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See Your Shop Floor in a New Light

How to Utilize a Project Management Philosophy for Greater Visibility, Accountability & Adaptability

By Johnathan Warren, Marketing Associate at KeyedIn Solutions, Inc.

There was a time when project management was associated with businesses primarily focused on fixed-time client relationships, such as consulting and services firms.

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  • Today project management strategies are being applied to a broad range of fields including manufacturing and shop floor operations. Whether your shop floor is mass-producing materials or making custom pieces, adopting a project management strategy has numerous benefits for small and midsized manufacturers.

    If this seems like a leap to you, consider this: the sum of a manufacturing business' operations is really a series of processes aligned around a common goal. So it is with project management as well. Every customer order can be viewed as an all-encompassing project that includes every related material, labor, milestone, expense, and quality benchmark. Bringing all of the processes and pieces together in a project-oriented view provides dramatically greater insight into the production process and helps align expectations - so that what was envisioned and designed is exactly what is delivered.

    Visibility, Accountability and Adaptability
    In a project management setting, time is money. Technicians must keep pace with the expected timeline. Materials must be available when they are needed. Any delay means jeopardizing the completion of the project within the customer's expectations.

    Project management is about visibility, accountability and adaptability. Real-time visibility into exactly what is going on with a certain job at any given moment; accountability of the technicians and other influencers to perform at or above expectations; and adaptability to enable issues to be addressed proactively before they negatively impact the job.

    In short, project management ensures that a manufacturer's resources are used strategically, risks are addressed, and costs are managed tightly - together driving project performance and profitability.

    A Competitive Edge
    In manufacturing, where quality standards and time-to-delivery are vital, employing a project management philosophy can be a great asset in delivering on these objectives consistently.

    With each customer order, a project is opened in your enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution and all of the related job information is associated with it - specs, materials, shop orders, permits, related jobs. As the job progresses, key milestones are entered. Let's compare two possible scenarios - one project-based and one traditional - from a make-to-order manufacturer.

    Traditional Process - less control/insight

    • A customer explains their needs and budget
    • Manufacturer presents a design along with the estimated cost
    • An agreement is reached and production begins
    • The shop-floor manager oversees production
    • The shop-floor manager fields questions from the sales and executive about the progress and reports back
    • Production is completed and delivered (hopefully on time, barring any machine malfunction, resource shortage or quality issues).

    Project Management-Based Process - greater flexibility/complete insight

    • A customer explains their needs and budget
    • Manufacturer presents a design along with the estimated cost
    • An agreement is reached and the project manager designates the needed resources, scheduling, and quality standards
    • Production begins and real-time data is collected at each stage
    • The project manager oversees production as the project moves through its processes, making adjustments as necessary to ensure quality standards are met and that the project is running on-time and on-budget
    • Executives and sales staff check project status, viewing progress based on real-time data
    • Production is completed and delivered with significantly greater likelihood of meeting cost, quality and time-to-market expectations.

    The difference between the two scenarios is minor in terms of process. The greatest difference comes with the project-management scenario delivering greater visibility, accountability and adaptability, thereby increasing the likelihood of success.

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    If It Ain't Broke…
    Those resistant to incorporating project management in their manufacturing operations may see them as too rigid or confining. In fact, the exact opposite is true: when project leads and decision makers have a real-time detailed view into production timelines and how resources are being utilized, it actually provides greater flexibility to manage time and resources to their maximum potential.

    For example, by reviewing the data within a project, a project manager may see that a certain technician is more efficient operating a certain machine than other technicians. Scheduling can be adjusted to boost productivity. Or perhaps the project data reveals that a certain machine is operating more slowly than usual. Getting this insight early-on puts you in a position to fix the issue before a total shut-down and potentially re-map the workflow so that the project doesn't fall behind.

    A project management strategy - supported by an intuitive technology solution that is designed for project management - parlays the power of a traditional enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution into an action-based framework. A customer wouldn't call in wondering what your monthly production rates are. They would call wanting to know what the production status is of their order. With a project-based strategy, you can provide a more exact answer.

    Furthermore, a project management methodology helps keep the big picture in sight for everyone involved. Project managers, decision makers and management are given a clear window to the mission critical elements of a job: planning, scheduling, risk management, quality management, quality assurance and quality control.

    Getting Started
    If you are seeing the benefits that project management strategy can provide for manufacturers, the first step would be to establish a methodology, making certain that there is at least executive support, if not full collaboration. Next, look for a technology solution that can support your methodology. It's important to select a vendor that is focused on the manufacturing industry and has successfully delivered project management solutions to manufacturers. If IT budget is a concern, consider solutions delivered as software as a service (SaaS). These solutions require less start up costs than on-premise solutions and typically can be up and running much more quickly. If you are looking for more information about project management, you can view a blog on the topic:

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