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:
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.
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”.
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!
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.
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!
Written by: Paul Van Metre
Manufacturing is a team sport.
Successful shop owners often credit their success to having a team of great people. While that makes total sense, the people side of manufacturing continues to be a real struggle for most business owners. While most would agree that having the right people in the right seats is one of the keys to success, where do the right people come from in the first place?
I’ve written quite a lot about how manufacturers can stack the deck in their favor when it comes to building a cohesive team. If you haven’t read these prior blogs already, check out “Easing the Pain of New Employee Onboarding”, “Your Shop NEEDS a Better People Plan”, “How to Do a Better Job at Recruiting Employees”, and “5 Ways to Mitigate the Lack of Skilled Machinists”. These posts tackle the details of how to attract and set up new hires for success. The question which remains is this: how can you grow and nurture those employees over time to build and sustain a leadership team that is truly great?
Elevating employees over time.
As a business grows and changes, so do its staffing requirements. For most small shops, initial hires usually consist of skilled technicians who make contributions to the business through their knowledge and skill set. Sometimes those entry-level hires include folks who seem to be a culture fit, but lack experience and technical skills which need to be taught over time. With that basis, let's explore how employees can be developed over time by leveraging the 5 levels of elevation from “Entry Level Employee” through to “Manufacturing Leader”:
Level 1 - The Entry Level Employee: You hired this person because they’ve demonstrated good character and seem to align with your core values. You’ve hired based on culture fit and attitude over skills because you know how devastating a skilled-but-toxic employee can be to the organization. This employee executes on basic tasks while receiving specific technical instruction in order to become a competent technician.
Level 2 - The Competent Technician: Competency is essential but difficult to find. You’ve developed competency through specific and structured job training. This individual now makes productive contributions based on talent, skills, and good work habits. You’ve communicated to them that their personal economic success (wages) is directly linked to the value they contribute in the business.
Level 3 - The Contributing Technician: Competency paired with professional ambition leads to a contributing team member. Technical education along with some leadership development has moved this individual to leverage their capabilities toward the achievement of team objectives. As a result, they work effectively in a team environment and have become an invaluable resource, especially when focused on critical tasks.
Level 4 - The Capable Manager: Continued leadership development and coaching has nurtured management qualities in the team member, transforming them into a capable manager. Capable managers are needed to focus the output of contributing technicians in the right direction. A capable manager organizes team efforts and resources toward the effective completion of overall business goals defined by the Manufacturing Leader.
Level 5 - The Manufacturing Leader: This highest level in the system refers to those professionals who blend extreme personal humility with their ambitions to move the company forward no matter what. This would include detail-oriented operators and big-picture visionaries alike. These individuals are folks who develop, maintain, and execute on a clear and compelling vision that galvanized team members toward higher standards of performance and excellence.
Your requirement for staff at each of these levels will change over time. Your goal is to develop and elevate your team members over time so that the needs of the organization are met as various growth milestones are reached. When team members are nurtured and developed, they feel valued and trusted. Not only are the needs of the business met, but employee engagement and retention are increased. That’s a win-win.
Knowledge Transfer and Learning
Throwing a new hire onto the shop floor and hoping that they learn by osmosis isn’t an effective strategy for employee training. With a large percentage of the workforce retiring in the coming years, it’s critical now as ever to ensure that critical tribal knowledge is transferred to the next generation and documented for future reference. You need a plan for knowledge transfer and learning to ensure continuity as things change. When employees are elevated to take on additional responsibility, leadership must do what they can to equip them for success. This requires deliberate planning and decisive action.
What to look for
Investing in your employees can feel risky sometimes. Many of us have dealt with employees who seemed promising but didn’t stick around because they were offered $1/hr more at the shop down the road. Turnover can get expensive. That expense is magnified when you spend time and resources developing that individual. It’s frustrating to say the least.
You might not be able to eliminate turnover entirely, but you can de-risk hiring decisions by knowing what to look for in a person beyond their technical ability. Here are some qualities to look for and consider in a candidate:
They get it. Simply put: they have the skills, understand the business, and know what goes into running a successful job. They can step back and clearly see how their role ties in directly to the overall objectives of the business. Lots of people can carry out a specific task when instructed, but not everyone “gets it”.
They’re hungry for it. Beyond having a good work ethic, they desire to get work done. When this ability is nurtured and developed, it leads to long term success for the individual and the team they are a part of. These employees like their job, understand their role, and hold themselves to a high professional standard. They can get themselves across the finish line without extra prodding and poking from management.
They take ownership. Ask them about past failures and how they owned them. Good hires take responsibility for their own actions when things go south. More than this, they take the necessary steps to avoid making the same mistake twice. When mistakes are made, they learn from them and take the next right step forward. They don’t point the finger, shift blame, or gossip.
They’re humble. They put the needs of others and the organization ahead of their own ego. They don’t need extra attention and recognition for a job well done. They’re ready, willing, and motivated to help the team achieve collective success.
They’re able to do it. They have the mental, emotional, and physical bandwidth to excel in their role. Even if they don’t have all of the required technical skills, they’re able to learn and adapt as the needs of the organization change.
They’re smart. Simply put, they use common sense. Beyond the desirable technical skills, they know what needs to be done to move the business forward. They work well with other people and strive to bring about the best possible outcome. They choose their words and actions carefully to get the best out of the people they work with.
Identify and develop
If you’re thinking that these characteristics are hard to come by, you’d be right.. While it can be rare to see all of these qualities demonstrated in a candidate or existing employee, maybe you’ll notice two or three. Conversely, there’s nothing more expensive and frustrating than making a bad hire or putting up with a toxic employee. Regardless of technical skill level, you don’t want your best employees to leave because you placed the wrong person on the team. When you qualify candidates through criteria like this, you greatly increase your chances of long-term retention and success.
Everyone is different, and not every employee is destined to become a manufacturing leader. Manufacturing is a team sport, and a successful team needs players in all positions. It’s necessary for success. Acknowledging that, when you notice team members who naturally exhibit your core values and show leadership potential, you must seize the opportunity to elevate from within and develop the next wave of Manufacturing Leaders. Doing so is important for reasons beyond your business. The world needs great leaders.
How can ProShop help?
ProShop’s ability to define roles and responsibilities in your organization with specific training requirements makes elevating and upskilling your employees a breeze. Leveraging these features in ProShop increases the rate of learning. When newly promoted employees have access to needed information, they can build momentum quickly and contribute added value to the organization. Properly defined tasks, training, and procedures allow you to document tribal knowledge so that essential business information can be transferred to the next wave of successful manufacturing leaders.
Written by: Paul Van Metre
I continue to see a ton of chatter going on right now about the challenge of attracting qualified employees to come and work for manufacturing companies. While there still aren’t any miracle cures for that problem, I've previously written some blogs you might find helpful. Such as:
• "5 Ways to Mitigate the Lack of Skilled Machinists"
• "Attracting the Employees Everybody Wants"
• "Your Shop Needs a Better People Plan"
• "How to Do a Better Job at Recruiting Employees"
I won't deny that there's still much work to be done to address the shortage of skilled labor, build excitement about domestic manufacturing, and attract young people to the trade. That said, I'd like to talk about an aspect of this issue that doesn’t get as much airtime:
Setting up new hires to be effective and successful in their role
Finding qualified workers is important, but without a plan to help them prosper in their new role, chances are they'll move on from your company before too long. You'll have lost time, and money and be right back to posting that job ad on Indeed. As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so putting your best foot forward with a new hire is the first important task to having great employee retention.
If you've ever been a new employee that is under-equipped to succeed, you can likely relate well to the problem. The constant need to ask questions about your job can certainly influence your self-esteem. Everyone wants to be competent in their role and feel like they are contributing to the objectives of the team. As an employer or manager responsible for the onboarding process, you can likely relate to the pain of not having an effective onboarding plan in place. Throwing new hires onto the busy shop floor and expecting them to absorb the needed information by osmosis is not a winning strategy. Placing your new hires in the business of reading minds is neither effective nor kind.
Let's unpack this further:
It doesn't matter if it’s on the production floor or in shipping and receiving; successfully training and onboarding a new employee can be a difficult and long process if you allow it to be. As an employer, you want to see a return on investment for the wages that you are paying your team members. If you don't have an efficient onboarding process (or any process at all, for that matter), that return might not be realized for many months after bringing on a new hire, and the returns might be negligible at best.
This can feel frustrating for the whole team, especially when the shop floor is busy. The unnecessary friction can lead to costly mistakes. Those responsible for training that new employee might feel overwhelmed answering a multitude of questions, sometimes the same questions repeatedly, in addition to completing their regular daily work.
Let's stop here and make an important point: It's not the new hire's fault.
As the leader(s) of the organization, it's your responsibility to develop an efficient and effective onboarding process. New employees need ready access to the information and tools needed to do their job well. This is as true for new hires as it is for existing employees transitioning into new roles. Will an effective onboarding process eliminate all the challenges associated with onboarding? Probably not, but you'll surely stack the deck in your favor! (For the employee, too)
When implementing something new for the first time, it's best to start with the low-hanging fruit. Having your process written out in a standardized way is important to keep track of it and to improve it over time. You could create something as simple as a Google Doc, which contains links to various training videos and internal training documents. That process could be replicated for each unique position in the company, and every shop can do that! That said, we believe that ProShop users have a distinct advantage when it comes to developing a successful onboarding strategy.
How can ProShop help?
If you're already using ProShop as a centralized hub of information to efficiently run your shop, it only makes sense that your onboarding process lives there too. How? by leveraging ProShop's Part and Work Order functions like you do for any customer machined component. Existing ProShop customers such as Hill MFG, JJR Fabrication, and Focused on Machining have successfully developed an onboarding training process this way with great results!
By issuing a part number for employee training, you can define an order of operations that include all required aspects of the job training process. This could include materials such as:
• Workplace safety training
• Information about the org chart
• Internal training documents linked from ProShop's built-in company training manual
• Links to external training resources such as NIMS or NTMA-U
• YouTube videos that detail tasks such as trimming a vice or how to read measuring tools
• Titans of CNC machining tutorials
• Training related to ISO and other process compliance
There's really no limit. Using our multiple routings feature, you can customize the onboarding experience for each unique role. When you hire a new team member, create a ProShop user for them and issue them a training Work Order related to the responsibilities of their position with the relevant routing. Ask for feedback. Refine those training part numbers over time. Measure their effectiveness. Refine them some more.
By making these onboarding documents readily available, new hires can re-visit them as needed instead of having to ask a fellow team member. When they do ask questions that aren't covered in the onboarding material, that's an opportunity to add that information in for the next new hire, further strengthening the process.
This might take some time to set up on the front end, but remember, you're investing in a process that will pay dividends over time. By investing in a robust onboarding process, you'll not only reduce your own frustration and training costs, but you'll enable that new hire to be effective at their job in a shorter amount of time. Employees who feel like they are contributing to the organization in a meaningful way experience higher job satisfaction and tend to stick around longer. Everybody wins.
Remember, the pain of attracting new talent to your machine shop is greatly reduced when you can retain employees for a longer period of time. You can nurture those employees into more senior positions as other team members move on or retire. Yes, there's more to employee retention than an efficient and effective onboarding process. That said, helping new hires enjoy a sense of competency and some early wins will certainly go a long way to maintaining satisfaction in their role, as well as a hunger to advance within the company. A robust onboarding strategy is just one more tool in the toolbox of a proactive people plan to bolster the future success of your machine shop.
Written by: Paul Van Metre
What even is a zero prep audit? To me, it means you can welcome any auditor into your company any day. You feel confident about passing the audit with flying colors without any extra work to get ready. I believe every company should aspire to zero prep audits. But for many, it’s not even a concept that seems within reach. Audits, whether for AS9100, from customers, or any other standard you’ve been accredited to, are often a frantic scramble for days or weeks in advance, trying to get your normal day job done while catching up on internal audits, completing outstanding quality tasks, and general cleanup of documentation that hasn't been kept current and tidy during the preceding months. This is not only a very disruptive process for getting your regular work done, but more importantly, it underscores a weakness in the business systems that will be audited. When business processes and records are not kept up to date and maintained, that generates risk in the business. A risk that, at best, is a low-level liability and, at worst, can severely threaten the business.
And to be clear, I am not talking about the very first audits when you go to gain certification for the first time. Those are always going to be a bunch of work. There's no way to get around the fact that it takes many, many hours of hard work to become certified to any standard in the first place. The types of audits that I'm talking about are surveillance audits or recertification audits to any standard. The type that comes up every year during the normal course of business. This would also apply to customer audits where a customer visits your shop to determine if your company has what it takes to make it or be retained on their approved supplier list. Both of these types of audits should be zero prep work. You should be audit-ready all the time.
Let’s use ISO 9001 or AS9100 as our example. Most companies hold their QMS documentation in Word Documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PDF files stored within folders on their network. For many, they still exist in paper form in binders and filing cabinets. In either case, the necessary daily tasks of creating objective evidence of them doing the work they say they do to meet the standard is a very cumbersome process. This often means it doesn’t get done at all in real-time, hence the problem. Here are a few examples of daily tasks that often don’t happen on the schedule they are supposed to happen on:
• Performing thorough risk assessment and contract review for new orders
• Cleaning up and closing Non-Conformance Reports quickly
• Completing Corrective Actions in a timely manner
• Sending out Vendor Audits and report cards
• Documenting management meetings and following up on required actions
• Ensuring that all your vendor material certs are filed and linked to your jobs
• Cleaning up work orders to make sure that everyone has signed off on their respective sections
• Internal audits of the business and its processes
• Calibration of gages and instruments
Think about your own company and all those categories above. Do you do all those things in a timely manner? If you’re like most, then the answer is no. This means you aren’t audit ready today, and you can’t have a zero prep audit.
The most important aspect of all those things not being done on time is not the scramble you’re going to have to go through when the audit time comes. That’s no fun, but the real problem is the risk you’re exposing yourself to by not doing those things on time. Let’s go through a few examples from the list above.
1. Not doing risk assessments - You accept an order that has some requirements for DFARS material that you overlooked. You order any old material and get some that is not DFARS compliant. After you make the parts, they get rejected by your customer. You’ve lost a huge amount of money and trust with your client.
2. Not cleaning up NCRs - You have some NCRs on a critical job which, when analyzed more carefully, indicated a very unstable process that you didn’t catch. You sent bad parts to your customer that hadn’t been caught in your inspection process.
3. Late closing CARs - A long overdue CAR didn’t reveal a weakness in your incoming inspection process, which allowed several work orders to pass through with non-conforming products from an outside vendor resulting in thousands of dollars of scrap parts.
4. Not keeping up on management reviews - You haven’t performed your monthly management review in a while. Because you missed doing this in a timely manner, you didn’t notice that your KPI for on-time delivery for a large client had slid to an unacceptable level. They disqualified you as an approved supplier, meaning you’ve lost 30% of your total company revenue overnight.
Those scenarios may be exaggerated, but these types of things happen every day at shops all over the world. Major negative outcomes are possible when the company isn’t performing to the required standards. Any company with a certification like AS9100 must eventually keep on top of those things to maintain their certification. So why let it slide and put your company at risk? Most people would say that things are too busy to do all the work on time. But the reality is your company is strongest, with the least risk, and with the least amount of stress on the employees when you can stay audit ready all the time! There simply isn’t an excuse not to do it on time and always be audit-ready. If your systems are holding you back, then it’s time for an upgrade.
How can ProShop Help? We’ve heard repeatedly that ProShop can reduce the daily workload burden of the Quality Manager in a shop by around 50%. That means there is plenty of time to get the clerical work done efficiently (paperlessly!) and spend a lot more time on tactical quality activities - improving quality, improving business processes - reducing risk. The same is true with the rest of the team. When everyone is not dealing with paper and inefficient business processes, there is a lot more time to do everything right and focus on improving the process. Every day isn’t a firefight, with barely enough time to get late jobs out the door and customers barely satisfied with your company's performance. When you have the time to be more proactive, and stay on top of important items, the improvements in the business will compound and be a positive upward trend, leading to increased productivity, performance and profitability. These are just a few of the most important outcomes of being ready for a zero prep audit.