Monday, December 20, 2010

Once again ROI from MES - Not Really!

So much has bee written and discussed about ROI for MES. I got involved in the latest discussion on a LinkedIn group. I guess that this question is one of the great phenomena of the MES domain. Unlike other types of systems (ERP, QMS, PLM, etc.) the returns and direct benefits hardly provide enough to justify the investment. To complicate matters even more the actual reasons for employing MES differ not only by industry but also by customer. Para-phrasing Paul Boris from the LinkedIn discussion “it is like explaining to your kids why they should eat their veggies”.

It is no wonder that MES solutions are typically the last ones to be implemented in the typical manufacturing solution landscape. It is simply too hard to provide a clear and concise return or benefit from an MES alone or at least to justify the investment – and MESs do not come cheap. On the other hand it is obviously much easier when there is a specific and typically catastrophic event that needs to be remedied, such as a recall, 483 (FDA warning letter), regulatory compliance, detrimental quality issues, etc.

MES need to be thought of as enablers for operational excellence where the ROI and benefit come from the “Whole” solution and not the system. For example more efficient process, better quality, effective material management, etc. The ROI and/or benefits have to then be attributed to The Whole Solution – focus on the solution rather than the System (i.e. MES).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The power of collaboration

Last week I participated in a conceptual design process for a facility and process revamp with one of our customers. This is the first time in quite a few years where I worked in multi-disciplinary team that was tasked with coming up with options and solutions for a new process line. Obviously my responsibilities where around the Manufacturing Systems – nothing new here.

It was one of those experiences where I knew how effective such a collaborative process is, yet a verbal explanation does not do it justice. Kind of like trying to teach somebody how to ride a bicycle by reading a book. Quite simple you would think -just peddle and hold your balance – right?

So I now once again have renewed appreciation not only for the other engineering disciplines and level of competency required but also for the importance of collaboration in engineering projects. It is refreshing to once in a while get back to basics, hopefully I will get a few more chances to do that.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The 4 Misunderstanding About Manufacturing Systems Implementations

A few weeks ago I attended the ISPE annual meeting in Orlando. My company was hosting a session about technology and operational excellence that was pretty well attended. I take that as a sign of general interest in the topic. I believe that the interest was on the pure operational excellent side, yet the session tried to highlight the synergies that exist between manufacturing systems and operational excellence.

My colleague Carsten Holm Pedersen held a talk on the synergies between systems and operational excellence. The main theme of his talk was what he called “The 4 Myths” about manufacturing information systems or as I refer to them as “The 4 Misunderstanding” about Manufacturing System implementations. I really liked his message so I wanted to share it here.

Focus ROI
Sole focus on ROI ensures success because it defines qualitative business goals and sets a defined scope. However this also means that focus is diverted to “easy wins” rather than usable solutions and enhancement that have obvious value are ignored or rejected as “scope creep”. Furthermore there is risk that synergies from process improvement and other OpEx initiatives are not incorporated or supported by the system.

Use of Standard Systems
Application of standard systems is more effective and guarantees use of “Best Practices”. They reduce risk and provide superior maintainability. The reality is that these so-called “Best Practices” are not necessarily a good fit to your process and sometimes they are not “best” at all, but simply a result of “that is the way we have always done it” thinking. As such they sometimes do not provide the flexibility or adaptability to specific processes and force unnecessary constraints. Focus is diverted to “What we can buy” rather than “What we need”.

Competitive approaches increase productivity
Employing a competitive approach where different projects are competing for the same funds motivates and steers project teams to achieve better results. In fact just the contrary is true, this approach only ensures sub-optimization. It inhibits collaboration and does not leverage the inherent need for systems to be built to support the process. Systems are built to provide specific point solutions and not enable a streamlined lean manufacturing process or superior process understanding.

Integration should be avoided.
Interoperability between systems is not that important and if it is implemented has to be in real time. On the contrary one of the inherent attributes of Manufacturing Systems is interoperability with all levels in the manufacturing process. Not including interoperability with other system may seriously inhibit the usability of a solution and some obvious benefits to process visibility may be ignored. Also each interface may have different “real-time” requirements that have to be evaluated by needs and value.

There is obviously much more to these than what I can put in this post so let me know what you think and make sure to follow Carsten for more discussion on these topics.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What is a Manufacturing System - Part I

This is a post that is long overdue. A central discussion topic on this blog is Manufacturing Systems and I have not yet really explained what I mean by a Manufacturing System. I have talked about manufacturing system that are agile and Holonic, so it is about time that I posted a more practical or at least clear description of what I mean.

Most definitions of Manufacturing System are focused on describing a solution, or more precisely the functionality and architecture of a Manufacturing System solution. For example the MESA model presents number of functional categories from a business perspective, where as the ISA-95 (S-95) model provides a solution architecture based on functional decomposition. All these are of course relevant and useful yet it seems that the problem only interesting to academia – try to Google it. It is assumed that we in industry all know what it is – a dangerous proposition to have.

We all agree that the key to a successful deployment of a Manufacturing System is the understanding of the problem that it is designed to solve. This obviously not a novel approach – it is what everybody attempts to do with the system’s requirement or URS. Yet my experience shows that even in the requirement phase many resort to using the existing models, thus reverting to describe the problem with the solution itself. Quite confusing isn’t it?

So here is my take on what a Manufacturing System is, or in other words the Shop Floor Management Problem. I like to describe it as the problem of integrating 3 important flows in a manufacturing organization. The 2 vertical flows provide Product and Logistical information while the horizontal flow is the physical flow of material, equipment and people.

The Shop Floor Management problem is therefore: How to make use of the information provided by the Product and Logistical flow to efficiently and effectively manage the physical flow of Resources and Materials (also known as the production process). Simple isn’t it - that is what a Manufacturing System is designed to do. Try to imagine a seasoned and effective production supervisor or plant manager – the Shop Floor Management problem is very close to his real life job duties.

It is obviously not that simple and there is of course much more detail that is yet to be discussed. I plan to provide some of this in upcoming posts (hence this post is named Part I). Also this is not meant to take away from the importance and complexity of product development, process engineering, operations, and planning. It is a model that is focused on explaining the particulars of managing a shop floor (yes this is my disclaimer).

More detail to come in future posts…

Friday, October 15, 2010

Next week at AdvaMed2010 in DC

Next week I will be attending AdvaMed2010 in Washington DC in an attempt to mingle with the top of the food chain of the Medical Device industry. If you didn’t know AdvaMed is the premier industry organization for the Medical Device industry and the AdvaMed2010 conference is its annual meeting. Essentially it is a place for smaller Med Device companies to market themselves to venture capitalist and larger companies.

Medical Devices is one of our core markets at NNE Pharmaplan and hence we are hoping to leverage this event to make ourselves better known in the industry. Kind of old school marketing but I am hoping that there is value there? I look forward to an interesting week and getting to meet some interesting companies and people. Also last time I have been to DC is in 1995 so I am long due. If you are around give me a shout.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Common question - What MES should I use?

I just returned from the CBI MES conference and found that the main theme or at least that many the attendees were interested in finding the right MES. Yes I know - “it is maybe easier to achieve world peace”. It seems there is no clear answer – no surprise! “It depends”, was a common answer, some said “it is what you make of it”, and I completely agree.

In my many years of studying the “Shop Floor Management” (aka Manufacturing Systems) problem I found that apart from all the technical and functional aspects, the common element that makes an MES implementation and operation successful is user involvement. The users (across all functions) really have to want it! MESs are complex and sometimes cumbersome. They touch many different functions in a manufacturing business, most critically they manage the value stream – or where value is being made. That makes their adoption and acceptance brittle.

In most cases MES products are aligned with specific industries and hence it is pretty straightforward to make an initial short list. But this is not always true, a vendor may be trying to penetrate your specific vertical opening up potential to influence them – and possibly also get a good deal. There are obviously many other factors that can and do play in. “It depends” is always a true statement when talking about fit of a specific MES product to your environment, and therefore it is always important to know what you need.

So how do you determine what you need? Most people will tell you, and correctly so, that you have to use formal (true and tested) models such as the MESA model or the ISA 95 standard. This is the boring but necessary part of the preparatory and selection phases for the MES. I am not saying you should skip the detail; it is by all means necessary. We all know that the devil is in the details, but using these models with no clear focus will not help either. You should use these models to make sure that you have not forgotten or omitted something not to define your problem. That is something only you and your company know, and in most cases it is very specific to your company or business. I prefer to use the 5 whys method to get to the root-cause and then write up as a series of problems – in simple language.

Another important thing to remember is to build on success as Lean practitioners advocate. It works best with a focused Kaizen-like event where a specific need is addressed. When people in the company observe or have taken part in a successful change the value seems transparent and obvious - and you don’t have to even explain or sell it. It is infinitely easier to convince people this way. In fact the only really successful MES projects, at least in my experience, have been when the operators and engineers embraced the system because it addressed a specific problem they had. Yes I know this seems trivial and is also the basis of modern product management, but it is really much more challenging than it seems.

So what have we learned from all of this? As many of the speakers at the conference re-iterated; you need to have a clear focus of the problem. It makes it is easier to build a business case to justify the investment – trivial really. But at the end of the day you have to want it, otherwise it will never happen.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Extreme Gobbledygook - Funny

In connection with my recent post about describing what I do a colleague reminded me of the famous Rockwell spoof about the “Retro Encabolator”. I thought this would be interesting to share and yes, this is really kind of nerdy and techie-humor but none the less funny. This takes gobbledygook and to another level – enjoy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Next week at CBI MES conference

Next week I will be at the CBI MES conference in San Diego. It is set to be very interesting conference with a good representation from MES vendors but more importantly there is broad participation from the life science industry both Med Device and BioPharma. A great opportunity to learn how these companies have been able to leverage technology to improve performance and compliance. I will have my notebook ready since I need to get some good real-life examples for a session that helping to plan for the ISPE annual meeting. I have also been able to involve MESA and we are planning to promote the European Conference and other events.

I also look forward to the conference because I have never been to San Diego and the venue isn't to shabby either J. I hope to see many of you out there and do some catch-up. Follow me on Tweeter to get live updates from the conference if you are interested.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Lean technology" a Manufacturing Systems perspective

My colleagues and I are in the process of preparing an educational session that will be held at the ISPE annual event in November. So as usual I spend some time looking through my archives for relevant material that I already have – I call it 're-cycling' :-). This time I came across something that I never published or used and so I thought I would share it here. It is an attempt to explore the synergies of the Lean and Manufacturing Systems concepts. Read and tell me what you think…

Manufacturing Technology; A familiar phrase considered part of the everyday vocabulary. What about Lean Technology? Not a common phrase, but the idea of lean manufacturing supported through technology should be as much a part of the vocabulary as Manufacturing Technology. Lean thinking advocates simplification of manufacturing units so they can be more easily shifted to enable the flow of value. So in essence the “lean technology” concept supplements lean thinking by combining state-of-the-art manufacturing with advanced software systems in an integrated environment.

Using information systems in lean manufacturing is not a new concept, nor is it new to the lean movement. Many examples exist that prove that manufacturing (software) system can support a lean organization. Unfortunately most commonly information technology systems for manufacturing tend to become large monolithic systems of great complexity. They are designed to provide generic functionality to fit major industry verticals that can be configured specifically for each implementation. At the same time the uniqueness and the complexities of the specific manufacturing operations make the ability to only configure these solutions more a myth than reality. Most of the system vendors will of course argue against this - however the reality is that in order to meet the requirements of the manufacturing businesses they are forced to implement complex customizations. That is what I wrote on my post about Customize or Compromise.

Although lean thinking advocates the application of a set of specific common concepts, the actual implementation of these concepts in real life tends to be unique to each production line and plant. Information systems that are used to support these lean lines and plants have to be able to provide common functionality to support these concepts. Yet, they also have to be able to support the uniqueness of each implementation. Furthermore they need to be able to support the changes that are inherent in a lean system due to the continuous improvements as they are accomplished.

In summary here is my suggestion for the general functionality of a Manufacturing System that can support a Lean manufacturing environment. (BTW I know that these go against the grain by not using a problem-oriented approach – I will have to redefine this ASAP)

  • Value stream: We all know that value is identified by the specific needs of the customer hence the Manufacturing System should be usable and implementable to support only these specific processes that add value. In other words the system once implemented should not require or be constrained to use extra processes or involves extra steps if they are not directly part of the value flow.
  • Implement flow: The Manufacturing System should employ a value centric process model that is easily managed and accessible to all the relevant people. This will allow a transparent view of the value flow and thus allow engineers and operators to ensure production flow, be it a one-piece flow, supermarkets, or other relevant Lean solutions.
  • Execute Pull: This is kind of the obvious requirement that involves the enablement of pull execution and dispatching of WIP. This may include features and functionality to enable or enforce flow and managing kanbans, supermarkets, balancing, etc.
  • Enable Perfection: Enable perfection by providing the production and process visibility needed for the continuous improvement efforts. This is the part of the system that provides Intelligence (a topic that I have written a few relevant posts about). In addition the Manufacturing System should provide adequate configurability, extendibility and customizability that support continuous improvement.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What is it that I do?

Have you ever tried to explain to somebody what it is that you do, who is unfamiliar or not that interested in what you do. I have that problem with my wife and family all the time. When I try the interest-loss is immediate – somewhere after the middle of the 3rd sentence. When I ask my kids what they think that I do – they say that I sit in front of the computer all day and talk on the phone, which in a way is quite precise. Typically a specific keyword from my description sticks and so when asked what I do, it comes back as; ‘I think he is fixing software’, or ‘oh yes he is training’.

Although this may seem trivial the exercise in explaining what it is that you do is very valuable. When marketing in the new media it is important to tell the story in simple language – I call it the ‘children’s’ explanation. A simple plain English description of what it is that I do, without using any technical or industry jargon and without complicated adjectives. The less ‘gobbledygook’ the easier it is for people to understand and by the way it also helps to keep their attention. As in the Hebrew adage – “If you explain it slowly, I will understand quickly”.

Try it you will be surprised how hard it is and how much value it brings.

Here is mine:

I help people and companies in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry that produce medicine, drugs and tools for doctors with their computer systems. The use computers to make sure that their products have no defects, as wells as to make sure that they produce their products exactly the way the recipes instruct. The computer systems save and maintain all the information during the production so that it can be used to analyze what happened if there is a defect, or how to improve the production process. The computers also help automate some of the steps in the process.

Friday, August 20, 2010

EMI or BI - what are those anyways?

Lately I have had inquiries from a couple of customers about providing “intelligence”, as in manufacturing intelligence, well I believe that is a good topic I said… (Hint, see my blog’s title).

In most cases their curiosity came from either seeing or working with an EMI or Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence system. However when I asked about how they would like to use the intelligence I found out that they where asking about BI – Business Intelligence behavior, yet they wanted manufacturing metrics like the EMI system’s demo. That is an interesting discussion that I have mentioned a few times in this blog. I believe that what they really want are timely and sometimes real-time intelligence about their manufacturing operations provided in KPI lists, metrics and charts but also analytics capabilities such as “slicing and dicing” and “drill downs”.

Unfortunately I have found that such solutions are rare if they exist at all. It seems that EMI is a separate animal than BI and the problems that they are trying to address are more complicated than they generally convey in their sales and marketing information. Most EMIs do not provide an effective way to aggregate and correlate information to support BI style analytics, while the BI vendors’ understanding of 'real-time' and timeliness leave much to be desired for application in the manufacturing operations world.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I am back, sorry for the delay...

It has been a while since I posted something here, and I have a long list of bad excuses. (Here is the last one).

It has been a very exciting and busy time for me and my family. We have relocated from Indiana to the San Francisco Bay Area with all the excitement and hard work that follows. I guess that we are getting settled now so I am going to try and pick-up the blogging just a bit. I have quite a few interesting things to share so I hope find some time over the next month to do some more blogging.

I have been involved in some very interesting projects. I am working with BioMarin helping them figure out what MES will work best for them and some of the strategies around implementation. I have also had a short stint with Amgen looking at their Manufacturing Business Intelligence initiative. Apart from that I have been involved with a few of the Bay Area Biotech companies while at the same time trying to find new customers in North America.

On the event front I am planning to be at CBI's annual MES event (San Diego, in Sep.), AdvaMed (Washington DC, in Oct.), and the ISPE annual meeting (Orlando, Nov.) where we are organizing an educational session on Operational Excellence. So if you are going to be at any of these events let me know so we can catch-up. It’s going to be an interesting and busy period.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Presentation at the MESA 2010 Annual Conference

In June I will be presenting at the MESA 2010 North American conference. The conference is going to be held in Dearborn, MI (near Detriot) hosted by Ford at their conference facility. I wanted to share the abstract here on my blog. I will be co-presenting with Kasper Larsen from Novo Nordisk and my colleague from NNE Pharmaplan, Asger Sharp-Johansen

The presentation shares our experiences from the current global MES rollout project at Novo Nordisk. This is an ongoing long term multi faceted project that involves a staggered deployment of a commercial MES software package to all of Novo Nordisk’s manufacturing sites.

Deploying a new manufacturing system is a complex and risky proposition for any company, rolling out such a system to multiple sites on a global scale may be even considered scary. In order to mitigate the risks and manage the complexity of this immense undertaking Novo Nordisk makes the best use of people and technology to evolve a best practice approach that is continually improved upon. This approach includes technical and organizational aspects that cover the complete life cycle of the manufacturing system’s deployment. In addition the “out-of-the-box” feature set of the software obviously did not suffice and navigating this predicament, coined as "Customize or Compromise", is another interesting topic.

Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company with 87 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care, haemophilia care, growth hormone therapy, and hormone replacement therapy. It has international production facilities and employs more than 29,300 employees in 76 countries.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Word Cloud of this Blog

Just for fun I thought it was interesting to visualize what this blog is about. I found this tool called Wordle via the Duct Tape Marketing blog that I read. I think it is an amazing way to visualize out what a blog is about, in my case not surprisingly mine is about... well metrics, intelligence, and manufacturing. It is nice to get this verified.

Customize or Compromise

I am currently involved in a global project to rollout a specific MES (Manufacutirng Execution System) to a host of sites. This is an immense undertaking and therefore we are spending some time pondering some of the things that we can do to ease the pain and more importantly learn as we go along. I think that I will have quite a few more posts on this topic as we progress; initially I wanted to share some thoughts about using a commercially available MES software product, sometimes also called COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) and the customizations that are always required.

The first topic is revolves around the question whether a COTS MES product can be productively used in a real world scenario only using the features that are available OOTB (Out-of-the-box). I believe that the answer is a resounding NO, but I may be wrong. It is obviously something that many practitioners are challenged with and therefore I think it makes a good discussion topic.

A COTS system will always be a compromise. The end customer wants his requirements satisfied based on his priorities. The vendor’s priorities, on the other hand, are driven by the need to pick the customer’s requirements that he knows the product can solve best – and then sometimes even persuade the customer that its best for him.

Such COTS MESs have a specific set of features that can be applied to a given scenario sometimes represented by a functional requirement. I like to call these "solution scenario" or "solution approaches" since sometimes a requirements is satisfied by a specific way to use a number of available features. This may be somewhat comparable to a software Design Pattern. Unlike a system that is a custom (or tailored) solution this presents some challenges.
  1. For specific scenarios there may exists one or more solution approaches using available OOTB features. This is the postive scenario - in such cases we are good to go.
  2. For specific scenarios the OOTB feature set may not provide a solution approach. In other words an OOB solution does not exist and hence a customization may be required. the question here becomes: "Can we live with out this?"
  3. For specific scenarios the OOTB feature set may be able to provide a solution approach but it is constrained or lacking. In such cases a decision has to be made to compromise or customize.
If you only encounter scenario #1 then there is no problem, however I have never seen this happen. Dealing with scenarios #2 and #3 can be summed up as "compromise or customize". What do you want to do?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What is Intelligence, and why do we need it?

I believe that it is time to get back on topic in this blog, which is Intelligence in manufacturing and manufacturing systems in general. With that in mind I was looking thru my archives and came across something I once wrote as a positioning statement for an intelligence product – I guess it is not hard to figure out what company that was for? So here goes…

In one of my previous posts I tried to bring up the point that we need to consider metrics in the context of what they are needed for and how they are going to be used. I believe that is the best way to understand how to provide the right intelligence in a given scenario. But what is Intelligence? Well that is a very serious subject, but let’s take in the context of manufacturing and process improvement.

Intelligence implies the ability to comprehend; to understand and profit from experience. As such Intelligence is information valued for its timeliness and relevance rather than its detail or accuracy in contrast with "data" which typically refers to precise or particular information, or "fact".

In the context of manufacturing, Intelligence is a fundamental ingredient influencing the system’s level of performance in reaching its objectives. A manufacturing business system (humans included) is a system that learns during its existence. In other words, it learns, for each situation, which response permits it to reach its objectives. It continually acts and by acting reaches its objectives more often than pure chance would indicate. We can observe the following about Intelligence in manufacturing:
Intelligent manufacturing is not a smarter way of producing things; it is a human centric approach where humans interact with the process be it automatic or manual, gathering the right information to take intelligence decisions based on actionable information. It is much more than visibility. Just having the information is of course helpful, but it needs to be taken one step farther. It needs to be provided in a way that people can intuitively capitalize on it using their knowledge and understanding to make effective decisions.
Henri Poincare once noted in a related topic that “Science is facts; just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science.”
What is an effective decision then? It is a decision that has an outcome that drives increased performance and continuous improvement. Intelligence is therefore not solely about metrics, KPIs or the ability to drill down into the data. In order to increase performance we need to quantify what is important. Hence intelligence is about quantifying what is important, or quantifying the unquantifiable.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why are lay-offs so harmful?

Many thanks to Mark Graban that pointed me to a very interesting News Week article titled “Lay Off the Layoffs - Our over reliance on downsizing is killing workers, the economy - and even the bottom line”, by Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer. The article speaks to the fact that lay-offs in fact do not save a company money, not in the long run nor in the short term. In fact it may have even more detrimental affects on a company than you may realize. The article states with reference to empirical evidence that
“…contrary to popular belief, companies that announce layoffs do not enjoy higher stock prices than peers—either immediately or over time.”
It is an interesting read for everybody, obviously for them that have been laid-off but also for the people doing the lay offs.

I think that the story behind the story is once again the topic of management and leadership. I strongly believe that in any situation it is always about people. That means that it is the people (managers) and their way of running a company that is the root-cause here. I have said before that you manage processes but you have to lead people. When you just manage people then they become an assets and when hard times are upon us, cutting costs by reducing your capital makes sense – right? Well no – isn’t that obvious - Apparently not?
“In the face of management actions that signal that companies don't value employees, virtually every human-resource consulting firm reports high levels of employee disengagement and distrust of management.”
“Layoffs are more like bloodletting, weakening the entire organism. That's because of the vicious cycle that typically unfolds. A company cuts people. Customer service, innovation, and productivity fall in the face of a smaller and demoralized workforce. The company loses more ground, does more layoffs, and the cycle continues.”
This reminds me of one of Dr. Demmings most commonly used quotes:
"Running a company on visible figures alone is one of the seven deadly diseases of management."
In this case it is financial metrics. It seems that in a recession most management executives are thinking of short term financial metrics rather than the long term health of their company? I am sure that these managers do not intend to do this and that they probably believe that they are doing the right thing. However it is this focus on managing rather than leading that is the problem. Managing the company’s business (The process) is more important than leading the people (organization). The end of the quarter's bottom line is more important than long term viability. Although this seem to be common practice, there is ample proof of companies that thrive by doing differently. Yes, by simply motivating and empowering their people. That is what makes them great companies, and also immensely profitable I may add

We are driven by this need to satisfy investors, whom I may add are also typically about short term gain. It seems that everything revolves around the need to make money now - the typical sales man approach, which is to pick up the closest shiniest pennies rather than to look ahead and possibly see a pot of gold on the horizon. Even if there is not one there at least you looked, and people appreciate that – do not underestimate what that means?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Using metrics and what it tells us about Manufacturing Intelligence

In continuation to some of the other posts in the topic of metrics and KPIs, this time I would like to discuss the use of metrics. So, not so much what the metrics are or which metrics are most important, but how do we use them. If we look at how analysis is performed we may be able to gain some insight into how the data should be collected and structured. This may be for example to support lean or process improvement initiatives. The idea regardless of methodology requires that the team or person gain an understanding of the process and its behaviour based on the data at hand.

I think the best way to frame this up is to tell the story of a persona in a simple scenario. Let’s consider Patrick Process Engineer who is trying to understand yield fluctuations specifically and maybe the yield’s behaviour in general. He is perplexed about why he cannot accurately predict yield given that most of the processes are “in control” (yes, another one of these myths about processes). What he really is striving for is an understanding the process and the best way to investigate it – in other words analyze the process.

Obviously Patrick will be looking at the Yield metric(s) and once he sees some fluctuation he will embark on an analysis. Typically he will perform what I call a high-level analysis, which is kind of a “look-around” in the data and maybe other related metrics to determine patterns. But wait, why patterns. Well whether we like it or not when we analyze processes we naturally look for patterns since that is what complex processes really exhibit. I guess I need to write a bit more about the complex adaptive behavior of manufacturing systems, but let me leave that for a future post. For now let’s just say that the patterns really tell us about the dependencies between the different metrics and parameters in the system.

OK, once Patrick has performed is “high-level” analysis he may then start digging a bit deeper in to some of the areas that may lead him to the root-cause of the fluctuation. He may perform some more detailed analysis, maybe choose to monitor some specific metrics, define some additional more detail or focused metrics. If he really is trying some advanced analysis he may try and observe dependencies between metrics for a period of time. That means monitor maybe a few metrics and how they change in relation to each other.

What is described here is really a simple scenario of human behavior exhibited when we perform troubleshooting. Although this as simple behavior for us, when we think about the data and data structures that we need to support what Patrick is trying to do, we may quickly realize that the complexity abounds. Modern business intelligence concepts such as multidimensional analysis, OLAP, and practices for data aggregation provide the tools. However it takes a lot of work and process knowledge to transform the base process data to such information structures.

This I believe is the main challenge in modern manufacturing systems. Compounding this problem is that effective analysis needs to use information from all the host of system that may reside in a manufacturing business, i.e. ERP, MES, Automation, Historians, LIMS and others. Most manufacturing intelligence tools that are in the market today simply do not address this simple scenario. If we do our inbound marketing work correctly and draw up the scenarios above, with Patrick our main persona, the problem definition is straightforward; however the engineering task required to solve it is not.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What makes a home sell?

This i a bit off topic, but still and interesting question...

What makes a house sell? I have been pondering this question, obviously since I am trying to sell my home. How do you get into the minds of the people that may be potential buyers? There are of course the standard things that the real estate agent tells you to do such as the de-cluttering, remove personal objects, make it clean and tidy, price, the signs, etc. But when you walk into a home what is it that makes one like or dislike this home?

I wish I could get into the minds of these buyers, but as a seller you get no exposure to the real people that visit your home when it is cleaner than it has ever been. They leave no trace, no scent, and no feedback. Maybe I should consider some hidden cameras? Maybe ask them to fill out a questionnaire before they leave – right!

My only method of understanding my potential buyers is by asking others within my network; what is it that made them buy the house they currently own? So this is it, my plea to all - please let me know who my buyer persona is?

Monday, February 8, 2010

When is enough, enough? The art of counting jelly beans.

I was reading an article in National Geographic Blog about counting jelly beans that in a way boiled down what my general belief about metrics (see also another relevant post about metrics). Also, I have lately been involved in MESA’s metrics working group and all of this had me thinking…

The current practice in regards to metrics in operational environments especially in manufacturing is the typical engineering tactic - we need to break down the complexity of the system and figure out what metrics we need. Well one approach is to take a look at what other companies are doing – as in MESA paper we try to figure out if there are any best practices. But is this the right approach for any company or for you? I say no! Metrics are a way to represent patterns in the complex systems that enhance our understanding of its dynamics. We can look at one metric and say we are doing good or bad, which works well if you are a computer since we can take a decision based on this metric. Yet unlike computers, we humans are much better at using our knowledge and understanding to detect patterns and react to them. So if you give us a set of metrics that help us interpret what the system is doing then we do much better. That is exactly what the term "Actionable Intelligence" means.

There are a few important factors that I believe are important:

  • A few metrics used independently are never going to give you the true picture of what is going on.
  • Simply copying what other companies are doing will not work either, since metrics should be driven by what you are trying to achieve – and that changes with time.
  • The Accuracy of the metrics are not necessarily important. What! Yes, I just said it; accuracy is not that important. Let’s think about a jelly bean counting competition, you really don’t needs to know the exact number but be the one that is closest to the precise number, in order to win. Michael Schumacher (if you do not know, he was a 7 time Formula 1 GP winner) once said “… you don’t have to drive your fastest to win, but faster than the guy behind you”.
So why do we obsess about having so much data, detail and precision? Why are we always trying to quantify the unquantifiable, as in 6-Sigma. Maybe it is our upbringing as engineers, that constant quest for details. Really all we need is an indication when things will go wrong and when they are going well? This is of course not to say that sometimes we do have to be very precise as well as accurate, such as in engineering tasks, designs, etc. The art of it all is to know when we are precise enough.

In a blog post Stephen Few states “most poor decisions are caused by lack of understanding, not lack of data”. This is exactly my point, we spend so much time working on detail. For example, how much the ocean water level will rise over the next period of time. Some say a few meters some say 30 meters in the next 100 years. But the point here is that even in a moderate scenario calculation; Venice, New Orleans and the SF Bay Area delta, among other places, will be under water. So if you live there – guess what? You are in trouble, regardless of accuracy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

It has been a while...

It has been a very long while since I have posted anything on this blog. Hopefully this will change – starting right now.

I have just started a new job with NNE Pharmaplan and it looks like a very exciting opportunity. If you did not know NNE Pharmaplan is an engineering consultancy firm focusing on the Life Science industry. The company is quite large and also well known in Europe. With renewed focus on North America I will be responsible for helping Life Science customers with their Manufacturing Systems efforts.

This new opportunity is taking me back to my core expertiseManufacturing Systems (I don’t like to call it MES – Manufacturing Execution Systems because of narrow and misleading perceptions, but more on this in a later post). That being said I still plan to spend time on new media marketing and hopefully help with some new ideas at NNE Pharmaplan.

So watch this space for some interesting discussions and opinions…