As manufacturers, we exist to provide value to our customers whether we offer products or services. If these do not add value for our customers, we aren’t around for long.  How do we ensure we continue to add value? The answer lies in part in a three-piece puzzle: develop, standardize, improve. And each puzzle piece involves all aspects of our business; products, processes, and people.

Develop

Development here refers to all the inventions and progress we need to operate as a business.  Without development, we have no company. Products come from our innovation. Processes are developed to ensure these products get to customers. Most of us understand the need to continually add products to our portfolio and develop processes to handle the products, but we often forget about the need to develop people.

"Only after we understand the variation within our products and processes can we truly understand what the products and processes are truly capable of achieving"

We often talk about people being our most valuable resources. Developing people is an ongoing need for all organizations. In companies, where this is demonstrated, people are valued and encouraged to grow and improve their skills and knowledge. We can help by removing obstacles and creating challenging goals so that everyone can contribute to the long-term goals of the company. People—all of us—are at the center of progress. 

Standardization

The second piece of the puzzle is the effort to make all products, processes, and people’s actions standardized, stable, and capable of meeting customer specifications. There are many tools which can help us standardize and each of these tools involve product, process, and people interacting to derive optimal value for our customers. A few of these are listed below:

1. Processes

- With a visual, well-organized factory, problems are visible at a glance on the production floor.

- Standard work is the work that should be done. On the production floor, it is composed of three elements: takt (cycle) time, manufacturing methods, and standard work in process. Leader Standard Work ensures all functions in an organization can perform responsibilities necessary to support the product. 

- Equipment is managed via total productive maintenance by sharing maintenance responsibilities between operators and experienced staff.

2. People

- Execution requires manufacturers have a cross-trained, problem-solving workforce. A cross-trained workforce is essential to flexibility in manufacturing.

- Creating standards for celebrating wins and acknowledging individual and/or group achievement add to workers’ sense of value, pride in their work, and eagerness to keep the products and company moving in the right direction.

3. Product

- Variation must be understood, quantified, and managed. Only after we understand the variation within our products and processes can we truly understand what the products and processes are truly capable of achieving. 

- Measurement system analysis (MSA) measures variation within the measurement system.

- The best way to evaluate a stable and capable process is with control charts. Control charts display the process capability indices which can be used on stable, predictable processes. 

The product, process, and people benefit from this structure. With a stable, standardized product and processes used and when all the people involved are engaged in activities that support the production with a consistent and standardized approach, we can provide the customer exactly what they want.

Improve

The third piece of the value creating puzzle is improvement. With the finalized design on products and standards in place, we can drive continuous improvement programs or projects to make the existing generation of product and/or process more robust until it’s time to use what we’ve learned and develop our next generation product. 

In manufacturing, problems are typically viewed as a nuisance and even a sign of failure of management, of engineering, or even the people working on the line. This can create a culture of problem hiding. No one wants blame meted out for problems, therefore problems can go unresolved for long periods, even though the solution may be easy and obvious if merely pointed out.

In lean, problems are viewed as process weaknesses or as opportunities for improvement. Each problem that is highlighted and solved can improve the system and make it more robust.  Finger-pointing and blame are avoided and problems are addressed and eliminated. When someone building the product highlights problems or opportunities for improvements, the team, group lead, or engineering can be engaged to support determining root cause and celebrated for their contribution to improvement. Additionally, with everyone trained on problem solving, there is less waiting for engineering support to begin addressing issues.  Therefore, developing a team of problem solvers is so critical to this piece of the puzzle.

A culture which has everyone (all people) in the factory from administrators, finance, management, product line managers, and production continually questioning everything and thinking about how it can be improved. Continuous improvement comes from an environment where uncovering problems is celebrated. When people are free to highlight problems, those problems can be addressed.  We cannot fix what we don’t know about. Empowered people drive process improvements that ultimately result in improved processes and products and allow their customers to reap the value-added rewards.

Summary

These three activities provide manufacturers with a competitive advantage. Development, standardization, and improvement are three essential pieces of the puzzle in creating value for our customers. It is critical that we fully engage products, processes, and people in all three elements. Without development, there can be no standardization. Without standardization, there can be no improvement. Without improvement, we don’t have development. With ongoing development and standardization followed up with continuous improvement in all areas of our businesses, people, processes, and products, the voice of the customer will be valued.