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Yesterday’s Visibility to Improve Today’s Processes

By APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE | 0 | 0 | February 08, 2013

APICS Operations Management NowThis week, the Harvard Business Review Blog Network featured a piece about a productivity consultant who finds inspiration from his father’s clothing factory 40 years ago.

“The factory was like my personal playground__stacks of pallets were mountains, the floor-to-ceiling dress racks a jungle gym, the colorful stacks of fabric a 50-layer cake,” writes Jordan Cohen, who directs the PA Consulting Group’s knowledge worker productivity practice. His descriptions are enough to make anyone__operations management professional or not__nostalgic for the factory floors of yesterday.

Cohen goes on to write that while there was little computerization, automation, or reporting software, his father kept on top of the production schedule. By putting his desk on a raised platform in the middle of the factory, Cohen’s father could identify bottlenecks and intervene as necessary to ensure orders were completed on time. Employees also could find their boss easily if they needed help.

“I decided not to become a dressmaker … Instead, I went to graduate school and joined a large corporation,” Cohen writes. “Nonetheless, I see that the transparency of the factory floor needs to be applied to our modern knowledge work environment.”

Of course, therein lays the challenge. Knowledge work happens inside employees’ heads. However, Cohen proposes some strategies that help make work more visible. First, he suggests that everyone should know what the inputs are. For example, how many hours were spent on a task or project? How much time was spent in meetings? Employees need to know the outputs, as well. “Making the work output visible to all workers involved allows them to contribute by providing insight, identifying short cuts, including innovations, and adding suggestions from their diverse experiences and background.”

If knowledge workers, managers, and other company decision makers can learn to “see” the work, they can add more value to the product.

Business success with the APICS body of knowledge

We know building factories like they were in the 1970s isn’t the key to adding value in 2013. What Cohen does is take a core manufacturing concept__visibility__and apply it throughout the enterprise. Over the years, supply chain and operations management professionals have become more essential to crafting the overall strategy for businesses. During the recession, many professionals applied concepts from the APICS body of knowledge, such as life cycle planning, process mapping, and kaizen, to sustain their businesses. Now is the time for you to use the APICS body of knowledge to strategically plan for long-term success.

APICS continues to provide you the tools you need to navigate this complex business world. For example, APICS conferences enable professionals to share their stories with their peers. The Supply Chain Experience: Leveraging the Power of the Customer is the theme of the 2013 APICS International Conference & Expo to be held in Orlando, Florida, USA, September 29–October 1, 2013. The call for presentations is open now. Visit apics.org today for more information and to submit your presentation topic.

Questions for discussion

What are some examples at your company where processes are structured around increasing visibility? How does this enhance operations?
Does your company enable its employees to add value? What more could it do from a strategic perspective?

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Related APICS education

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    By David Aquino, CPIM
    May/June 2012, APICS magazine

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