Get the right people into the room and define a production plan. This might include a project manager, lead machinist, and programmer. Determine which machines will be used and how many machining operations there will be, what will be inspected when, with what inspection equipment. Define the tooling and work holding requirements. Figuring out these details as a group may bring to light any risks or pitfalls that need to be avoided. 
  3. Review and verify material choice, commercial items, outside processing requirements, regulatory requirements, and packaging requirements. Document those in a way that they can’t get lost later, and will be seen by the people at each stage of the work order. Work with your procurement team to make sure that all items will arrive on time, and that long lead items are ordered in advance. 

How Does ProShop Help?
ProShop was designed to incorporate a range of planning tools to make each job successful. Contract review processes are incorporated into the Purchase Order module to ensure that all purchasing information is verified. The War Room Planning task in the quality manual was developed on the shop floor and provides a defined planning process to ensure that all pertinent job details are discussed, reviewed, and accounted for in advance. New work orders include configurable pre-processing checklists to ensure planners, programmers, set-up technicians, and operators do their part to plan for a successful outcome.    

When repeatable processes are defined and adhered to by team members, you minimize the opportunity for errors and increase the productivity of your machine shop. That flows to the bottom line! In fact, the most common improvement that clients tell us about, is their 25%+ increase in throughput without any additional machines or people!  Your bank account will be happy about that! Want to learn more about how ProShop can help you plan for success? Get in touch, we’d love to speak with you! 

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