Projected success: Five project management lessons for manufacturing

Tuesday May 24, 2016
Written by Andreas Tremel, InLoox
May 24, 2016 - Unlike other industries, the manufacturing and production industry is no novice when it comes to project management. Lean, Kaizen, Six Sigma and many other methods have already contributed enormously to eliminating wastes, streamlining processes and optimizing production cycles in manufacturing.

Project management (PM) can give valuable insight and help identify — and ideally eliminate — the activities and issues that may happen away from the assembly line and impact production. Nevertheless, staying focused on how best to execute project management tactics is often hard and overlooked, especially when pressured for time and/or funds. Here are five project management lessons that are worth remembering throughout your entire career:

1. Keep your PM as dynamic as your processes
Manufacturing is geared towards efficiency in production and output, adapting processes to product demand, changes in resource availability and innovations in the industry. However, non-value-added activities (NVAs) or processes outside the workshop can negatively impact your product/service and as a result, customer satisfaction. NVAs often happen outside the shop and can be tackled with project management methods. How is this achieved? One way is through Lean project management, which allows you to stay flexible and dynamic by eliminating waste to streamline processes. Waste is defined by the Triple M: Muda, Mura and Muri. Muda describes seven types of waste or actions that do not add any value to process, such as defects, overproduction or over-processing. Mura, waste of unevenness, and Muri, waste of overburden, are often overlooked but actually describe the root of most Muda wastes. Customer demand typically fluctuates or is uneven, so to speak, and it may seem arbitrary. However, there is usually a pattern that, if overlooked by the manufacturing company, can cause shortages or oversupply. Equally, overburdened employees are often the cause for defects, be it because of lack of training, shortage in skilled workers or unreasonable demands they cannot fulfill. Lean project management can help prevent Muda, Mura and Muri wastes by identifying which processes within your project result in the most waste. Start with a work breakdown structure that helps planning work packages and deliverables. It gives a clear structure and distributes responsibilities among the team. Make this plan available to everyone involved so that employees know what they need to do to produce deliverables and have a clear perspective of the goals.

2. Keep your project on track
An important aspect of keeping your project on track is finding out where NVAs occur in the system and have all processes and activities documented and stored where all team members can easily access them. By doing so, the team will have the valuable data they need to analyze where time, resources or money is wasted because of inefficient, ineffective or unnecessary tasks clogging work flow. As such, it is important for project managers to take on various roles. What does it take to change from one role to another and not falter? A good skill set that is comprised of hard and soft skills. If project managers are to streamline processes, they need to be detail-oriented without neglecting the big picture. Problem solving often requires aiming for small changes over a longer period of time while simultaneously troubleshooting with immediate effects. Project managers must be team-oriented and able to motivate, and cannot be afraid to display strong leadership or make unpopular decisions for the success of the project. If you have such a person on your team, congratulations! They will be able to identify wastes, streamline and standardize, and create a work environment where everyone is eager to contribute to the success of a project.

3. Keep your PM simple
Creating a Lean shop that runs smoothly without producing waste does not happen overnight. Once problems that cause NVAs are uncovered, they need to be addressed, for only when they are made visible can they be tackled. So, how exactly do you streamline and standardize processes in manufacturing? Here, classic project management methods such as the creation of a project schedule, BOSCARD for strategic planning and approval, and the aforementioned creation of a work breakdown structure, are essentials. They form the basis for the project manager to identify dependencies, merge processes and standardize procedures and develop a standard inventory that needs to be at hand, not only for the current project but for future ones too. These standardizations keep project management simple because you produce best practices that employees can return to over and over. In order to find best practices for your standardization, communication within your team is key. The information each individual holds needs to be available to everyone.

4. Keep your knowledge transfer transparent
Knowledge management is a fairly new method within the project management sphere and there are a range of tools out there. All tools aim at making knowledge available to those who need it, when they need it, and there are many different ways of accessing knowledge. Making employees’ expertise available to everybody starts by keeping track of all the knowledge that is kept by individuals. Useful and established tools include: keeping a project and expert database; using a document management system; and having a debrief or knowledge transfer meeting after each project or when a member leaves the team/department. Then, the gathered knowledge needs to be made available to everyone. Sharing documents, files and emails, through PM software lets everyone get the proper kind of information they need to execute tasks on time. The next step is to identify tools that will help employees become more efficient. There are also many tried and true approaches, such as using your project management software as a collaboration management software, keeping a searchable intranet wiki, establishing a virtual forum, or having a newsgroup that alerts the right people to newly added knowledge. For this to be successful, an open work culture has to be in place where someone’s knowledge is held in esteem and sharing said knowledge is seen as contributing to the overall success of the company.

5. Always work to improve processes and products
Where does this leave those in manufacturing? It all boils down to combining project management skills and tools with established methods in manufacturing to improve processes and products. In order to keep the infamous Triple M in check, the above lessons provide a good basis to get better at getting better. Time, cost and scope of a project are interdependent and changing one affects the others. Improving the overall quality of the product is usually key as future contracts and projects depend on current customer satisfaction, but are rarely achieved without changes to time, cost or scope. This is where your Lean project manager, your knowledge database, and your streamlined processes aid you in making small changes. Improvements to costs at the expense of more time spent on one step in your project plan can free up time later when you need to allocate more resources to keep within your set time frame. Your customer may add another detail, thus, increasing the scope which you may be able to accommodate because you have documented a similar process in your knowledge database and can easily adjust it without additional resources. This is a constant process of documenting, assessing results, prioritizing and reviewing — one step at a time in the continuous cycle of improvement.

Andreas Tremel, co-founder and CEO of InLoox, is responsible for strategic and product development, and marketing and communication strategy. With 15+ years of experience in developing software solutions, he focuses on building solutions that adding value to the standard procedures of task management.

This feature was originally published on the March/April 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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