Author: Paul Henriques in: Management
Industry 4.0 has brought with it a suite of tools that can improve your operational productivity with a minimal fiscal and labor cost. This means apps and digital gadgets that can improve everything at your shop like how your manufactory processes parts or presents data. In other words, your challenge for the next decade must include dedicating a portion of your time to your digital transformation.
Most companies look to implementation consulting teams for many of these applications. These are people that, hopefully, are used to asking relevant questions and understanding your motivation behind the adoption of a tool. If they are a third-party team, they might even have various competing tools to suggest for you that can net you increased productivity for a lower cost.
This can be one of the first hurdles to a digital transformation. In discussions about the transformation, you have to ensure that your implementation team is ‘speaking your language’. For example, is this a team with experience in discrete manufacturing or are they more accustomed to warehouse or retail implementations?
While a hurdle like different sectors can be overcome, this means that your questions and answers about what needs to be done have to be well understood by your consultants to ensure you have a successful transformation. Here, you want to ensure that the implementation team that you put together from your staff that will work with the consultants includes specialists from all your key operational areas.
To understand your whole process, your local implementation team should have members with distinct knowledge that affects your various business units and operations together. This will ensure that you have a complete picture of the transformation, one that can move from the theory to the practice with minimal issues.
Getting a complete picture of your processes, and how your new tools will impact those processes, requires 4 distinct areas of knowledge:
By having staff that are knowledgeable on your implementation team, you can cover all the areas of knowledge and minimize the negative impact of adopting a new tool to your production routine.
Why is the theoretical knowledge of a solution. This knowledge is required to understand why a problem exists and why this is the right tool to solve it. Like how an automated MRP can minimize order errors and staffing or how a new shipping process and cut all shipping errors.
Those that understand why the process has to change may not understand every step that the change will impact in the process. This may be an executive that hasn’t walked the shop floor or a consultant that isn’t familiar with your business.
The problem with not having the practical knowledge can begin when communicating with your experts. The management person may understand Lean, Agile, ERP, and other management lingo. But when you are talking to a layman, those terms make you seem aloof or out of touch. Like with the consultants, when answering employee questions, you have to ‘speak their language’. Use words and concepts that they will be familiar with. For example, when talking about lean, you can discuss how it opens communication between operators and management or how a WMS helps to track and find parts in inventory and how that can cut excess inventory costs leading to more business and more staff.
What will be transformed requires knowledge of the business process. This can be achieved by having staff that work in various areas but it should be made apparent with business process maps. This will give you a visual illustration of how your current process runs and it can be used to map what will change due to your digital transformation.
While it may seem like a business process map can be used as a stand-in, you will need staff that know the process when implementing your digital transformation to ensure that the map is accurate. Walking through the process from start to finish and documenting each step is a great start that will also come in handy when reviewing what will change with the new tool.
Knowing how a transformation will be used requires practical knowledge of processes. This mean you need staff with expertise on how a new tool will impact the day-today lives and steps that are taken. Like how a forklift operator’s actions may change by adding a bar code scanner and a touch screen instead of pen-and-paper or how a finance department person may add and review invoice information.
Those with the required expertise will often understand that the process can be changed but they don’t care to understand why it should be done. Whether it is trust in management to make the right decision or a disinterest in the motives, this person just wants to know what needs to be done differently and how it can be done better.
If your corporate culture is one of growth and accepting blame, like the Lean method, then the experts will be ready to adopt the new processes confident that the kinks will be ironed out with few negative consequences due to the learning curve. By explaining why a new tool or process is being implemented and working with the unit experts on how it will be used most effectively, you can improve your implementation and adoption period.
Prudence is a cautious understanding of the process. This knowledge usually comes from a long time of performing a process and getting to know the many shortfalls and danger areas that can often go unseen. Like not putting enough time aside for training or not properly cleaning up data before importing it to a new digital tool.
Those with prudence can often see a possible issue in the upcoming change and will help come up with a different way to perform an action that minimizes any disruptions or safety concerns.
Questions and concerns brought up during an implementation by team members should often be noted and reviewed before continuing as they will bring to light upcoming issues. These questions can often provide an answer to the problem within the question. It is up to the lead team to ensure they are addressed with further refinements made as part of PDCA.
Making any process adoption successful, especially a digital transformation, can be ensured by padding your transition and implementation team with staff that have knowledge about the processes and enough experience to have an understanding of how they can fail. By improving your conversations with your staff, you can also ensure they have a better understanding of what you are trying to accomplish and how it will positively impact them.