While Staying True to Your Customers, Stay True to Yourself
If you’re not increasing your competitive edge, you’re losing it. While those words were written more than 10 years ago by a quality guru encouraging companies to prepare for the business recovery at the turn of the century, the sentiment rings true today, and perhaps will forever. However, in this era of rapid growth combined with a thinning skilled-labor pool, honing that competitive edge can prove quite challenging. I compare this environment to an NFL football game, where the quarterback (perhaps your plant or production manager) must leave the comfort zone of the pocket and scramble. He meets obstacles to success head on in the open field, sometimes colliding with them and other times dodging them, reacting quickly and always maintaining balance.
NFL fans know well that many modern-day quarterbacks are experiencing on-field success using their ability to run, as well as throw. And, while on the run, these “scrambling” quarterbacks are able to create and perform at the highest level.
So too must metalformers learn to successfully scramble, to satisfy customers as their demands accelerate for quicker and more agile service. When customer demand for products and services exceeds the capabilities of the workforce, what play do we send to the plant floor? “Scramble.”
This plan, however, does not come without risk. Just as the scrambling quarterback becomes susceptible to injury, a scrambling metalformer also opens itself up to risk of injury. Most notably: If you’re always in scramble mode, you likely have little time to focus inward on continuous-improvement (CI) projects, let alone look for breakthrough innovations that will fuel future growth.
Amongst the daily continuous-improvement (CI) plays that grind out first downs one at a time, let’s use Atlas Tool’s use of white-light scanning (described in the article beginning on page 48 of this issue) as an example of playbook (and breakthrough) innovation. Here the coach is challenging the status quo and developing completely new plays, rather than just looking to fine-tune those already in place.
Consider this perspective on CI from a recent contributor to the Harvard Business Review blog:
“Too many continuous improvement projects focus so much on gaining efficiencies that they don’t challenge the basic assumptions of what’s being done.” Perhaps this is one reason why nearly 70 percent of manufacturing executives say that their improvement efforts have failed to reduce costs by any more than 3 or 4 percent (according to a recent AlixPartners survey).
Another company profiled in this issue of MetalForming—Trueline, Inc.—exemplifies the success that can come from looking inward for new directions in which to turn, while scrambling to score with customers. In 2009, Trueline assigned applications engineer Mitchell Johnson the job of focusing internally. His single-minded goal is to improve Trueline, while everyone else at the company maintains focus on meeting immediate customer requirements.In the article beginning on page 52, you can learn about some of Mitchell’s self-improvement projects at Trueline. He’s a great example of a lead blocker in Trueline’s scrambling efforts to stay true to itself while staying true to its customers. MF
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