About Andrew Nicholson

Manufacturing Consultant and Trainer – Lean, Continuous Improvement and Supply Chain

Japanese Manufacturing Techniques – the early days of Lean in the UK

In the late ’80’s I was fortunate to join a very fast-growing electronics company that was one of the first UK manufacturers to adopt what was then known as “Just-in-Time Production”. I was employed as Materials Manager to implement a new MRPII system and to introduce Just-in-Time supply to a reduced supplier base. The concept of “Lean” was not then known, and the main focus of business improvement activities was around Total Quality Control, Zero Defects and Quality Circles.

One of the very few English language books available at the time was Richard J. Sconberger’s Japanese Manufacturing Techniques, first published in 1982, and still on my bookshelf. Even the title of the book shows that the main focus then was simply to copy what were thought to be the main techniques of successful Japanese manufacturers. In fact, each of the book’s nine chapters deals with one of these “techniques”.  Chapter 4 in particular indicates this thinking: “The Debut of Just-in-Time Production in the United States. Lesson 4: Culture is no obstacle; techniques can change behaviour”

Sadly, this view still persists to this day with some manufacturers. They still see “Lean” – as we now call it – simply as a set of tools and techniques to be learned and applied. Not surprisingly this narrow approach rapidly leads to disappointment and then a search for the next “initiative”.

Over the last 30 years we’ve come to realise that Lean is a company-wide philosophy that requires strong Leadership at all levels, a respect for people and a willingness always to look for a better way. Yes, the right tools and techniques are important, but there’s much, much more to Continuous Improvement than tools and techniques.

If you’d like to share your own experiences of “Just-in-Time” and Lean, please register and comment. And if you’d like some help with your own Lean journey, please email me at Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

QCD is out of date – you need CxVAR

For decades now manufacturers have measured their performance in terms of Quality, Cost and Delivery. These days that’s no longer good enough. If you really want to raise your game here are some measures you need to be thinking about:

Cx – Customer Experience. The customer’s total life-time experience of your products, services and brand. Think customer journeys, Net Promoter Score, Fault-Free Years in Service and the like. Talk with them, partner with them, have the difficult conversations, grow old together.

Value-Add. This goes to the heart of what manufacturing is all about – taking a whole load of inputs and resources and turning them into something more valuable. Value-add per employee is a critical measure of productivity. At the plant level, it’s one of the “critical few” measures, and at a national level increasing productivity is the only real way to improve living standards.

Responsiveness. Simply delivering a product “on time” (which date exactly?) doesn’t really cut it. How agile and responsive are you to customer needs? Do you know exactly what’s important to your customer? Can you flex volumes, delivery times and specifications? Do you need to offer guaranteed lead-times, short lead-times or both?

If you’d like an up-to-date, independent review of your KPI’s and objectives, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

Being Busy and Being Efficient – What you Need to Do When

We’re all aware of the “Busy Fools” syndrome – high output, high costs, high stress, and high risk. When you’re up to your neck in alligators it’s tempting to just keep ploughing on, Head down, bottom up, you know that you’re wasting time and money but you hope for the day when everything “quietens down” and “gets back to normal”.

If customer service deteriorates, this might be self-fulfilling. An IT industry insider once described to me the typical cycle of a high-growth IT business – rapid growth leads to poor service, which slows growth. Service improves, the company grows, service declines, ….. and so the cycle continues.

If we can avoid this decline in service levels then we’ll need to accept that things won’t just “quieten down” and that “busy” has become the new “normal”. So we need to know what to do about it.

And businesses who are “Quiet” and “Efficient” also need to have effective strategies.

That’s why some years ago we developed this simple “Busy” / “Lean” Grid, to help business leaders understand where their business is, and what they need to do about it. Let’s have a look at each of the four quadrants:

  1. “Busy and Inefficient” – the “Busy Fools” scenario. The busier we are, the less efficient we become. Stress levels increase, service declines and productivity tails off. One of our biggest challenges (as a management consultancy and training organisation) is in persuading prospective clients to stop chopping down trees and spend some time sharpening the axe! In this situation very few business leaders have the courage to make everyone “down tools” for a week to transform the way they operate, so we need to find another way. The solution is to spend a couple of hours training staff to identify the main sources of wasted time and effort, to generate improvement actions, and to implement a prioritised improvement action plan. Pretty soon, productivity increases, stress levels are reduced and morale improves.
  2. Quiet and Inefficient” – the “About to go out of business” scenario. At this point, massive action is needed to turn around the company’s fortunes. Sales, service and efficiency all need to increase – often with little or no investment available. Fresh thinking is required, often driven by new Leadership.
  3. “Quiet and Efficient” – the “All dressed up with nowhere to go” scenario. Being Lean is all about adding value and eliminating waste. Many organisations like eliminating waste but far too few focus on increasing the “value-add”. If you find yourself in this situation then you need to get close to your customers, understand exactly what they value and are prepared to pay for, and find more and more ways of providing this. As part of our work with clients in this quadrant we focus on VAST – Value-Added Sales Techniques. In the longer term, this needs to become part of effective Supply Chain management.
  4. “Busy and Lean” – the “making it look easy” scenario, where most of our clients are! When you’ve truly embedded Lean thinking and Continuous Improvement, the rewards are very clear. Even in a recession, sales increase, margins improve and people still find time to make this month better and more efficient than last month. These World Class organisations invest broadly across the business, they innovate their products and processes, they look to inspire their employees and stakeholders and they understand “why” they do what they do.

Whichever quadrant your business is in, if you’re keen to improve contact info@NicholsonConsultancy.com. We can help you add value, reduce costs, and “work smarter not harder” – all at the same time!

How to break out of the “Too Busy to Improve” trap

Once you’re up and running with Lean and Continuous Improvement, you’re in the “virtuous circle” where you’re continuously becoming more efficient, saving more time, and investing some of that time in becoming even more efficient.

But if you’re very busy and you haven’t yet started your Lean journey, what do you do?

The biggest danger to avoid is just to “wait until things quieten down”. This approach can be self-fulfilling – but not in a good way! If you don’t improve then the downside of “being busy” can be longer lead times, higher costs and reduced performance. All of which can lead to a permanent – sometimes fatal – reduction in business as customers go elsewhere. This is often called the “busy fool” approach – putting in more and more effort, but getting back less and less benefit.

Instead, you need to get started on the virtuous circle by finding ways to “force in” about 10% of additional time and resource “up front”.

To do this, you need to do a bit more of the things you always do to increase your capacity: work some short-time overtime, cut back on time-consuming unprofitable work, bring in additional labour, contract out some of the workload, reschedule low-priority work, etc, etc.

And then you use some of that time to provide some short, sharp awareness training about Lean, non-value-added activities and the Eight Wastes. People will soon identify where the problems are, and come up with improvement ideas. Then you help the teams to prioritise their ideas and implement them. Focus first on improvements that save time and make the job easier. In no time, you’ll start getting some “quick wins”. Productivity increases, morale improves and people start to smile again.

Pretty soon, you’ll experience the unusual sensation of having time to actually stand back and think. And then you realise that the virtuous circle has begun….

If you want help to break out of your own “Too Busy Improve” trap, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com. Pretty soon, you’ll be getting better results with less effort. And who knows, you might even start to enjoy work and live longer!

Why your Manufacturing company needs an Inbound Marketing Strategy

Written by Gemma Rogers  |  27, July, 2017

There is no escaping the fact that there has been a seismic shift in the way customers buy, and the manufacturing industry is no exception. Research shows nearly 90 per cent of B2B buyers begin by doing their own research online.

Manufacturers can no longer rely on a direct or distributor sales force to generate growth. Traditional sales and marketing tactics, such as print advertising, trade shows and cold calling don’t work like they used to. It is also difficult to calculate the ROI of such methods for manufacturing companies with typically long sales cycles. The famous quote: “I know that half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. My only problem is that I don’t know which half” rings very true. In an industry which relies heavily on measurability of processes and systems, this is something of a discord.

Some of the more modern marketing methods such as online paid advertising and pay-per-click promotion, while 100% measurable, only offer a short-term solution; the minute you stop pumping money into a PPC campaign the lead flow stops.

You need a different approach, and adopting an inbound marketing strategy could be the answer.

Why Inbound is the perfect fit for Manufacturers

Sales need to position themselves more as advisors; providing informative and educational information to assist buyers in their decision-making process. Information that goes beyond what can be found online; that adds value, that addresses buyers’ needs, aspirations and fears. Only then can you begin to gain a buyer’s trust.

An inbound approach to sales and marketing focuses on creating relevant, high-quality content that pulls people to your company, attracting traffic that you can convert to leads and close to sales over time. So, it’s perfect for the longer sales cycles associated with manufacturing. After all, long and complex sales cycles require strong relationships.

With an inbound strategy, you build a baseline to measure future progress more accurately – and specific, measurable and attainable goals. These goals inform the tactics you’ll need to achieve these outcomes.

Follow these seven steps to develop your Inbound Marketing Strategy

1. Establish a baseline audit, goals and timelines

A strong, successful inbound marketing strategy should be based on clear business goals. In your manufacturing company, you probably rely on production forecasts based on sales figures to determine how much product to produce? You understand the importance of measuring your processes and systems? Well, your marketing should not be the exception.

To start measuring your marketing, you need to conduct a comprehensive baseline audit. Questions to consider are: how much monthly traffic does your website currently generate? How many visitors convert to leads? How many leads convert to customers, for example.

2. Explore your competitive landscape

In this new digital era, it is relatively easy to conduct research on your competitors and measure how you stack up. How many followers on social media do they have, and how active are they? Can you learn anything from their content – what offers do they have? How does their website compare to yours, not only in look and feel but also in performance?

Two useful tools for conducting this research are Website Grader and SEMrush.

3. Brand messaging and positioning

This is an area that can help manufacturers stand out from the crowd. Many businesses still think a brand is about logos and colour choices. But it goes much deeper than that. You need to dig deep and develop a core message that your customers relate to, that demonstrates who you are and what you stand for, and that stands you apart from the competition.

4. Define your Buyer Persona and Buyer’s Journey

To be able to create content that resonates with your customers, it is essential you first understand who your customers are. Buyer personas are representations of your target customers based on real-world information and educated guesses. Their likes, dislikes, habits, behaviours, motivations and concerns, as well as their job function, where they spend time online, decision criteria, and more.

Even if you only manufacture one product, you are still likely to have more than one persona. For example, the marketing or purchasing department is likely to be researching on the C-suites behalf, and both groups may have an influence on the final decision.

If you have a complex and varied product offering, you may have several personas that represent the different verticals you sell into. If your sales process relies on distributors, you may consider developing personas for both the distributors and the end customers.

The best way to define personas is to include as many of your key personnel as possible in the process. Devise and circulate questionnaires and once the responses are collated, organise a brainstorming session with your team to define your final personas and then circulate the final versions to all of your staff.

5. Establish a foundation for content creation

Inbound marketing cannot work without content. With typically long sales cycles in manufacturing, developing well-considered content at each step throughout the sales funnel enables you to develop multiple touch points with prospects, keeping you front of mind as they conduct their research.

Is your content well balanced, covering topics for each stage of the buyer’s journey? And is there a variety of formats? Not everyone has the time or patience for eBooks. Have you considered other formats such as quick guides, blogs, video and infographics?

Develop a content plan that plugs any gaps in your content offering, ensuring that you are writing with a persona in mind at all times. Identifying existing resource and potential budget for outsourcing here is important as content creation can be a challenge. Do you need to recruit someone, or possibly hire the services of a content writer?

6. Exploring optimal website performance

This is another area where many manufacturers fall down. It is not enough to have a visually appealing website or an online catalogue of your products. Your website needs to be about your customers, not your services, features and benefits.

In order to rank highly on Google there are some fundamental basics your content must include, such as keywords, H1 titles, meta descriptions and title tags. Your website must also be responsive and optimised for mobile, have sound security, a fast page load time, to name just a few.

By considering a platform such as HubSpot, you can take your website to a whole new level by using smart content. The smart content functionality in the HubSpot platform is a powerful tool that enables intelligent personalisation by data segmentation, device, location, persona type and lifecycle stage.

7. Close the loop with inbound sales enablement

Inbound marketing will generate new leads for your business, but the way in which your sales people deal with these new inbound leads may need to adapt. An inbound lead is more informed and more qualified than an outbound lead.

The final step of the inbound marketing strategy is to conduct an audit of your current sales process and look for areas of improvement. This could include reviewing your sales literature, product brochures, pricing guides. An alignment between sales and marketing is needed to ensure your marketing provides relevant content and enables Sales to focus on the prospects in their pipeline that will close.

Platforms such as HubSpot enable Sales to use event-triggered technology to spot the signs that someone is ready to buy and spend time with the right prospects.

Marketing teams can provide email templates for salespeople to use, and tools such as sequencing can automate follow up emails, so salespeople no longer need to keep track of follow-up with prospects.

Most modern CRM systems can record email correspondence and calls and log activity reducing the need for manual data entry.

By following these steps, you will build a strong inbound marketing strategy for your manufacturing company. Implementing an inbound strategy will help you to reach more of the right people, at the right time, on their terms. It will create a clear structure for your sales and marketing efforts from which you can build a strong inbound marketing foundation for your organisati

Written by Gemma Rogers

Gemma brings over 15 years experience in sales and marketing across a wide range of industry sectors, from large multinationals to small start-up businesses. Her passions are inbound marketing and inbound sales, creating unique and memorable websites and campaigns to engage and delight potential clients and customers alike.

A quick way to prioritise improvement ideas and suggestions

If you’re swamped with improvement ideas and suggestions, here’s a quick team-based approach to prioritising them – Ease and Effect:

  • Write each idea on a sticky note
  • In turn, read out / explain to the team each improvement idea
  • For each idea, first ask the team “How Easy do we think it would be to implement this idea?” Get the team to reach consensus on this – “Easy”, “Medium” or “Difficult”
  • Secondly, ask the team “If we did it, how much impact or Effect would this idea have?” Get the team to reach consensus on this – “High”, “Medium” or “Low”
  • Use a flipchart sheet or large piece of paper and draw out a 3 x 3 Ease and Effect Grid. Use the vertical for “Ease” and split this into the three categories  “Easy”, Medium” and Difficult. Use the horizontal for “Effect” and split this into the three categories “High”, “Medium” and “Low”.
  • After each idea has been reviewed and ranked, place the sticky note in one of the nine boxes, based on its “Ease” and “Effect” rating.
  • Prioritise the ideas based on the following ranking:
  1. Easy to do, with High Effect
  2. Easy to do, with Medium Effect
  3. Medium to do, with High Effect

Keep track of progress using a simple traffic light (RAG) system – ideas that you haven’t yet started are coloured Red, ideas that you’re currently working on are coloured Amber and ideas that have been completed are colured Green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can download a copy of the Ease and Effect Grid (and lots of other useful stuff) here: http://www.nicholsonconsultancy.com/free-downloads/

And if you’d like some help in running your own Ease and Effect sessions, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com

Getting Things Done – Managing Tasks and Projects

“Too much to do, too little time!” is a cry that we hear more and more often recently.  When you’re trying to tackle a dozen projects, a hundred initiatives and a thousand “to do” tasks, it can feel so overwhelming that it’s hard to even make a start.

So here’s a “quick and dirty” way to make sense of it all.

  1. Make a list – a full list. The first step is to face up to the challenge and list out all of the projects, tasks, initiatives and “to do’s”. It might look like a long list but don’t be put off – this is the first step towards regaining control.
  2. Split the list into two – “Tasks” and “Projects”. Tasks are things you know how to tackle, don’t take up a lot of resource and can be achieved in a few days. Projects are things that take longer, maybe need some research or data collection, and involve more people.
  3. Take the “Tasks” and prioritise them using an “Ease and Effect” grid. Start with the tasks that are Easy to implement and have the highest Effect or Impact. Then tackle the tasks that are Easy to implement and have a medium Effect. Put these tasks into an Action Plan and track progress using “traffic lights” (also known as RAG – Red, Amber, Green) – Red items haven’t yet been tackled, Amber items are those currently being tackled and Green items have been successfully completed.
  4. Translate the Projects onto a simple timeline or “Gantt Chart”. Split the timeline into three – (a) items to be tackled in the next 12 weeks, (b) items to be tackled in the following 12 months, (c) items to be tackled in the following year. Agree who will be accountable for each of the projects and set realistic start and finish dates.

That’s it! Yes it’s rough and ready but it’s the quickest, most effective way to regain control of “too much stuff” – try it!

And if you need some help to manage and deliver some of those projects, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com.

The Number Twelve Motivator – “In the last year I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow”

Continuous Improvement applies as much to people as it does to organisations. Yet many organisations fail to understand this and to act on it. As a result, people tend to under-perform and hence the organisations they work for also tend to under-perform.

Effective Leaders understand how to get more from their people. Almost always, they challenge people to do better. And critically, they provide people with the right training, coaching, and support to achive those challenges.

Here are just a few of the many, many ways to help people to learn and grow:

Best Practice: providing opportunities to see what good looks like – perhaps in a completely different industry, sector or environment.

Peer learning: providing opportunities to work alongside colleagues from other departments or organisations

Secondment: typically a short-term transfer to another department or organisation. Maybe a one-year sabbatical?

Delegation: often a simple but very effective way to develop employees. Just make sure that you pass on some of the good stuff, not just the drudge work!

Training and Coaching: often, one of the best wayw to really understand something is to teach it to others.

Projects: typically, important long-term activities, often “above and beyond” the day job. Great for team-building too!

Just a few examples but not only do these approaches help to motivate the individual concerned, they can also provide huge benefits for the employee’s colleagues, for their boss and for their organisation. Try it!

… and if you’d like some help in developing your employees – and perhaps to create yuor own learning organisation – please contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.com.

The Number Eleven Motivator – “In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress”

This one really gets to the core of workplace motivation, since it covers some of our basic human needs –

  • the need to have objectives and goals – something to aim for
  • the need to feel that we’re making progress towards achieivng our goals
  • the need for regular feedback, to help us keep on track

Without these – aither at work or in our personal lives – it’s easy to drift and to lose motivation. Remember – “You are happy to the extent that you are in pursuit of worthy goals”.

Effective Leaders get to know their people and make the effort – however busy they are – for regular one-to-one discussions with each of them. Formally, this might be done every six months through an appraisal and review system, but more frequent one-to-one sessions (at least monthly) are perhaps even nore important.

Regular, honest, constructive feedback is vital to individual performance and motivation. In fact, most of us would rather have negative feedback than no feedback at all.

As well as reviewing performance against objectives, it’s also an opportunity to talk about career progression and to ensure that the employee’s idea of their future trajectory is realistic and generally fits with the needs of the organisation. In simple terms, we might benefit from some fast track superstars but most organisations also need a fair number of “steady Eddy’s” – committed, reliable people who always turn up on time and just get the job done.

… if you’d like to know more about objective-setting, effective feedback that works, appraisal, performance management or any other apsects of practical workplace leadership, contact Andrew.Nicholson@ImproveMyFactory.con

The Number Ten Motivator – “I have a best friend at work”

Maybe this is the only one of the Top 12 Motivators that isn’t always simple and easy to address in the workplace. In fact, one of the difficult challenges for first time managers is having to accept that they shouldn’t aim to be “everyone’s friend” at the expense of getting the job done.

That said, there are at least three things that we can aim to provide in the workplace:

  1. For new starters, a designated “buddy” who will be available for the first few days and weeks to help them find their way around. “Hold their hands until they find their feet” as one of my colleagues once put it!
  2. For the “rising stars” (and the owner or Chief Exec) an experienced mentor who can act as a sounding board and ask the right questions
  3. Regular, honest face-to-face feedback – providing in an open, professional manner some of the benefits of a “critical friend”. In other words, being prepared to challenge and to question, in the long-term interests of the other person.

So maybe we can’t literally be, or provide, a “best friend” at work, but there’s a lot that we can do in an organisation to provide many of the positive benefits of a “best friend”. And it’s also a great motivator for those taking on the role of the buddy, the mentor and the “Critical Friend”!