Taking a product from concept to production is a complicated undertaking. There’s a lot at stake, and a lot can go wrong along the way. For example, there’s time-to-market market and quality control issues; you have to consider supply chain, global teams, international trade issues, regulations, product development phased and more. And still, I’m constantly surprised to see how many teams still manage all of these moving parts using static spreadsheets. And even when there are systems and tools in place to build schedules, they tend to be too inflexible, and can’t account for the amount of uncertainty that permeates today’s global market.

manufacturing teams

Project Management + Manufacturing = Perfect Match

Manufacturing can, however, benefit greatly from project management ideas. I believe that there are few things in life that cannot be projectized. Even life itself has a beginning, middle and end, and creates something unique. The manufacturing environment comprises a lot of beginnings, middles and ends. After all, a single product is made up of a multitude of projects, and considerations, including:

  • Design of a new, industry-designing product
  • Production preparation
  • Managing a change order
  • Improving a process
  • Shortening time-to-market

Every one of these considerations benefits from some basic project management best practices.  Or course, it can feel a bit daunting if you’re thinking of your entire process; instead, start with something do-able, bite sized pieces.

Here are five tips to start incorporating project management processes in your team:

1. Establish Requirements

One of the first activities in any project is to define what the project is, and everything that needs to be done. This is achieved by collecting requirements which include details of the deliverables, timelines, quality expectations, etc.

Setting goals and establishing these requirements is the first step for any project to go forward, regardless of methodology.  This will also encourage your team to get together to think about the work ahead, define milestones and deliverables, and think about deadlines.  Be as detailed and thorough as you can during this exercise, as it will help you manage the project later on.

Every project, whether in a manufacturing environment or any other, will involve requirements and goals. Creating a goal-oriented culture is important, and it is the first step to incorporate project management into your team.

2. Choose a Methodology

Now that you have well-defined goals, you will need a game plan to achieve them. The problem is, once you set a goal or destination, there are many ways to get there. That is when methodology can be helpful.

A methodology for managing projects is a well-defined approach for how you and your team get things done.  You can create your own methodology, or adopt existing frameworks—from Agile and Waterfall to Critical Path and Lean. You can also check out the methodologies proposed by the Project Management Institute in the PMBOK Guide.

In today’s agile-focused landscape, there are many who dismiss methodology as something limiting. Some postulate that freeing your team from methodology will allow for more flexibility and agility in achieving your goals. I believe that there is still a place for methodology, as it provides your organization with a framework to approach work that is familiar to all.  A method, or process for managing work helps create a culture of people who can fearlessly tackle projects and get things done, and it fosters a common language with which to talk about how to achieve your goals.

There are many methodologies and approaches to use to manage projects, and all of them are being used by manufacturing teams. There’s no right choice here: use the approach that makes more sense to your team and is more in line with your organization’s way of approaching work. For example, organizations well versed in Lean manufacturing tend to adopt a lean approach to project management. Other manufacturing teams are already familiar with Waterfall; those relying heavily on automation and IT systems, might choose Agile. Six Sigma is another popular approach to managing work, focusing on process improvement.

Choose a methodology to implement, and don’t let it constrain your work. Instead, use it as a recipe that you can change to meet your organization’s shifting needs and objectives.

3. Use a Project Management Tool

Once you have chosen an approach or methodology, and you have a good grasp on your requirements and goals, the next step is to choose the right tool to help you manage it all.

The right tool will help you through all the processes of your project, and can help you and your team collect all of the requirements, build a schedule, create a budget, track your progress, manage your stakeholders and resources, and ensure you will complete the work on time and within scope and budget.

When choosing the right tool, ensure that it is easy enough for all on your team to learn. Because manufacturing is such a dynamic environment, choose a tool that will be flexible enough to change as your circumstances change. LiquidPlanner is a great example of a tool that is dynamic and also with a track record of helping manufacturing teams.

4. Track Progress

One of the important benefits of project management involves the monitoring and controlling of project work. This process has to do with checking your progress to make sure you’re on track to deliver on time and within scope and budget.

When teams don’t accurately track their work progress, the results can be truly catastrophic. Planning your work ahead of time gives you a roadmap for when you’re actually performing the work. If you don’t track how you’re performing, you won’t know if you’re going off-course; as a result, you won’t know what adjustments need to be made. Strong project plans and reliable schedules alert you to when you’re going over your budget or deadline before it’s too late to do something about it.  In manufacturing, when time-to-market and costs can determine whether your product will succeed in the marketplace, poor planning can sink a project.

Using project management software with  time tracking features is a powerful way to track project progress. These tools make it easy for you to judge how well you’re doing when it comes to reaching your milestones and goals.

Once you start tracking your progress, you’ll quickly see all the opportunities to fine-tune your approach to managing your project: your manufacturing projects will progressively get better, while you develop your own internal flavor of project management that fits your organization’s culture and way of work.

5. Implement a Risk Management Process

In manufacturing, risk management is absolutely imperative. The projects your organization and team will manage have a direct impact on your main business objectives and key results like time to market.

Risks are issues you identify before they become reality.  Risk management is coming up with a plan for what to do if the worst happens, and then handling issues if and when they do become real.

Manufacturing teams that are not practicing risk management—or practicing it poorly—may be faced with problems that could range from delays and quality problems to canceling production. Even established companies like Boeing have been caught mismanaging risks on major projects.

Practicing risk management will get you to sit down with your team and go through the exercise of identifying everything that could go wrong. The next step is to prioritize risks by impact and importance, and most importantly, assign an owner to each risk. Planning for issues is a fantastic way to get you and your team talking about project management, especially as you decide on a course of action to take in case your risk becomes a real issue. As with other project management processes, a collaborative project management tool can help you and keep your entire team on the same page while planning and managing risks.

Projects and operations can coexist beautifully! Where operations and manufacturing focus on mass production, the art of starting the production of a new product, improving on processes, implementing better communication among manufacturing silos, and even ending the production of a product are all projects. By implementing project management in your organization, your processes, product and work environment will all greatly improve as well.

Could your project management process be better? Find out! Our 9-question multiple-choice quiz will diagnose the health of your project management tool and/or process.  Take the quiz!

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5 Project Management Tips for Manufacturing Teams was last modified: September 7th, 2016 by Cesar Abeid