Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why Do We Still Use Spreadsheets?

Sometimes I find some unfinished article while cleaning up – something I should obviously do more regularly! So here is one of these excerpts that I found particularly relevant as I am discussing the topic of “Manufacturing Intelligence” with a number of companies.

Manufacturing systems software vendors continuously tell us that you cannot have visibility into your operations without a software application, which I have to agree is generally true. This forces us to sift through the onslaught of offerings full of buzz words such as “metrics”, “digital dashboards”, and “business intelligence platforms”. Yet, it is remarkable that one of the most commonly used tools to capture and manage information from the shop floor is The Spreadsheet - typically Microsoft’s Excel. In some cases, even with a major ERP system investment, the Spreadsheet is still the primary source of timely data collection about the manufacturing operations. In other cases, expensive solutions are put in place to capture and collect data from automation equipment but fail to provide the information in a useable context and once again users resort to the spreadsheet.

Why is it then that manufacturing organizations resort to solutions that are based on a spreadsheet? It is typically not because of lack of understanding about information systems or the skills required to use them. It is because a spreadsheet provides the flexibility and ability to manage and present shop floor information in the most useable and advantageous manner. (By the way the common term for “manage and use” is “information consumption”.) Remember that a manufacturing manager’s main focus is productivity and quality. They use this information to obtain metrics about the value stream that they are trying to manage because they need to know how they are performing in real time. This need is similar to that of a sport’s team, where you know where you stand at every second of the game. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow morning’s newspaper to know who won the game. Running a manufacturing operation without real time metrics is like bowling without being able to see the pins. You can see some of the action, you know that something happened, but you don’t know what the result was.

Of course in recent years, manufacturers have gained some visibility with the increased application of technology, but they are still far from what is possible. I also believe that most of the vendors are clearly aware of the needs and I hope that they we will soon start to see Manufacturing Intelligence applications with the flexibility and convenience that we really need.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Foundation For Quality (and performance...)

Next week is ISPE’s annual meeting in Texas and once again I am participating in an interesting session titled “Operational Excellence - A Foundation for Quality”. We held a similar session last year and it was a great success with more than 90 people participating. The topic that I am covering this year is about the current capabilities of automation technology andinformation systems that provide a vital ingredient in enabling operational excellence. I will be joined by speakers from Pfizer, Celgene, Amway and of course NNE Pharmaplan.

My co-presenters will share experiences about OperationalExcellence, Quality by Design (QbD), and Process Understanding. All-in-all an interesting combination of topics that may initially seem loosely related but they are in fact deeply related. They stem from the some old notion that manufacturing performance is a holistic concept. I have mentioned in a previous post that we are “re-inventing the CIM wheel” but at the same time we are also looking at it in a new perspective with much more modern and usable technologies.  I strongly believe that before we venture with new ideas we have to look and learn from the past, it is very likely that somebody has had a similar problem and may even have a solution. So CIM, PAT, QbD, DFM it really is all related, related to trying to excel at we do and work more synergistically to accomplish our manufacturing goals. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Metrics & Performance Management - Again

Not that again! Well it still is a very interesting topic an one that I encounter every time I talk to companies in the life science industries. It seems that there is an increased understanding across all walks of life in the manufacturing organizations that one of the main advantages of system is the ability to gain a better understanding of both process and operations. I hear people asking for metrics, and in the context of gauging their performance. I spend a lot of time trying to understand this trend, and I have no conclusion yet. It may be the economic climate, maturaity of the technology, or maybe the momuntum that operational excellence intiatives have gained?

The membership of the ogranziations that I work with such as MESA and ISPE have also shown great interest in this topic and I am participating in a few events that highlight them. On October 27th we have a MESA webcast about "Harnessing the Power of Metrics" and on November 7th we are organizing a special session at the ISPE annual meeting about "Operational Excellence - A Foundation for Quality". The session will be hosted by NNE Pharmaplan and will include speakers from Amway, Celgene and Pfizer. I hope to have some great discussions, feel free to track me down if you are in attendance.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Picture of MBO Misuse

I was reading “Organizational Sabotage - The Malpractice of Management By Objective” on the Deming Files and I am once again I am dumbfounded by how it is continuously being practiced or misused. It is a topic that I have written about before on the L2L blog and here. Although I liked the article it seemed lacking some real world examples. Needless to say I have experienced these continuously over my career and sometimes when reading these types of articles I just feel like shouting the proverbial “Hello”!

Anyways since I prefer visual interpretation I thought about trying to come up with a simple graphic to convey Deming’s and Drucker’s real message about MBO. I also thought I would add some description in the form of pairs of antonyms to emphasize the visual. Here is what I came up with:

Short-term / Long-Term
Disarrayed / Aligned 
Untidy / Tidy 
Conflicting / Collaborative

Kind of simplistic and vague – I know, yet open to interpretation? The notion is that if you set a short term goal it drives a specific behavior that is not always what you want, and probably not if it is a business strategy. Drucker wrote that “Objectives are the fundamental strategy of a business. Objectives must be derived from what our business is, what it will be, and what it should be.” Clearly he meant long-term objectives? 

I was with my kids at the beach the other way and they were learning to use a stand up paddle board. The 18 year old instructor gave them a simple tip. Always look at the horizon when paddling it helps keep your balance, look down at your feet and you will fall.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Manufacturing Systems Solution – more than MES

Although I have been silent on the blog for a while I have been pretty busy working with customers and a few other things. I have been fortunate to have an article published in ISPE's Pharmaceutical Engineering titled “Manufacturing Systems Solution – more than MES” that I wanted to share (you can download it here). The article take a historical perspective at finding the right Manufacturing Systems solution, starting with the CIM wheel and on to current best practices such as GAMP and ISA-95. The article is a compilation of lessons learned and experiences from industry about Manufacturing Systems solutions and why these solutions are more than an MES. It highlights what works and what does not when considering justification, selection and design of a Manufacturing System solution with an MES at the core.

Considering the history behind Manufacturing Systems’ designs over the last three decades there should be ample fundament to design such a system. Yet the MES Domain is inherently complex and this complexity means that providing a clear and concise return on investment is challenging, given that MES typically involves a substantial capital investment. The result of this is that MES implementations are commonly surrounded with uncertainty and implementation experiences that typically are described as “painful”.

I will be co-presenting the approach described in the article at the MESA NA Conference with Roland Esquivel and Steve Soscia from Amway. We have been using this approach to craft Amway’s global Manufacturing Systems program, which has been a very interesting assignment.

Monday, May 16, 2011

No computers and a Boston accent - The Company Men

Sitting on a plane the other day I was watching "The Company Men", seems that is the only time I get to see movies. The movie tells a story about some guys who are forced to leave their jobs because of downsizing of a manufacturing company. The company, which is in the ship building industry, is dealing with falling stock prices as a result of the recent recession. It features Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck, and Kevin Costner in best Hollywood style as some very successful executives that get laid-off. Well Kevin really plays an independent construction guy with a strong Boston accent – go figure, and Aflleck is the sales guy. I didn’t find that it played into their strong suites – but I am a lousy film critic.

I am sure that the choice of manufacturing industry is Hollywood’s attempt at zapping the national sympathy nerve, as if the recession isn’t close enough? Although the movie I think was a bit shallow I could not help relating to it. Obviously this topic is close to everybody’s hart after the last few years. It seems that we all know somebody who has lost a job. I was living in Indiana at the time and boy do I have stories…

Now it seems that the economy is coming back and the jobs are as well. I obviously am looking at it from my little corner of the world working with the life science industries and this may skew my perception. I still would argue that there are small noticeable things that are happening for the good. For example I just read an article about the resurgence of the tech-job market. So is it finally over – I hope so?

I am observing many companies embarking on yet another round of “let’s get our manufacturing systems in shape”. This is great news especially if it also involves a real investment of both time and money. This trend is not new and has had numerous incarnations over the last 3 decades dating all the whay back to the CIM days of the 80s. However what I am noticing this time around is that we are bit more pragmatic. The compliance driver is omnipresent – no need to dwell there, but I also see some business drivers that relate to understanding the manufacturing process and supporting the value stream. What I mean is that the focus is much broader and holistic. Rather than try and find one visible driver to pin the Manufacturing System initiative there is a general understanding of the need for a solution, with the benefits coming from better operations and increased quality. In addition the need to have fundamental information for better decision making and performance management is voiced as a high priority and treated as an afterthought. This is all excellent news; let’s just hope that my observations are right and that we keep the momentum.

Like in the movie the recession seemed that have shaken up our world, grounding us in such a way that we are better poised to find value and understand what it means. Anyways back to the move - one thing that I noticed is that it tried to convey current time in a setting that was old. There were no cell phones and nobody had a computer on his desk. I am still trying to figure out what was the purpose. Like the proverb, and this is a crude translation: “There is nothing that is bad enough, that it is not good for something” (seems to be German).  I still don’t understand why there were no computers in that movie tough, and why Boston?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Applying "Monkeynomics" To Manufacturing Solutions

Once again I am involved with a company that is being steered by the “ERP is all you need” approach. I thought that by now we have come to peace with the fact that different systems provide solution to different problems. That ERP has found its place and made peace with MES and other shop floor systems. Maybe it is just human nature and we cannot stop ourselves from making the same mistakes over again. I was just watching one of the TED talks about "Monkeynomics" (see embedded video below). It seems that we as humans have something called “Loss Aversion”, i.e. we will take risks in order to avoid loss rather than play it safe.  This is an interesting observation that in retrospect explains a few of the odd behaviors that I have seen from companies in the past.

Another phenomenon that I find intriguing is the flawed notion that general economic methods are universally applicable. In other words the perception from people with business (or more precisely financial) background that it applies in all domains and all situations, specifically when applied to Manufacturing Systems solution. This means that everything that is in the past is money already spent and that we have to consider future state with no regard to what we currently have. Never mind the sweat and tears that where shed in putting a solution in, the extra hours, the training, etc. The current solution may not be perfect (but who or what is?) but it works, people are trained, they are using it, the company knows how to maintain it, in fact it adds value!  Yet, from a business perspective, which I equate to “the accounting or CFOs perspective”, we should disregard all of this; it is all water under the bridge. Just imaging the disruptions that will occur when the solution is gutted and a new one put in place, time, money, sweat, and tears – I just do not get it? We are slaves to this economic theory, investment planning only looks to the future and all that we have done in the past is irrelevant – I guess I will go out and get my memory erased - problem solved.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Difference Between Accountants and Production Managers

This is an excerpt from a white paper that I authored a while back. I was helping a company with selecting an MES where ERP (SAP in this case, before SAP ME) was included in the mix as if it would be able to provide MES functionality with no constraints. It prompted me to write about the differences between MES and ERP.

ERP systems are designed to be very effective accounting systems. MES systems are designed to aid in shop floor management. It is naive and risky to assume that one of these systems can be extended to effectively do the other’s job. Similarly, one would not assign an accountant to be a production manager, or vice versa. Each might be an expert in his own field, yet it takes a completely different set of skills, expertise and knowledge to effectively tackle each task.  
Industry experience and best practices, as well as academic literature, strongly suggest integration of ERP and MES rather than the extension of either. The best approach is to implement a best-of-breed MES that is easily integrated into ERP. The benefits that can be gained are immense. They are in fact what will truly and finally allow organizations to realize some return on the large ERP investment.
I wrote this back in 2004 and the reason I came back to it now, since a customer that I am currently helping is doing it again. Well it seem that history repeats itself, and I can only say here we go again....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Finally a clear explanation of what MES is!

I was browsing the blogshpere and came across this post explaining what MES is in real world terms. Since Gartner has now coined MES as MOM the author of this blog uses an analogy with mom (as in mother) to explain what MES is. I think this is a great way to explain the very complicated domain in simple terms. This is also what I tried to do in the my previous "What is it that I do" post.

Here is an excerpt:
 An MES system is:
Software (mom’s brain)
That connects to multiple plant and business systems (spouse, children, school, work, home)
Collects relevant data (children’s and spouse’s schedules; play dates; doctor’s appointments; clothing and shoe sizes of every family member; contents of pantry and refrigerator; supplies needed for school/daycare; immunizations required; daily intake of children’s fruits and vegetables; recommendations on pediatric dentists; educating oneself about any number of topics, not to exclude best techniques for discipline, potty training and how to get your child to broccoli; birthdays; anniversaries; dates of holiday family gatherings on both sides; … uh, not to mention everything required for any work that’s outside the home)
And presents it as easy-to-understand, real-time intelligence (may exist in rudimentary lists, a calendar, or electronic planner, but probably all three; also, constant verbal communication to tell spouse and children everything that needs to be done)
For productivity analysis, data mining, querying and reporting (to coordinate activities and process information in the most succinct and orderly way possible so mom, spouse and children can make the best decisions and achieve optimum life satisfaction and achievement)
The blog is named "On the Night You were Born" and I could not find the name of the blog's owner, but I have to extend out thanks from the MES/MOM community. All that remains is counter with a DAD system explanation.