Operational Excellence

The Most Important Question IT Can Ask Operations


manufacturing it questionsIn a recent blog post we posited that organizational barriers may be the biggest impediment to getting value from the IoT. Many organizations seem to focus more on who owns and controls systems than how to extract maximum value from those systems.

We believe that one way companies can better understand what end-users want from technology is to engage them in both continuous improvement projects and strategic planning efforts related to the technology they use. When you get them engaged they tend to take ownership. When they have ownership they have a desire to make it work.

One of the best ways to get them engaged, either as part of a continuous improvement process or as part of strategic planning when upgrading or renewing a system is to ask them one question. In this post, we'll discuss that question.

I Could Do My Job Better If I Only Knew...

That simple sentence (above) can be one of the most powerful tools in your kit for understanding what information people struggle to find. I have been using the prompt: complete this sentence “I could do my job better if I only knew ______” for more than twenty-five years. You could also just ask directly. Either way, the point is to find out what people need to do their job better.

In one case, an 1,800-employee steel mill engaged me to facilitate its strategic planning for new plant IT systems. Over the course of two days we brought in roughly 10% of the employees in a diagonal slice of the organization and asked them that one question over and over.

At the end of the two days we had over 80 pages of flip-chart notes with literally hundreds of bullet points that we were able to reduce to 30 or 40 key requirements for better or faster information access in the plant.

The whole process translated into a strategic plan to become one of the first facilities in the company to implement a comprehensive Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) solution.

It is About Information

With the IoT promising to deliver us more data than ever before, the challenge will be to take that data and turn it into information--information that can be used to better manage the business.

When we know what information people need to better do their job we can identify where to get that information and how to best communicate it to them. That should be the role of any IT organization going forward. Too often we focus on the technology and not on the information that technology is supposed to provide. Understanding people’s information needs is key to improving organizational performance.

Only when we truly understand the need should we focus on what technology can best deliver that information. Then, we have to realize that over time both the information needs as well as the technology that best provides the information are likely to evolve and change.

Ultimately, our goals should be about creating a healthy business. Information is one of the paths to that goal. After twenty five years of asking what information people need I have come to the realization that most are looking for information that exists somewhere in some system or process already in place. Our job then going forward is to liberate that information using the IoT to ensure our people can operate our plants in as healthy a way as possible.

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