Tag Archives: Process Improvement

 

Do you ever notice that, right around this time during every presidential election cycle, the candidates always start talking with much urgency about how it’s the “most important election of our lifetime”?  We’re not so sure about believing that hype. As far as we can remember, total Armageddon has never occurred after Election Day.

As a wise man once said decades ago, “No matter who wins, I’ll still pack my lunch and go to work in the mines.”

And yet, a recent poll by Investopedia found that 61% of respondents are worried about the impact of the 2024 elections on their investments. That translates to worries for CEOs.

Here are some common concerns CEOs and other top executives at companies of all stripes may be thinking about, and looking for, as we run up to the “most important election of our lifetime.”

Typical concerns as election hype swirls

Uncertainty. A recent survey of CEOs by KPMG found that top executives ranked political uncertainty as their top risk to growth over the next three years. A CNN poll had a similar finding, reporting that 51% of CEOs believe political uncertainty is the top risk to growth.

Another disputed election. This is the last thing anybody wants, CEOs included.

Economic policies. Issues like tax breaks and the tax rate for corporations, a candidate’s stand on trade impacting the supply chain, minimum wage hikes, and other economic policies matter to the heads of large companies. Which candidate will be more favorable to business?

Geopolitical issues. With war and unrest all over the globe, CEOs may be concerned on a personal level, but for business, geopolitical unrest might mean supply chain headaches, price hikes and trade disruption. They are looking for candidates who will work to quell that unrest.

Social issues. There are pressures on companies in all sectors now about things like sustainability, climate change, carbon neutrality. But also, more than ever before, companies are supposed to stand for something larger than the product or service they provide. Which candidates fit best with their brand?

What CEOs may want to see from candidates

Stability.  The ancient curse, “May you live in interesting times,” is on the minds of many execs, who prefer boring, old stability and predictability in order to plan, forecast and hit those numbers.

Business-friendly policies: No matter which political party individual execs subscribe to, the bottom line for most is a candidate who is business friendly, promising lower taxes, fewer regulations, and streamlined processes.

Global policies. Many execs have big concerns about supply chain disruption after the past few years, and any politician who can normalize trade and global relations will be a welcome relief.

The good news

Despite the hype surrounding this (and every) election, there is good reason to be optimistic this year. In fact, most CEOs are. According to that CNN poll, “optimism outweighs pessimism among CEOs” for the first time in two years. And just 27% expect economic conditions to worsen, down from 47% in the fourth quarter of 2023.

The bottom line for business during this election year? Focus on efficiency, operational improvements and increasing throughput. That’s the port that will help you weather any political storm.

If history teaches us anything, it’s to heed those long ago words from that miner. Markets tend to rise in presidential election years, no matter who is on the ballot. That same Investopedia article sites the S&P 500 showing positive returns in 20 of the last 24 election years, dating all the way back to 1928.

That’s 83.3% of the time.

Looking for ways to improve your bottom line

Back to top ↑

 

Since the industrial revolution, every technological advancement has been viewed through the lens of its effect on jobs. Will I be obsolete? Can a machine do my job better than I can? Are the bots coming for me? If my skills are rendered obsolete, what will I do?

The plain truth is, sometimes machines can do the job better, faster or more efficiently than a human can. Think of the advent of the sewing machine. Even your grandmother’s old Singer model is a whole lot faster, more precise and efficient than she is working with a needle and thread. The art and craft of sewing isn’t lost or obsolete, but for sheer volume and exact replication, you can’t beat the machines.

What’s happening now with artificial intelligence (AI) in manufacturing is a little bit like that. People on all levels of the manufacturing chain want to know if AI is taking over.

The answer is no. Don’t think of it as a takeover. Think of it as more of a transformation. It’s already happening, and it’s not all bad.

AI’s current impact on manufacturing

Artificial intelligence is seeping into the manufacturing workplace in a couple of important ways.

Automation: Much like the sewing machine and indeed all of the industrial revolution, AI has the power to automate repetitive tasks previously done by humans. Operating machinery, tasks on the assembly line, even inspecting products for defects – all of these things are increasingly being automated.

Efficiency: AI can help us optimize processes and procedures, leading to greater efficiency on the line and as a whole.

New job creation. Yes, you read that right. Whereas AI may reduce the amount of jobs focused on repetitive tasks, it is also creating jobs that we haven’t seen before in the manufacturing realm, including specialized programmers, engineers, and technicians. It means companies will need people with different skill sets, and the savvy employers will dig in and train the people they already have to take on these new roles.

Predictive analytics

At USC Consulting Group, we’ve already been using AI with some of our manufacturing clients, specifically in the area of predictive analytics. We spell it all out in our eBook, “AI and Machine Learning: Predicting the Future Through Data Analytics,” but here is the gist of it in a nutshell.

By now, we all know what AI is — computer systems that perform intelligent tasks, like reasoning, learning, problem solving, decision making, and natural language processing, among others.

Machine learning is a subset of AI. It is, technically, a set of algorithms that can learn from data. Instead of having to be programmed, the computer learns on its own based on data.

Predictive analytics is one output of machine learning. It is the ability to forecast future outcomes based on data. It’s like having a crystal ball that’s informed by vast amounts of complex algorithms and data.

You’re already familiar with predictive analytics but may not know it. You know how Amazon suggests an item for you to buy based on past purchases, or Netflix queues up new shows based on what you’ve already watched? That’s predictive analytics in action.

Much like Netflix’s use of predictive analytics created a seismic shift in consumer expectations, this technology also has the potential to transform operating procedures and processes for many industries.

The benefits of using AI in predictive analytics are many, including:

Bottom line: AI needs us

AI is a powerful tool we’ve used at USCCG to help our clients achieve greater efficiency, productivity, and profits.

But here’s the thing about that. It’s a tool. And it’s only as good as the data we supply. Any variation, and there can be skewed results.

As we all know, life is not a data set. Variation is happening all around us, all the time, even in projects where we need great precision.

That’s why the bots are never going to replace humans. They need us as much as we need them. At USCCG, we have more than 50 years of experience making process improvements, finding hidden opportunities for efficiency, creating leaner systems and helping companies thrive. For the next 50, AI will be one tool we use to help achieve that.

Read more about this innovative technology, including a specific case study about how AI works in practice, in our eBook, “AI and Machine Learning: Predicting the Future Through Data Analytics.”

AI and Machine Learning - Predicting the Future Through Data Analytics eBook

Back to top ↑

 

The rise in food prices is all over the news these days. The USDA and the Consumer Price Index tell us that, in 2023, grocery store purchases were up 5% from the previous year, while eating out cost an average of 7.1% more. This year, those costs are set to bump up another 1.3%. But, if you work in food manufacturing, (or buy groceries for your household) you don’t need the government to tell you those prices are rising.

It’s the trickle-down effect. Challenges facing food manufacturers mean higher production costs, which are ultimately influencing everyone’s grocery bills.

Here’s why, and what food manufacturers can do to save money on the front end to stop that trickle down.

Challenges affecting food prices

Some of the issues food manufacturers are navigating through that can ultimately show up in prices at the grocery store include:

Supply chain disruptions. Whether it’s geopolitical tensions, droughts, wildfires, strikes, or other events, it can disrupt the supply of raw materials food manufacturers use to get the job done. This can and does create delays, backlogs and other costly challenges.

Price inflation. Before price increases hit the grocery store shelves, the rising cost of things like grain, meat and dairy affects manufacturers who use those raw materials to make their goods.

Shipping costs. Rising fuel prices affect how much it costs to get those raw materials to food manufacturers, whether it’s coming from across town or across the world.

Labor shortages. The continuing battle to hire and train good people, and retain the ones you have, contributes to labor costs at the plant, which contributes to rising costs for the end user.

Evolving demand. Consumers are ever changing in their preferences and expectations. People are increasingly demanding sustainability, ethical sourcing, friendly practices like free-ranging and more. And dietary trends shift too, with plant-based alternatives growing in popularity on the one hand and minimally-processed meals on the other. This makes it difficult for manufacturers to forecast to accommodate the demand.

Regulations. Compliance with FDA regulations can be complex at best and lead to inefficiency and higher costs for manufacturers at worst. It’s especially prevalent in yield, when manufacturers are trying to hit the “wiggle room” the government allows between what the package label says and how much product is actually in the package. Not wanting to be out of compliance, manufacturers often overfill packaging to reach that sweet spot, but it means they’re actually giving away product… and profits.

All of these challenges can have a direct impact on manufacturing costs and will inevitably trickle down to their customers. It boils down to:

Higher production costs. This is by no means unique to the food manufacturing industry. Higher production costs on things like raw materials, labor, transportation and more mean higher costs to the customer – that’s a fact of life for most every business.

Supply and demand uncertainty. Supply chain disruption leads to shortages, which cause prices to rise.

How food manufacturers can tackle these challenges

In the short term, agility is key. But strategic planning, process improvements, and a focus on efficiency can shore up food manufacturers for the long run.

Sales, Inventory & Operations Planning which we call SIOP, takes the sales and operations planning (S&OP) process that most manufacturers use and adds inventory to the mix. At USCCG, we find inventory is often left out of the planning process, but it can be as important of a variable and a strategic tool. Following this methodology helps manufacturers eliminate waste, increase efficiencies and achieve an optimal level between not enough and too much.

It’s also an unparalleled tool for inventory management, which is a tricky business today given all of the challenges this industry is facing.

If you would like to learn more about SIOP, download our (free) eBook, “Sales, Inventory & Operations Planning: It’s About Time.”

Sales Inventory and Operations Planning eBook

Process improvements. One way streamlining and refocusing your processes can help manufacturers now is in the area of yield. Getting a handle on yield — improving processes so you’re not giving away product — can save millions of dollars. To learn more about how one food distributor saved $2.3 million per year by improving their yield, read “Food Distributor Masters Management by the Numbers to Improve Yield.”  And speaking of management by the numbers…

Implement a Solid Management Operations System. Many manufacturers, whether food or other industries, tend to manage on the basis of what has worked in the past, a gut feeling by seasoned managers, and other methods. At USCCG, we like hard numbers, streamlined processes and everyone doing the same job the same way. And about that…

Focus on training. It’s crucial to have all shifts, all facilities and all employees working in tandem, doing the same job the same way. It’s how you create the proverbial well-oiled machine.

None of these tactics will stop challenges from happening, but they can and do make your operations more efficient, and in turn, save you money. Not only will it improve your bottom line, but you might just be able to trickle the savings down to your customers, too.

Looking for ways to improve your bottom line

Back to top ↑

 

Businesses across the nation are adjusting to slimmer profit margins. The Financial Times reports that price spikes, labor shortages, and supply chain struggles are continuing to eat into profits while consumers are spending less in response to inflation.

As a business leader, you can discover new levels of profitability and boost your bottom line by maximizing efficiency in the workplace.

This is particularly important today, as modern workers report that they are only productive for 2 hours 53 minutes per day. As a leader, reclaiming this lost productivity should be your top priority while keeping staff healthy and happy.

Cost Savings

Rising costs will undermine your profits if you fail to adjust. This is true regardless of what stage of business growth you are in today. Even well-established brands can suddenly go bust if they ignore rising costs and become overleveraged with debt.

Continuously re-evaluating your operations will help you discover costly bottlenecks and address fundamental issues. Adopting a process improvement mindset can help you respond to industry changes and remain relevant for consumers. Further cost-saving benefits of process improvement include:

Embracing process improvement can improve your firm’s ability to meet compliance requirements. This is helpful if you plan on growing your business and want to avoid fees and fines due to ineffective compliance protocols.

Employee Wellbeing

Your employees are the backbone of your business. Without them, efficiency would grind to a halt. However, many business leaders overlook employee wellbeing when profitability starts to decline.

If you want to enhance your operational efficiency, then keeping your employees healthy and happy should be a priority. Unhealthy, unhappy staff are extremely expensive, as you will be forced to pay for sick leave and will have to bring on new hires when they leave for greener pastures.

Stress can have a profound impact on employee well-being and health, too. Left untreated, chronic stress can increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. Employees who are stressed are also more likely to suffer from oral ailments like gum disease, tooth decay, and cankers. This will sideline your employees and leave you short-staffed when you need employees the most.

Increasing Safety

Nothing will derail your business like an accident at work. In 2021 alone, workplace accidents and injuries cost a total of $167 billion. Injuries and accidents also resulted in 103,000,000 lost days of work, as many employees have to take extended time away after a mishap.

As a business owner, you should explore efficiency upgrades that improve safety. Even simple changes, like reducing workers’ workload, can significantly reduce the risk of accidents. Folks are far less likely to make a misstep when they are not overworked, burnt out, and fatigued by their workload.

You can improve worker safety and increase business efficiency by embracing the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT tech, like electronic logging devices, can improve safety and efficiency by tracking metrics related to employee safety. This is particularly important if you work in high-risk fields like delivery driving. Keep a tab on key data points like speed and braking. This reduces the risk of accidents and helps you retrain certain staff.

Customer Service

In today’s competitive business environment, you need to stand out from the crowd by providing excellent customer service. Effective, efficient customer service can improve brand loyalty, minimize damaging reviews, and convince consumers to make repeat purchases.

A recent survey of 3,200 consumers by Super Office found that 12% of all consumers expect a response time of under 15 minutes, while 46% say they want to hear back within 4 hours. This suggests that efficient, fast responses are key to heightened customer satisfaction.

If you cannot afford to employ a fleet of customer service agents, consider investing in automation software instead. Automated chatbots are capable of answering FAQs quickly and accurately. They can also send pre-generated responses to folks who get in contact during out-of-office hours. This can reassure customers that their query has been seen and that they will get a response soon.

Foregrounding efficiency in your customer service department can reduce the amount you spend on returns, too. US retailers predict that $761 billion of items will be returned every year. This can eat into profits and derail your day-to-day operations. You cannot avoid all returns, but you can mitigate many hasty returns with responsive, positive customer service.

Automation

Automating your business is not just good for customer service. Embracing the future of AI and automation can improve your efficiency and bolster your bottom line. Strategic changes, like automating your customer relationship management (CRM) software, can reduce the amount of time staff spend on menial responsibilities and free up time for creative, profit-boosting tasks.

If you are new to the idea of automation, start with low-hanging fruit like:

As your firm grows, you can explore more complex automation strategies. For example, if you currently run an e-commerce business, you can use automated software to keep stock of your inventory and automatically order new materials when supplies run low. This reduces lead time at your firm and ensures that you are always ready to take on new orders.

Communication

Effective communication keeps internal and external stakeholders happy and can maximize your operational efficiency. This is crucial when trying to boost your profits, as you’ll need buy-in from investors and employees alike.

As a business leader, you can guide your firm to higher levels of profitability and productivity by improving your own communication skills. Ask plenty of questions when conversing with other employees and focus on listening to them without interruption. If you struggle to listen without jumping in, consider taking notes to channel your thoughts and show your staff that you care about their insights.

You should review your communication strategy on an annual basis. This will ensure that your firm is up-to-date with the latest communication tech and can help you identify potential issues in your current strategy. A well-planned communication strategy improves collaboration in your company, too. This reduces the risk of costly oversights and helps you get more out of your most talented employees.

Conclusion

Boosting your bottom line is about more than cutting costs and raising your prices. Spark a period of profitable growth at your firm by embracing an ethos of process improvement. Continuous process improvement also helps you take advantage of breakthroughs in business tech like CRM automation, IoT tracking, and customer service chatbots. In sum, process improvement isn’t just ensuring short-term solutions, it’s ensuring the long-term success of your company.

*This article is written by Ainsley Lawrence. View more of Ainsley’s articles here.

Looking for ways to improve your bottom line

Back to top ↑

 

With Halloween just around the corner, we started thinking about nightmares that can occur to manufacturers. Is something bedeviling your productivity leading to more tricks than treats? Is there a ghost in the machine? Here are some of the most common “monsters” that haunt manufacturing managers, and ways to banish them from your operation for good.

Things that go bump in the night (or day). Every manufacturing plant on the planet has experienced an “unexpected shutdown” that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Something broke, wore out, went awry or otherwise seized up, causing production to grind to a halt. These unexpected dark periods, whether they last an hour, a day or longer until the problem is resolved, are extremely costly in lost productivity and revenue, delays in shipments and deliveries, and more.

Banish it! Regular shutdowns for maintenance need to be an essential part of your yearly calendar. Yes, these planned maintenance periods still mean downtime, but the point is, you build them into your schedule and plan accordingly for shift scheduling, delivery and other variables.

Zombies on the line. Unmotivated teams can bedevil companies in any industry. From the Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting, employee morale has taken a tumble since the pandemic. People are just going through the motions out there. Couple that with some spooky stats: According to a Gallup survey, only 36% of U.S. employees are engaged at work and 74% say they are actively looking for new jobs. Low morale costs companies in just about every way possible — increased absenteeism, dips in quality and efficiency, and rock-bottom motivation levels among them.

Banish it! There are many spells you can cast to break that zombie curse. Invest in training and development for your employees. Hold listening sessions to get ideas for improvements on the job. Walk the floor and talk to your people regularly, something management just doesn’t do enough. Build a promotion pipeline from your front lines. All of these will help increase employee engagement and get their heads back in the game.

Process poltergeists. Are you constantly putting out fires that seem to combust without warning? Human errors, unforeseen backups, supply chain bottlenecks, inventory imbalances (too much or too little), glitches on the line. It can feel like you have a firefighting mentality, and it’s counterproductive to, well, productivity. When you’re in a constant state of troubleshooting, you’re not efficient at doing the job today or laying the groundwork for tomorrow.

Banish it! A solid Management Operating System, which is a structured approach to your operations, will help stop trouble before it starts. This allows you to make adjustments and otherwise pivot so your operations aren’t adversely impacted. The best management operating systems focus on processes, systems, roles and structures to map out how the job gets done, and by whom. To learn about MOS in more detail, watch our short (and dare we say fun) video, Stop the Firefighting Mentality.

“20% of each dollar is wasted in manufacturing due to inefficient processes each year”

Wasting disease. Waste can hide on your shop floor like a monster under the bed. It hides where you least expect it, like time, energy, employee talent, productivity and more. Here’s a figure that will keep you up at night: 20% of each dollar is wasted in manufacturing due to inefficient processes each year, adding up to $8 trillion globally.

Banish it! Waste is such an enormous problem in manufacturing, Toyota (or Henry Ford, depending on who you ask) created a process methodology about it. Lean is all about identifying and eliminating waste in manufacturing operations. The classic Seven Deadly Wastes (we think it’s eight, but let’s not split hairs) include overproduction, waiting, transporting, processing, inventory, motion and defects. (People is our eighth.) Lean is the process to minimize or eliminate those, boosting your bottom line. Read more about it by downloading our eBook, “Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?”

The invisible man (or woman). The loss of institutional knowledge happens when your best workers vanish (retire or quit) and take all their hard-earned, on-the-job know-how with them. It’s the tips, tricks and tactics that aren’t in the employee manual. The loss of this irreplaceable knowledge is a growing issue for manufacturing, because the workforce is aging, and there is a lack of skilled younger workers to take their place.

Banish it! Capture that knowledge before your seasoned pros retire or otherwise leave the workforce. Create mentorship programs pairing older workers with younger ones, ask those older employees to participate in roundtable sessions that can focus on “what’s not in the manual” knowledge, and solicit their advice on how to do the job better.

While this is a lighthearted look at manufacturing problems, these issues are no joke. They can seriously hamper your efficiency, productivity and ultimately, your bottom line. At USC Consulting Group, we’re the experts in helping companies reach operational excellence. If you’d like to learn more, please give us a call.

Need more horsepower for your change management project

Back to top ↑

 

Last year, the London-based Collins Dictionary named “permacrisis” as the word of the year. It means an extended period of instability caused by an onslaught of seemingly never-ending crises — wildfires, pandemics, hurricanes, floods, inflation, air quality alerts, the highest heat ever recorded in some regions of the world, economic instability, wars… the list goes on. Sound familiar? You name it, we’ve all lived through it. And it shows no signs of slowing down.

In the immortal words of Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live: It’s always something.

The way we see it here at USC Consulting Group, it IS always something. That’s called life. While the world may be going through an unusually rocky stretch, there is no perfect time to be running your business. Whether it’s external crises like the ones we’ve described, or internal upheavals like layoffs, mergers, unforeseen difficulties or the myriad hiccups that can occur, things are going to happen. When they do, companies can thrive, not just survive, with a mix of focusing on process improvements and operational excellence, optimizing your supply chain, and implementing standard operating procedures, along with a dash of the old-fashioned notion that “this too shall pass.”

Here are a few tactics for making sure you’re on solid footing, even during the rockiest of times.

Process improvements

The goal is operational excellence, right? But is that ever truly achievable? Yes, but it can also be a moving target. It means continuous improvements to processes, becoming as efficient as possible. We find that it’s about eliminating bottlenecks, waste and other snags that can impede productivity. Getting the right people in the right jobs and empowering them to get that job done. Developing standards and key process indicators that will tell you when you’re on target and when you aren’t, and using data to “manage by the numbers.”

Optimizing the supply chain: Don’t DRIP!

What’s DRIP? It’s a popular acronym when talking about supply chain. It stands for data rich, information poor. The fragility of the supply chain, no matter the industry you’re in, has become crystal clear in recent years. Optimizing your supply chain needs to be top of mind to make sure you don’t get caught short, and as DRIP suggests, it starts with making sure you’re using data to its fullest. Outdated inventory systems can impede that. Supply, Inventory and Operations Planning (SIOP) is a method we here at USC utilizes that emphasizes inventory as a strategic tool to allow businesses to get a better look at their operations and formulate superior strategy decisions.

SIOP gives you the ability to capture, analyze, integrate and interpret high-quality data, which is the key to staying ahead of the market. The aim is to achieve process automation and glean predictive analytics, which give you a strategic advantage… so you don’t DRIP.

Learn more about SIOP in this free eBook

Standard operating procedures (SOPs)

Much is being written in the news lately concerning “institutional knowledge,” and how the loss of it can be devastating to companies. What is it? It’s what’s NOT in your training manual. It’s what the person you think is “irreplaceable” knows. The ins and outs of doing the job that your best people learn through years of experience. When they retire, or leave the company for whatever reason, that knowledge walks out the door with them. That’s why it’s so important to develop standard operating procedures for every job in your company, and write those procedures down on stone tablets if necessary.

Comprehensive training

When you have those SOPs down, that’s just the first step. Training your people in exactly how to do the job, so everyone across all of your facilities is doing it in the same way, is vital.

Sound like a tall order? It can be. That’s where we come in. At USC Consulting Group, we have 55+ years of experience helping companies optimize their efficiency, ramp up their production, solidify those SOPs and operate to the max. If you’re wondering if now is the right time to hire an operations consultant, download our aptly named eBook, “When is the Right Time to Bring in Operations Consultants?” It’s free, and it will give you more information about how we can help your business.

Right Time to Bring in Operations Consultants eBook CTA

Back to top ↑

 

The automotive manufacturing industry has been traveling a strange and bumpy road over the past couple of years. The pandemic created a traffic jam in the supply chain. At the same time, demand for new cars dried up. Who was driving? Everyone was at home during the lockdown. And on the heels of that, interest in electric vehicles began to surge. According to research by the International Energy Association, the demand for EVs is expected to rise 35% by the end of 2023 after a record-breaking 2022.

What did it all mean for auto manufacturers? Demand for traditional vehicles lowered as demand for electric vehicles grew, forcing auto manufacturers to do a delicate dance of balancing the type of production they’ve always done with the new processes and systems needed to produce EVs. The moving target of demand coupled with shaky supply brought about inventory uncertainty — how much was enough, but not too much? And then, there was (and continues to be) the labor shortage, with seasoned workers retiring and younger ones not exactly flooding through the doors.

Improving processes is paramount for the automotive manufacturing industry now. Here are a few ways you can do that:

Lean Six Sigma. If there ever was a need for auto manufacturing process improvements like the ones Lean Six Sigma can produce, it’s now. LSS is the blending of two efficiency methodologies, Lean and Six Sigma. It’s a bit ironic, because the Lean methodology, which focuses on efficiency and eliminating waste, was developed back in the day by Henry Ford… or at Toyota, depending on who you ask. It got its start on the auto manufacturing line, with the intent of eliminating the “seven deadly wastes”: overproduction, waiting, transporting, processing, inventory, excess motion and defects. At USC Consulting Group, we’ve added an eighth waste. People. Specifically, not using them to their fullest, not seeing untapped potential in great workers, and not training and developing people to rise through the ranks. Lean is about eliminating waste to produce more product quickly and efficiently.

Six Sigma, the other side of the Lean coin, is about quality control. Minimizing flaws and defects. But it’s deeper than that, rooted in data. The goal is to improve cycle time while eliminating or reducing defects.

Automotive manufacturing industry production line illustration

SIOP. It’s difficult to achieve careful, accurate planning for the future when the road ahead contains so many bumps. That’s why we take the usual sales and operations planning (S&OP) process to a different level by adding inventory to the mix. The goal is to look ahead, anticipating the inventory you need while also coordinating with sales, marketing, and finance to involve the entire organization in this process. A key to SIOP is using inventory as a strategic tool to help offset variation in either demand or production issues.

Predictive Maintenance. Yes, it sounds extremely basic, but we find that heading off trouble before it starts can eliminate the risk of bogging down your entire production line to fix what’s broken.

Skills Training. Investing in training is playing the long game, but in light of your best people on the line retiring and fewer people to take their place, it’s paramount. Training has advantages in addition to the obvious — your people being more skilled on the job. It also demonstrates in a very tangible way that you are committed to the growth and success of your employees. You gain loyal workers and create a pipeline for advancement. It’s a win-win.

Technology Investments. USC Consulting Group is not about coming in and asking manufacturers to invest in the latest and greatest technology in order to become more efficient. No, efficiency takes harder work than just installing a new machine. However, in some cases, it’s necessary to level up. Legacy technologies don’t have the same features and capabilities as newer models. And in the auto manufacturing industry, you’re dealing with producing an entirely new product with electric vehicles. It may be time to look at your technology and decide if it can take you into the future or keep you in the past.

Doing business in the automotive manufacturing industry is like driving a manual transmission. You are constantly shifting gears to keep pace with traffic – in this case, the consistent change of consumer demand. Operations consulting helps companies improve their processes and be prepared for what’s coming down the road. We help manufacturers become more efficient and profitable in this or any economy.

Is working with operations consultants an untraveled road for you? Please get in touch. We’d love to talk with you about it.

Contact USC Consulting Group

Back to top ↑

 

There’s a popular phenomenon being shared online at the moment: “Instagram vs. Reality.” It’s two photos, side by side. One is doctored and photoshopped and filtered to look perfect. The other is what it looks like in reality. More often than not, there’s a big difference. Perfection is a far cry from reality, and not just on Instagram.

It got us thinking about operational excellence. Some operational excellence consulting firms might tell you their goal is to deliver optimal perfection in which your organization is running on all cylinders 24/7. But in our experience, reality is a lot more complicated than that. We find that operational excellence is a process. And sometimes it’s a moving target. It can change and morph, affected by myriad factors that may be out of your control, like the economy, supply chain issues, hiring problems and snafus, your best leader on the line quitting with a moment’s notice. The list goes on.

As an operational excellence consulting firm, we contend that operational excellence is a process of continuous improvement, not something static and perfect that stays that way in perpetuity. Does it exist? Absolutely. But it doesn’t stay the same.

What is operational excellence consulting?

The textbooks will tell you operational excellence is a process for improving a company’s effectiveness and efficiency — two things we happen to specialize in. The goals of operational excellence consulting read like a playbook of our typical projects: Improving productivity and throughput, reducing waste, focusing on quality and reducing defects, optimizing shifts, updating processes.

Often an end goal of Lean Six Sigma (LSS), operational excellence is a moving target. Striving for operational excellence means continuously improving, rolling with unforeseen circumstances, adapting to ever-changing tides. Here are some effective strategies we’ve honed in the pursuit of operational excellence that you can apply in your operations today.

Strive for process optimization

The cornerstone of LSS, process optimization means finding opportunities to ramp up efficiency, eliminating bottlenecks and waste, enhancing productivity, reducing defects and glitches in both the product and the process, and the whole nine yards of LSS. To read a deep dive into LSS and what it can do for your organization, download our eBook, “Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?”

Get the right people in the right jobs…

Is everyone from the front lines to the corner office in the right jobs? Assess skills, provide training if necessary and listen to feedback so your team is ready to tackle their roles with a great work ethic and enthusiasm.

…and then empower them to do the job right

Many times, the people who work on the shop floor know a lot more about the job than the people in the C-suite. Give them the power to do their jobs and to act quickly when unforeseen situations arise.

Develop KPIs

If you’re not already establishing and monitoring key performance indicators and metrics, get on that. It helps your people know what’s expected of them, and helps you evaluate the quality of the work they’re doing. They also show opportunities for improvement.

Develop standards

Hand in hand with KPIs, standardized operating practices and procedures can ensure you’re getting the consistent results you need.

Manage by the numbers

It’s an oft-used phrase here at USC. Decisions need to be driven by data and hard numbers, not what’s “always worked in the past.” The data can tell you where to improve, what’s working and what needs to change.

Keep the customer in focus

Sometimes, companies can get so caught up in process improvements they lose sight of the end customer. By keeping their needs, expectations and wants in the forefront, you can be assured you’re hitting the mark.

Encourage a culture of continuous improvement

Culture change is easier said than done, but it’s a necessary component to operational excellence. Encourage innovation and ideas for improvement, and reward employees for finding ways to do their jobs better.

Above all, remember it’s a process, not a single achievement. Yes, you may have achieved operational excellence… today. What about tomorrow?

 

Enjoy the article? Subscribe to our blog to receive the latest news and content.

Back to top ↑

 

When you hire a consulting firm, you expect recommendations, changes, process improvements and a healthy return on your investment. In short, you want your company to be more efficient and profitable when the consultants walk out the door than it was when they walked in. Right? That should be a given.

But, what happens when the project is finished, when the consultants are not there to guide the process going forward? The answer to that question is process improvement sustainability and is a key element USC Consulting Group specializes in.

The aftermath: Preparing clients for sustainability

At USC Consulting Group, operations consulting is what we do. Companies bring us in to look at their operations with a fresh set of eyes, leveraging best practices we’ve learned in our half century (and counting) in the business. We’re not party to office politics and other company red tape, and as such, we’re able to make recommendations for necessary changes, process improvements, and operating and management system overhauls to get the company functioning optimally.

Increasing throughput and yield, reducing excess costs, identifying and eliminating waste — these are some of our areas of expertise. But, at USC, there’s one thing we DON’T do. We do not set it and forget it.

That’s one aspect of our approach that sets us apart from our competitors out there. We play the long game. We don’t swoop in, offer solutions and swoop out, leaving clients on their own. We deliver results that our clients can maintain. We make sure the positive changes we’ve helped companies enact will stick, long after we’re not walking through the door every day. It’s the whole “give a man a fish vs. teach him how to fish” philosophy. It’s our goal to give clients the tools to keep it going. Here’s how we do it:

1. Employee involvement. This needs to start from Day One. It’s hard to overstate how critical employee involvement is while the project is happening, and after it’s complete. We use “daily huddles” with team members to engage on things like scheduling, production, maintenance, quality, project status and much more. We do best practice skills. We review KPIs. The whole idea is to give team members the tools to continue successful operations and maintain the results we’ve achieved together.

2. Action items. Throughout our process, we will regularly identify action items, steps that need to take place going forward. We’ll get agreement on these and hold people accountable for success. It helps set them up for continued success after the project is finished.

3. Managing change management. We say it often — we can effect all the change in the world. But if we don’t manage that change correctly, none of it will stick. We’ve become experts in effective change management over the years. A few pearls of wisdom we’ve picked up along the way: Operational changes require behavioral changes. Employees, especially longtime employees, don’t necessarily love that. People need reassurance their jobs aren’t disappearing. Also, it’s extremely useful to recruit “advocates” on the front lines who can champion the changes we’re implementing. And it’s vital to be clear on the “why” of any changes put forth. Read more about it in “8 Change Management Best Practices to Ensure Sustainability” on our blog.

4. General training. We develop education and training for “in the field” work for team members, supervisors, leads and managers to support the Management Operating System changes being made by the team as well as supporting behavioral change management — also a critical part of the process. People need to do their jobs differently. Sometimes radically differently. And it can be a stumbling block for employees who may be resistant to change. The training gives them the skills to keep progress going.

5. Lean Six Sigma training. It’s a pretty safe bet you don’t have a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt on your staff currently. No problem. We do. One of the most effective ways to create lasting process improvements out there, Lean Six Sigma is the combination of two manufacturing methodologies, Lean, which is focused on eliminating waste and reducing process lead times and Six Sigma, which focuses on cutting down on defects and improving quality. But it takes a lot of study to get it right. That’s why we choose team members to train in this highly effective tool so our efforts using it to increase efficiency and decrease defects are sustainable. Read all about Lean Six Sigma in our eBook, “Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?”

6. Toolkit. This is a playbook of what we’ve done on the project, successes we have achieved, steps forward, sustainable practices and more. It’s a detailed, workable plan that outlines how to go forward and build on that success.

All of these tactics work in tandem to ensure process improvement sustainability, so companies remain firing on all cylinders now and into the future. But, that’s not all. We may not be on site every day after a project is completed, but we’re always just a phone call away. We play the long game with our clients and perform audits to ensure sustained results. Setting and forgetting isn’t part of our playbook. Never has been. Never will be.

Need more horsepower for your change management project

Back to top ↑