Keys to Plant Management Success

January 1, 2011
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To succeed in today’s environment, it is no longer desirable to have a world class operation focused on providing a “value add” while maximizing resources; it is a requirement. Today’s global business climate is becoming more competitive. It is tough to stand out in the crowd, and it is increasingly difficult to squeeze out an operating profit. Clearly, the trend has been to move operations to lower cost countries such as Mexico and China where there are lower wage rates, less intensive laws and regulations, etc.

There are no quick fixes. Success almost always boils down to a day-to-day persistence in combining continuous improvement with a touch of radical change from time to time. Since it is a long term strategy focused on the basics (blocking and tackling), rarely is the Plant Manager perceived as a “hero” as is the Sales Manager “elephant hunter” when he/she wins a large order. The Plant Manager is viewed as merely “doing his/her job”. Three keys to success include: 1) leading by example, 2) focus, 3) implement a metric tracking process.

  1. Lead by example: Remember, your #1 asset/resource is not the $10 million dollar machine or $100 million dollar inventory; it is your people. Begin with the company’s principles, vision and goals and tie the plant’s goals to them. Then, communicate, communicate, communicate. It is critical that people understand why the company’s vision is important (how the product or service helps humanity, customers, etc) and how they fit into that big picture and add value to it. Also, what is valued in the culture? Is it the number of widgets produced, customer service, or something else? Leading by example is cornerstone to establishing clear priorities which achieve success.

  2. Focus: It sounds quite simple but with the multitude of variables and conflicting priorities that arise in the day of the life of a Plant Manager, focus is essential. I’ve found it better to focus on achieving bottom line results than expensive capital improvements, the latest manufacturing fad, etc. For example, during my tenure as a VP of Operations, a team of plant experts succeeded in increasing production efficiencies by 20% on several lines through focus alone. At first, it seemed an impossible feat requiring many equipment upgrades and complex analyses. However, after stepping back and creating a focused team, the results occurred within a three month timeframe through a focus on the basics – people and process.

  3. Metric tracking process: Tie it all together with a metric tracking process. Throw out the complex reports and analysis tools; instead focus on tracking core metrics related to significant cost drivers for the plant (your “80” of the “80/20” principle). These core metrics will focus your attention on how to maximize the use of your resources. Discuss these core metrics daily, make them visible (post on the walls near the work stations, create simple graphics, etc), identify roadblocks to improvement, follow an analytical/process approach, continually improve, track progress and adjust.

It doesn’t have to be complex or expensive to move towards becoming a world class manufacturing plant, but it will be inordinately expensive not to.

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