By: Paul Van Metre

In a recent blog post, I wrote about what to do when you have rejected parts from a customer. From the customer's perspective, it’s all in the response and how you handle the situation and provide them with confidence that it won’t happen again. Internally, this is just as important. If you’re quick to assign blame and point fingers to an individual when a failure happens, then you’re missing out on an amazing opportunity to build up your team, rather than tearing them down. Whether a failure gets to the customer or not, the learning opportunity is the same, it’s the process that needs improving and is the only way that long-term improvement will take place! That responsibility for process improvement lands squarely on the shoulders of the leadership of the company. The buck stops at the top always!

Process Failures

With relatively few exceptions, employees are there at work to do a great job and try their best every day. To achieve those great results, employees should be following the company processes and systems that have been put in place to ensure the results are as repeatable as possible. If the results are not good enough, then one of the following might be the problem.

Process Failure Example

Let’s use the example of preparing all the quality documentation for a shipment. Many clients need a formal FAI like an AS9102 report, any-and-all related certifications that have come with materials and special processes, and possibly a balloon-tagged copy of the drawing. If a client receives a shipment without all the necessary paperwork, then it’s likely because the employee who prepared the document package either wasn’t certain exactly what paperwork was required by this specific client, or when they went to gather the documentation, it wasn’t readily available. In either case, it’s the process that needs to be made more robust, or better training is needed (which is also a failure in the process). Lack of clarity in what an employee needs to do is a failure of the systems of the organization - in this case, possibly the employee didn’t know what paperwork to send. When there is abundant clarity but the result is still not up to standard, then that is the failure of the system as well - in this case, possibly the employee knew what paperwork to send but it wasn’t available to them.

Tribal Knowledge Failures

Most companies are rife with tribal knowledge. This is information that is necessary for managing the company, the jobs, client requirements, and more that is not captured in a systematic and scalable manner. The fact that this information resides in people’s heads, sticky notes, personal documents or spreadsheets, will lead to certain failures on a frequent and ongoing basis. How often have you had failures because an employee is covering for someone on vacation or sick leave? If you’re like most shops, it happens all the time. These failures of tribal knowledge could fall under all 3 of the categories above. Often these failures can be attributed to bad tools, like software, which aren’t well suited to the task at hand and lack features to be able to capture all the relevant information and share it with the right people at the right time. If you research a recent failure in your company and get to the root cause, it will often lead to discovering that the software and systems you’re using lack the ability to properly handle your needs.

Summary

Remember that most employees care deeply about doing a great job. They try their best given the tools, processes, and systems they’ve been offered by the company. They don’t intend to make mistakes or cause failures. So when they inevitably do happen, take a deep breath, talk through the details and be curious about getting to the root cause of the system or process failure. Doing this with grace, understanding, humility, and kindness will ensure that you can turn those mistakes into stronger connections with your team, and improvements in the process. That’s a formula for long-term success!

How Can ProShop Help?

Most manufacturers who use an ERP system, are using one with a strong foundation in accounting, but that often lacks the features and capabilities to successfully manage the manufacturing process well enough. If the system relies on paper travelers, that alone is a prime indication that it’ll be insufficient to manage all the requirements that can result in failures of the process with quality, customer flowdowns, inspection requirements, etc. In the example above with the AS9102 report, all the proper documentation requirements are configured at the customer profile in ProShop, and then automatically flowed down to all client work orders. So preparing a perfect document package is as simple as clicking a single button and every relevant FAI (for multi-level BOMs), all certs, a copy of the balloon tagged drawing, and a perfectly formatted Certificate of Conformance will be generated automatically. This is just one example of how we develop rock-solid workflows and processes that dramatically reduce the chance of failures in the process.

When a shop is fully implemented with ProShop, the typical stressful rush of reactive fire-fighting which often leads to mistakes is replaced with calm, stress-free, proactive workflows, with all the important details and information at everyone’s fingertips. If that sounds appealing to you, book a demo with our team today!

By: ProShop Team Memeber

If a company is still thinking of the people who make the wheels turn in the institution as a resource, then it is no surprise that most times you end up with lukewarm water. Certainly, people are a resource of sorts, they make the decisions, complete tasks, and pour their creativity and expertise into your organization. Unfortunately, when a company only sees people as a resource like inventory, this removes the human ingenuity element from the equation and leads an institution into the murky and tepid waters of a swamp infested with pests. People are not just resources, they bring resources, they are complex beings that have a myriad of unique potentials which benefit those they work for across many situations. Limiting the scope of organizational perception to humans as a resource results all too often in a predicament similar to trying to herd cats. Those employees you want flit, dodge, and evade capture, while the ones you could take, or leave are all too happy to fill your halls and advance themselves ultimately leading to a lack of genius and creative spark necessary for the growth of your organization. If a company wants to attract the best talent, then consider pitching resources as a theme and adding culture to your vernacular. 

No employee ever said, “I want to work for ABC Company because Human Resources hands out apples on Fridays!”

There are three simple (but at the same time subtle) things that every human being, from the simplest to the most complex, needs to fulfill their own psychological needs. When these three concepts are found a person is balanced, determined, and motivated. Imagine a culture where all the talented individuals no matter how simple their task had a powerhouse of well-being and stability in their lives. The successful possibilities are endless. A company that wants to be successful must have human beings full of these three things to build teams that reach their highest potential together.

Richard Ryan and Edward Deci brought to the table the concept of Self-Determination Theory. In their research across global populations, they have uncovered the three absolute needs of every person required for those persons to be the most productive self-propelled individuals to grace a company. A human being who feels connected, competent, and autonomous has the ingredients to build a culture and a world well there is no limit to the potentials that can be discovered. They have psychological well-being (Ryan & Deci 2006).

An employee who cannot find psychological health is not productive, has limited vision, lacks creativity, and will stagnate. Organizations who can look at their own mission statements with an eye for humanity, and honestly analyze the culture they present to the potential recruits have a chance of incorporating these concepts into their overall vision which will spill over into the mass of humanity attracting the best applicants.  A company cannot shift the perception of job seekers until they shift their own perception about themselves as an organization. 

The more authentic the people of the company are the more attractive the company will be to those with similar mindsets. The US Department of Labor reports that companies are describing a lack of soft skills in potential employees. It is the astute business that also realizes the culture they promote becomes the soft skills of the organization itself and with this knowledge can create a fertile field for recruitment, or the company can return to how they have always done it and produce that tepid swamp of human resources. 

Reference: (2006, 2021), Ryan R. & Deci E. Center for Self-Determination Theory. Retrieved 25 July 2021 from, https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory/ 

By: Paul Van Metre

Your company tries SO hard to make everything perfect, but occasionally, something slips through the cracks, and you send some parts to a customer that get rejected.  It’s not a fun situation, and it can be like a gut punch, depending on how expensive the mistake is.  How you handle it from the customer’s perspective can make all the difference and even potentially turn a bad situation into a positive experience.  Customers know that mistakes will happen, but how a vendor responds to them can put your relationship on the chopping block, or solidify your position in the partner category.

  1. Immediately apologize! - A heartfelt and unconditional apology is the first step. Let them know you take it seriously, you understand it impacts their business, you’ll figure out what happened, and you’ll make it right as fast as possible. The first response can tell volumes about your commitment to client satisfaction. Then provide them with an RMA (Return Material Authorization) number to track the parts back.  And offer to pay the shipping costs if they don’t request it.
  2. Ask for more information - Ask what kind of recovery they need.  What specifically is wrong with the parts? How did they inspect or catch the mistake? Ask for photos of the pats, their receiving inspection report, or any other information they can provide. Ask what they would like to have done. Maybe the parts can be reworked, or a partial delivery will suffice. When are they needed? The more information you have the better you can respond to their needs. Lastly, ask them about their requested accounting. Do they want a credit and re-bill, or no credit and no re-bill or something else?
  3. Research - Even before getting the parts back, you can dig into the details of what happened in your shop.  Start with seeing if you have any inventory or overruns from that specific work order. You’ll need to purge any bad inventory anyway, and it can give you immediate insight into the problem. If you don’t have extras, pull up the model and drawing that were used to program and inspect the parts. Look at the work order records to see who set up the job, who made the parts, who inspected the parts, etc..  Look at the inspection records of the FAI and in-process inspection results. Look at the calibration records of the instruments you inspected.  These are all possible keys to understanding the issue. By digging into your records, you’ll likely figure out what went wrong and what you need to do to fix the issue right away.  
  4. Confirm The Details - When the parts get back into your hands, you should carefully look over them to make sure you agree with your customer’s assessment of the problem.  Sometimes the parts are perfectly fine, but their inspection method wasn’t correct or is just different from yours.  This can be a tricky situation, but with clear communication with your client, you should be able to work through it. (ProShop Tip: Look over the machining marks or other visual indicators of manufacturing the process very carefully. At our shop, we occasionally had clients try to reject parts that we didn’t make! We could tell by the machine marks that they were not from our shop.  Then you have a really touchy situation because you may need to call out your client for having bad traceability at the best, and pulling one over on you at the worst.)
  5. .Execute Your Plan - Assuming that the parts are yours, and are indeed bad you need to respond quickly. Based on the prior steps you may have already ordered new raw materials by now and your plan is well underway.  If you haven’t kicked the plan into gear already, do so now and provide them with a detailed status of what is happening and when you can get them good parts back. Depending on the severity of the schedule impact to your customer, you may need to pay overtime to get it through the shop faster, to expedite the job for outside processes. Let your client know what you’re doing to recover and when they will get the parts back.  Provide ample communication and status updates - it will help them be informed to make decisions on their end and bolster their confidence in your recovery.
  6. Learn From Your Mistakes  - When the immediate rush is over, take the time to understand what went wrong and what you can do to eliminate the chance of that problem happening again in the future. Provide your client with a CAR (Corrective Action Request) plan, even if they didn’t request one of you formally.  Just like the importance of the first initial apology, this last step can help them to feel confident in continuing to work with you as a supplier.

By responding to a mistake positively, it’s possible to take a negative situation and squeeze some good out of it. The key is owning the mistake and doing whatever it takes to make it right and letting your customer know what you’re doing at every step.  If a customer doesn't appreciate it then they probably aren’t a great long-term customer for you. Those that do are going to be good clients in the long run.

How Can ProShop Help?

ProShop has countless tools to help you solve the problem in the first place and dramatically reduce the chance of a problem happening in the first place.  From our solid and tight document control and automated archiving of old prints to our customizable checklists to ensure you never miss a step, or to our integrated inspection capabilities so you can ensure your parts are perfectly intolerance, and to our built-in calibration tracking, and so much more!

If you still do have a rejection from the client, with 1 click you can issue an RMA from a WO which instantly pulls all the metadata from the job, ties it to all pertinent records (client, PO number, Part Number, and name, WO number, revision, etc. and allows a highly efficient and auditable process of documenting the NCR, any Corrective Actions needed, dispositions, cause codes, improvement suggestions and much more. Without printing a single piece of paper too! Watch our video on going paperless!!

You can then just as easily issue a new work order, rework orders, see where it fits in the schedule and immediately give you client status on your recovery actions.  Then at the end, you can email them a copy of the Corrective Action so that they can see you are serious about your improvement activities! There has never been a more efficient and cost-effective way to manage quality. The average client that has a quality manager says they save on average, about 50% of the quality manager's time! The time that can be better spent on improvement activities and eliminating scrap from happening in the first place. We can’t think of a better way to spend your QA time than that!

By: Paul Van Metre

You have a new shop with less than 10 people, (or perhaps you have a 20+-year-old shop) so why would you possibly need an org chart?!? Isn’t that something that big companies use for middle managers to fiddle with to pass the time? I once thought the same thing as you, but as I got “schooled” about why my shop wasn’t growing as fast as I wanted, my eyes were opened to the error of my ways. The reality is that only 45% of companies survive past 5 years, and 72% of companies have fewer than 10 employees. This is because companies past their toddler and adolescent years have learned important lessons to grow past those inflection points and the different things that are needed to break through different levels of growth. What will get you to 15 people is vastly different than what will get you through 50 employees and higher.

The Technician Dilemma

Most small businesses are started by people who are experts in their craft, with great technical skills for doing the job. I know countless machine shops that are started by someone who is a very good programmer/machinist with the guts and gumption to start their own shop. I also know countless shop owners who have been in business for 20+ years and still employ less than 10 or 20 people, despite their best efforts to grow (by the way, there is NOTHING wrong with running a small shop if that’s what the shop owner wants. A small, lifestyle business can be a beautiful thing.) The common theme with these shops with dreams for growth is that the owner is really good at the technical aspects of running their shops, but has little to no experience or schooling in running a business. It's no fault, just lack of prior experience.

Plan Your Future Growth

One of the keys to growing a larger and more scalable business is envisioning and systematically planning for what the company will look like in its larger form. Do you want to have a 50 person shop? Great, then you need to design what that 50 person shop will look like, and how it will operate to ensure repeatable, consistent performance in meeting and exceeding client expectations. Who will be responsible for what? What are the metrics for good performance? What are the closed-loop improvement systems to ensure continuously improving client satisfaction? This is where the org chart comes in.

When you’re a shop of just a handful of people, and everyone wears many different hats, things more or less get done, and most (hopefully) jobs get to where they need to go on time with good quality. When you’re 50 people, the same structure won’t cut it and things will start to significantly break down. More defined structures, responsibilities, and systems are necessary to ensure performance.

Built The Systems for Growth

When a future state org chart is created, it becomes more feasible to define each and every role, the required skills, the duties, and responsibilities, keeping in mind what systems should underpin the entire operation. Just like a well-run franchise like McDonald’s or Starbucks??, the key to client satisfaction is providing repeatable, consistent client experiences. Without systems to ensure this continues to happen while the company grows, client experience will always suffer, clients will leave, and growth will stagnate. When a well defined org chart is created along with all the corresponding roles and responsibilities, and it helps to structure the hiring, training, and promotion of employees in the company, that consistent client experience will not be elusive and the natural result will be the growth of the company.

Work ON Your Business

This is easier said than done. Getting out of the daily scramble of urgent client demands and working on building the systems of the business is no easy task. Even on a small scale, the delegation of responsibilities and tasks is key to finding a few precious minutes per day to work ON the business, not just IN the business. One easy step I can recommend is to read the book “The E-Myth Revisited'' by Michael Gerber. It’s an easy read in a novel format about how to design a business with the systems and principles needed to allow a business to grow. It helped us shape our shop and the principles helped us grow to 75+ people before we sold it. A next step could include blocking out time in your day to spend working ON the business. Even just a couple of hours a week of dedicated time can help you make great headway on your business goals.

How Can ProShop Help?

First of all, ProShop will dramatically reduce the time you spend on clerical tasks and keep things from falling through the cracks - causing everyday chaos in your business. So you’ll have more time to work ON your business while your head is clear, knowing that things on the shop floor are taken care of and running smoothly.

Second, ProShop has all the features and modules for you to define all those roles in the company, build the org chart as it looks today, and what you want it to look like in the future so you can envision what this looks like.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="6832" img_size="full" alignment="center"][vc_column_text]You can also then define all the training requirements for an employee to be considered fully trained in each role so that when you hire employees, the onboarding process is easy and clearly laid out. This provides a roadmap for what roles you’ll hire in the future, and how the duties and responsibilities will be divided up. It also provides a path to advancement for employees who are go-getters!

Summary

Running a precision job shop is one of the most difficult jobs in the world! But it’s also one of the most important! Precision manufacturing is at the foundation of the entire economy and has the highest multiplier effect of other jobs in the economy. It’s essential to allow those shops to grow to the size that the owners want them to grow to. Planning out what the future of your business looks like is an essential part of that growth. Envisioning what your Org Chart will look like is a key part of achieving those future state goals.

By: Paul Van Metre

The topic of time tracking in job shops is a sensitive one in many shops. Machinists and others sometimes feel that time tracking is nothing more than “big brother” watching them, looking for mistakes, or ways to get them to work harder. Trying to get these shops to adopt time tracking seems like a daunting task, with a lot of pushback from employees who insist they won’t track their time. These employees have some power because it’s hard to replace a well-experienced machinist these days. As we described in a previous article, there is a significant lack of skilled machinists in the trade, so shop owners are reluctant to do something that upsets their employees. Also, in many shops, there is a precedent of time tracking being misused for the wrong reasons during a failed past attempt, and employees being rightfully reluctant to track time again. I’ve even heard from shop owners that they don’t want their employees taking the time out of their day to track time. They feel that tracking time isn’t worth the time to do it, and they’d rather have their employees spending 100% of their time “making parts” rather than spend even a few minutes per day to track their time.

In other shops, they’ve solved this problem, and employees willingly track time. Shop owners have used the right approach to get employees to understand the importance of doing so, and the owners themselves use the time tracking data effectively to help improve the company to the benefit of everyone in the organization.

The fact is that time tracking is one of the most important activities that shop employees can participate in. The old saying “you can’t improve something that you don’t measure” is highly applicable in this situation. Without good data on how long different jobs and activities are taking, it’s nearly impossible for shop managers to do their jobs well, which creates a dynamic where both parties rely on each other to do their jobs to the best of their abilities which only helps the shop improve.

Time tracking is essential for the following activities:

  1. Scheduling - Scheduling of jobs is one of the most important challenging activities a shop must be good at to have a high on-time delivery rating. Time tracking is essential to accurate scheduling. Scheduling for new work orders is based on the estimated time to set up, inspect and run production on the various work centers needed to make those parts. As the job moves through the facility, it’s important to know how much time has been spent and how much is remaining based on the best estimate available. This is only possible with all employees tracking time so the schedule can be as up-to-date and accurate as possible. This data is also used to make bigger decisions about hiring, buying machines, etc.
  2. Estimating - Even the very best machine shop estimator, or estimating software is never 100% accurate. The process of improving the accuracy of estimating over time is contingent on having employees track the real-time it took to do those jobs, and that data is fed back into the system to improve the estimating accuracy for the next time the job is run or the next similar part that needs to be estimated. Anything more than a gut feel will require time tracking data collection from the employees who worked on those jobs. Even better would be noted to describe what happened during those labor hours and why work orders took longer than expected. Having accurate estimates that the shop employees trust is absolutely essential to the success of any job shop.
  3. Job Costing - At the end of the day, fewer things are more important than accurate job costing. The number of shops that have no idea how profitable or unprofitable individual jobs are is astounding to me. Since labor is typically the largest cost in any job shop, accurately calculating the cost of labor hours is highly important to achieving accurate job costing. Accurate job costing allows shop management to make smarter decisions such as what to do with jobs that are unprofitable, either increasing the price, working on improving the job, or getting rid of the job. At our shop we called this process “kill the losers”, and in any shop floor, a well-managed job tracking process to improve or get rid of bad jobs will result in a profound improvement in overall profitability which should benefit everyone.
  4. Employee Evaluation - This is one of the reasons that employees are reluctant to track time. Good employees shouldn’t be afraid of this, and in fact, they should welcome it, because the good employees have nothing to worry about, as they specifically will benefit from a good time tracking system. It’s the bad employees who will eventually be weeded out when a thorough time tracking system is put in place. When the employees who care about the company's success are left, it creates a more positive culture that benefits everyone.

Tips to Getting Buy-In on Time Tracking

If your shop employees are reluctant to time tracking, here are a few tips to get them on board with the idea:

  1. Explain the reasons why time tracking is important. It’s not because you want to monitor their every move, it’s because of all the reasons above. It’s critical for the success of your company. If they care about the company, they should understand this. It will also be good for the employees when their formal evaluations and considerations for raises come up.
  2. Offer a cash bonus. For a couple of months offer some cash or a prize to the employee who does the most time tracking. It doesn't need to be a big amount, just something to get their competitive juices going, and something they can look forward to. Then give a smaller amount to everyone who participates as well as the winner.
  3. Pizza party for a company goal. Set a goal for total time tracking for the company and offer to bring in lunch for the whole team. Start low, maybe 60%, and then increase it 10% over time. Once you’re at 90+% and you’ve provided 4-5 free meals to people, there will be a more positive attitude about time tracking. And you’ll have amazing data to help the company.
  4. Say "thank you". When you see an employee doing a good job at tracking time, a genuine 'thank you' and a pat on the back will go a long way. Also, make a point of thanking them publicly as well at company meetings and events.

One last important point is that it’s crucial that shop management doesn’t misuse the time tracking data to beat employees up or make them feel like the data is being used against them. Nothing will torpedo this important initiative faster than misusing the data and not bringing an empathic understanding to analyzing and discussing the data with the team. When time tracking and the data it provides are used constructively, and those positive improvements are shared with employees, the natural result will be a virtuous upward cycle that benefits all the stakeholders in the shop.

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