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?