By Bill Strain, VP/CTO, ITO Manufacturing Industry and Sy Williams, Managing Director, ITO Manufacturing Industry

Overcoming skepticism—not just among the rank-and-file but also among managers—is one of the major challenges in manufacturing. Talk “lean” or continuous quality improvement, and the responses are often dismissive, if not downright disdainful.  Managers feel they’ve gone as lean as they can and have no more room for improvement.

That’s understandable for industry veterans who have seen decades of manufacturing upswings and downswings—and a continued barrage of high-impact factors such as global competition, offshore manufacturing,  rising complexity, new technology, resource constraints and a shortage of skilled workers. Based on what we’ve experienced, most manufacturers say they are maintaining or increasing their R&D budgets, yet also say that they expect little or no real advantage from these investments.

“Skepticism and past frustrations slow us down, stall us out and wear us down. It’s time to accelerate, re-invigorate, and innovate.”

“Skepticism and past frustrations slow us down, stall us out and wear us down. It’s time to accelerate, re-invigorate, and innovate.”

So why are manufacturers spending money but expect nothing—or very little—in return? What can be said or done to change and transform these expectations—and manufacturing overall? We have five simple observations to encourage us all.

  • Get Grounded.  A colleague recently told us that action started with this equation: Thought + Action = Attitude = Behavior. We initially argued against it. But over time, we had to admit he was right. We must start with how we think about change, what actions can really make an impact, and then parlay those into an attitude that begets positive behavior. Only then can change be positive for us, our teams and for our company. Making a difference means getting grounded, one person at a time.
  • Get Smart. There’s no shortage of advice for how to improve manufacturing operations and how to optimize the people and the processes. Getting smart can mean almost anything, but it starts with examining all the variables within a company. We follow that with a process that searches, studies and tests ways to optimize operations. In this context, getting smart means relying on your team, trying new ideas and approaches, defining and refining, and reaching out to industry peers for new advice.
  • Get Connected. Connecting with experts (internal or external) is paramount to effecting real change. Find improvement masters with real experience and results.
  • Get In Depth. It’s so much easier to “go through the motions” and continually apply Band-Aids to problems instead of prepping for surgery and curing the ailment. But real surgical change only surfaces when the problems or inefficiencies are identified and rooted out. It’s often time-consuming, difficult—maybe even painful for a short period of time. But going in-depth reveals the potential and yields the reward.
  • Get Going. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of movement, as in shifting from park to drive. Getting going is often the most difficult step toward improved operations and efficiencies, especially if you’ve driven this road many times before.

Admittedly, we may not be telling you anything you don’t already know. We share these simple truths, perhaps as nothing more than a reminder that each of us must shed what hasn’t worked, and focus on what can, what may and what will.

Skepticism and past frustrations slow us down, stall us out and wear us down. It’s time to accelerate, re-invigorate and innovate.  We see many manufacturers already moving the mark.

We see manufacturers in a similar scene from last year’s hit movie, “Thor: The Dark World,” in which Thor and his brother, Loki, are trying to steer a boat through a sliver of a crevice within a mountain wall. Loki says, “If it were easy, everyone would do it,” with Thor firing back, “Are you mad?” Deadpan from Loki: “Possibly.”

While we’re not possibly mad, manufacturing executives and operators require a hefty share of hard work to steer through the obstacles, curves and crevices to get ahead — and stay ahead.

Let’s get going.

Bill Strain and Sy Williams work for Xerox Information Technology Outsourcing, Manufacturing Industry group. Bill is vice president and chief technology officer; Sy is the managing director.

Learn More from Xerox

Read the Xerox white paper, “How Smart Manufacturing Delivers Performance Improvement” and learn how smart manufacturing works.

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