Another Ducking Digest?!
October 23, 2023: Technology Adoption for Small and Mid-Sized Manufacturers
Welcome to What the Duck?! A podcast with real experts talking about direct spend challenges and experiences. And now, here’s your host, Source Day’s very own manufacturing Maven, Sarah Scudder.
Howdy from Scottsdale. It is 8:00 AM my time. Lindsay and I are up bright and early together today to host our show. I am here attending the Sourcing Industry Group conference, which actually kicks off today and runs through Wednesday evening. Excited to learn from industry leaders about best practices and struggles and challenges that they’re having. And I am repping the direct materials community. This has historically been an indirect focus conference, so looking forward to networking with some more of the direct folks.
Lindsay and I are going to chat about small manufacturer workflow process automation. That’s a big handful. We are going to talk about small manufacturer workflow process automation implementation. And this is kind of a series that we’re running, talking about technology in small and mid-size manufacturing environments. It’s very, very different than if you’re working for a large manufacturer. So last week, we kicked off the conversation. Today, we’re going to be focused on talking about implementation.
So, Lindsay, we have a lot to discuss today. So I know incorporating our discussion is going to be a six-step process that you’ve kind of built out and used in your career. So I will let you jump in and kick off our combo today.
Okay, thank you, Sarah. Yeah, last week’s recap was the preamble was the need for a problem statement, identifying where we’re starting from on our automation or technology adoption journey, identifying data fields, scrubbing bad data, how to connect to the data fields we need, or the inputs we need, especially if we’re doing an IoT, the proof of concept, the expense, the budget. This week, we figured we’d dive into implementation. So tech implementation. It only seems straightforward, right? As a clever person said on social media, you’ve got to watch out for that curated gloss that we read on social media around a lot of it coming from the services sellers or glib, superficial know-it-all people like me. So we’ve got to get beyond that and get our arms on really what level of technology adoption are we trying to get involved in. So technology implementation, it’s not all equal, right? We all know that we’ve had exposure to that in different ways. The more areas, the more departments, the more individuals that a process workflow touches, then the more complicated our implementation becomes.
Well, and Lindsay, I think just one of the big challenges seems very, very basic and obvious, but it’s staffing. Staffing is tough, and if you’re a small team and you’re working on an implementation, you’re already overworked, and your team is coming in early and staying late. And then to add an implementation on top of that can be very, very challenging. So I think that’s kind of a basis of why it can be so tough.
That is an excellent point. And that really reflects an empathy for the small manufacturer supply chain environment. You look at the Fortune 100 guys; they have lighthouse sites, they have continuous improvement teams, they have new technology adoption, digital transformation leaders. Small manufacturers typically don’t have any of that. And if the technology we’re talking about isn’t a proven canned solution, then there’s that higher uncertainty. So really, I think one of the first big takeaways, Sarah, would be that for small manufacturers, just lean on canned solutions. Don’t try to be a new technology adopter. Don’t take on that extra risk. Don’t go down the path of the Fortune 100 guys, investing the millions and millions and millions in speculative custom solutions. Instead, stick with canned solutions.
Solutions to follow on the coils. If someone like me has done something very similar, we’ve seen that on the supply chain side, with our MRP and especially our ERP implementations, when there was this funny message that came from the IT team and they said, “We’re going to go with vanilla flavor Microsoft Dynamics or we’re going to go with vanilla NetSuite. We’re not going to allow any customization.” Why are they saying that? Well, they’re saying that because they want to set themselves up to be successful. They don’t want to be blamed for the implementation not working because of the added risk of a bespoke solution.
The lesser risk for the project is just that the project timeline might move out, or that, like you say, we don’t have enough resources, or that we uncover a technical complication with the legacy IoT or OT ecosystem. The greater risk is that the whole implementation fails, and unfortunately, there are precedents for that, even in the Fortune 100 Club.
This idea of risk is very good, and I like the way you teed it up, Sarah, because in the supply chain world, we deal with risk on a daily, if not hourly, basis, but technology implementation risk management is fundamentally different. So many of us supply chain small manufacturer supply chain folks are recognized and rewarded for getting things done, and we wear that like a badge of honor, even a personal brand. But technology implementation is fundamentally different. Instead of getting things done, now I’m working on changing the way we do things, and that difference draws on a very different skill set.
So Lindsay, the supply chain manager who gets things done, he can do that by being direct, by multitasking, by being tactical, by being pragmatic, by being hardworking, and all the while drawing from standard reports. But now I’m challenged to be collaborative. I’m challenged to leverage my program management skills. I’m challenged to facilitate technical problem-solving. I’m challenged to track the progress, the budget. I’m challenged to report across the organization, as well as up through management. And I’m challenged, especially challenged, to be a cheerleader for the project and to adjust, all the while adjusting to any change in requirements or project needs.
Certainly, you know, what’s our supply chain hero going to do about all this, right? Well, I think it comes down to just the people part of it. Change management is very people-driven, and you have to show people and convince people to be open to change and that there’s going to be a benefit for them. Very, very different than executing tactical work on a daily basis. It’s almost like a mindset shift and pivot in how they approach their work.
Absolutely. That would be one of the regrets of my career when I look back, is that I spent so many hours working in the tactical side of things. So many hours getting things done, very different world. How might I have contributed if I’d been on the strategic side? So, Lindsay, you have six steps that you have built out and implemented in your career around how to actually have a successful technology implementation. So I’d like to have you walk us through those steps.
First one, we talked about last week, and that was having the explicit problem statement, Sarah, and that certainly distills some of the hype. The external hype we might have picked up. It also helps align ideas or thinking or expectations within the internal organization, and we’ll touch back on that in a minute. A revision-controlled statement of work, if you will, a document of record that can be one page highlighting, “Here’s exactly what we’re going to deliver.” We don’t want to set ourselves up to fail by boiling the ocean, right? That doesn’t work. The project scope is only going to touch a certain part or certain production lines, a certain portion of the warehouse, or a subset of the supplier base. Then we need to set boundaries around that, so it’s clear in everyone’s head that here’s what we’re going to do.
What we’re doing with that document of record and the problem statement is we’re going to underscore the expectations. We’re going to reduce confusion, getting it clear in everyone’s head. We’re going to set hard boundaries that detail the partial subset that we’re going to go after instead of boiling the ocean. And this is going to create conflict, because the penny is going to drop that, “Wait a minute, I want to add this too. I need this. I must have this. I didn’t support this project not knowing that I wouldn’t get this out of it.” So we need to have a sandbox that says, “Okay, we’ll flag it as out of scope, catch it in a sandbox, so that can become a powerful tool for dispelling conflict.”
As we go with our project, we need to avoid going too far down the road without verification. Verification of the performance of each partial area, each partial step of the project. We don’t want to get to the end and say it doesn’t work. We want to celebrate each step along the way. So, from the idea of the second idea is very much a team solution. It’s not something we want to go after as a solo actor, as a single contributor. It’s going to take a village. We want subject matter experts, and they can be technical experts or they can be emotional, passionate people like yourself who are gung-ho to make this happen. They’ll move Heaven and Earth to make it happen just by their sheer presence and personality.
What we’re avoiding is this curated gloss, the social media stuff that we’re avoiding. The folks who say, “Yeah, it’s all going to be wonderful, and technology can do everything.” It can, but the more elaborate we get, the longer it’s going to take, and the more risk. So, the steps we’re going to break it up into, when we look at especially as we look at the IoT type activities.
you know where we’re pulling together disparate data fields or pulling in data from the production line we want to connect to the data source we want to we want to communicate from the the the from that data source to a central point be an edge computer or you know a computer that’s already in place we want to to gather that data we want to manage that data and then and then it starts to get tricky do we want to to optimize it you know that’s going to be the the most our look for Trends that’s going to be the most comp at technically challenging portion but along that Continuum we want to give us recognize the steps and celebrate as as we check each one off so we we’re we’re looking for internal contributors who can you know Buy in and share the workload but we’re also looking for external contributors and given that it’s a Continuum there’s very few external contributors out there other than ones who will charge us an awful lot of money who can address the whole platform so we want to speak to an integrator who can help us with help the engineers of production with connectivity we want to we want to speak to an edge computer vendor who can help us with the the communication we want to speak to folks who it team who’s talked about Gathering data from multiple applications we want to speak to an IT resource around around around Cloud support and and pull them all together you know not not look for watch out for the Trap of of of someone trying to answer every question just have everyone stay in their own vertical I wanted to go through an examples there of of of drone Management in a PDC but you you know I’m so passionate about that that might take up another 10 minutes yeah so I’m wondering since we have our list of six and we’ve gotten through the first three I’m wondering if we do the the last three on our show next week okay just given this is such a meaty topic and I want to make sure you have time to get to a couple of your examples as well okay so then next week we can talk about you know the big idea the the mistake of drone verification of of skew in a in a PDC and you know how what you have to do with that problem statement to to to break it down into say you know 10 steps that that will you know help help Drive success and how that’s that that’s kind of a fun one because the supply chain adds a lot of value to the context that otherwise the AI guys might not appreciate we will we will call this part one of talking through the implementation next week we’ll do part two and we can get through the rest of the list and have you share your examples thanks for those you who are able to join us live today Lindsay and I will be back next money Monday at 10: a.m. Central to dive into part two of our adoption conversation thanks Sarah enjoy Arizona