Your Manufacturing EA Initiative Efforts: How to Get from 'As-Is' to 'Could-Be'

As the third post related to extending enterprise architecture (EA) initiatives into your manufacturing environment, I will cover some tools and activities that are extremely useful in identifying what the gaps are between your as-is state and desired to-be state. Since the process of creating a manufacturing EA is designed to help an enterprise develop a plan to leverage technology to aid proper implementation processes, it is important to know where you are starting from and where you want to go. One of the greatest challenges many enterprises face is identifying what are the gaps that are most impacting performance. It is often easy to paint a vision of a Utopian future state, but real-world limitations of financial constraints and technological barriers can make achieving that future state virtually impossible. The need is to focus on the gaps that are most affecting performance, and inhibiting people from doing their best.

A Step for Building Ownership

In EA activities I have been involved with over the last 30 years, one of the most powerful tools in identifying the impediments to Operational Excellence is to “simply” ask people what they need to do their jobs better. Of course like all things in business it sounds simple on the surface, but execution tends to be far more difficult than you’d expect. Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, perhaps captured the challenges in properly crafting a new way of operating best. His observation was that, “Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.” If you are going to ask people to buy into a new way of doing things you need to involve them.

One of the ways to involve them is to conduct a workshop that enables you to solicit input while accomplishing another important aspect: showing management commitment. You could solicit input by just walking around and asking people about what they believe could be done better. When done by senior managers this is even referred to as MBWA or “management by walking around.” It is a valuable tool for the day-to-day monitoring of the mood and pulse of the plant, but may not capture all of the potential input.

Some people might be too busy to answer with real thought behind their response. Some may also not believe in the commitment of the person asking for a variety of reasons. Some may just be shy about talking to management, or even fear that if they do it may backfire on them. In organizations that have adopted Lean as an operating philosophy should be careful not to assume that the Gemba Walk will deliver the results. Gemba Walks are primarily about observing the work processes and are focused on the processes--not necessarily the information needs--of the people. It can help, but the processes outlined next typically delivers enhanced results even in Lean organizations.

This is why I recommend a formalized workshop setting where you bring in teams of people into a neutral meeting place (not their own workspace). Also, it is important that a trained facilitator run the meeting so that domineering personalities do not monopolize it. In addendum to that, shy or reticent individuals are given an opportunity to contribute, and even gently coerced if needed to provide their input. The other thing that having the workshop session illustrates to the employees is that management is serious about the initiative. Since management has to suspend operations for the duration of the meeting, or pay overtime to have people participate after their normal shift, they should be serious. When you do this, people begin to believe you value their input, and will generally be more supportive due to the fact they were involved in the process.

If I Only Knew…

Once you get the people into the meeting room you need to:

  • Ensure they know that the purpose is to solicit their input.
  • Everyone MUST participate to some degree.
  • The facilitator is in charge and controls who speaks.
  • There is a scribe recording the answers but they are not being attributed to any individual.
  • Ensure there are no bad answers or statements.

In the session it is important that in each group there is a mix of participants that typically represent a functional part of the organization, such as maintenance, final assembly, fabrication, quality verification, etc. Also, there should be a cross-section of people from that functional group that represents everyone from the lowest paid support person all the way up to management. This diagonal view of the enterprise is essential to make sure you are getting a true picture of the operational information needs.

The actual workshop is best done in a roundtable setting where everyone sits around an open center area, which is where the facilitator operates. The scribe should be capturing every response. Despite the ease of using electronic means for capturing the responses, it can be very effective to use paper flip charts. The ability to paper the walls of the meeting room with all of the comments of all groups can stimulate creative thinking. A room papered with ideas also can serve to illustrate the magnitude of the data or information shortfall that exists today in the enterprise.

The actual format I have found to be most effective in soliciting input from participants is to ask them to finish the sentence “I could do my job better if I only knew ___________.” This format helps people respond in a positive way and can help avoid the session turning into a “Complaint Session.” It also is easier to stimulate the more reluctant people to contribute since they know their job best, and invariably have something they would like to know to do their job better. I go around the room asking each individual to complete the sentence and the rules are set ahead of time that we don’t move to the next person until the previous person has answered. This sometimes creates a few awkward moments of silence as some people take a long time to answer, but eventually they will. I typically go around the room twice requiring everyone to respond, and it is okay to use a previous answer as long as you explain how it applies to you. Then I throw the session open to anyone who has additional input.

Sometimes Benefits Accrue Immediately

While the main objective is to define the systems and technology needed for the future state, occasionally you identify immediate opportunities in this process. For example, one issue that may come up is the need for additional training on the existing systems and technology already in place. In other cases the need may already be satisfied by existing solutions, and you just need to inform the person with the problem how to access what they need. In these cases you can see benefits accrue immediately and frequently the process improvements pay for the cost of conducting the session itself.

Operational Excellence Leadership

All entries in this Industrial Transformation blog represent the opinions of the authors based on their industry experience and their view of the information collected using the methods described in our Research Integrity. All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.

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