Achieving Operational Agility: Critical Tools for Manufacturers

manufacturing_toolboxToday, manufacturing organizations face some unprecedented operational challenges. Customer expectations of quality and delivery are greater than ever, regulatory burdens weightier, and manufacturing and production system landscapes are growing in complexity and subject to even more disparate systems and data sources. And this is just the start.

To contend with these types of challenges, leading manufacturers have had to reexamine their organizational methodologies and toolsets when evolving continuous improvement initiatives. And, leading companies have recognized a need to accelerate their Operational Excellence progress towards optimizing operational goals in order to ensure their competitiveness.

In my first post of this blog series, we established that the ability to remain agile to changing market demands was a key objective of manufacturers today and the focus of many manufacturers’ Operational Excellence journey. We also gave an overview of the current capabilities of the marketplace—that a growing number of companies are implementing dynamic processes and supporting software to contend with today’s challenges around operational agility.

But which processes and software are leaders adopting that are driving the most value today?

Formalized Processes for Continuous Improvement

Our 2013-2014 Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) survey asked manufacturing executives and decision makers about the formal manufacturing programs and processes they are implementing as part of their Operational Excellence journeys.


This chart shows the rates for manufacturing programs that are currently implemented, or are planned to be implemented within a year. As you can see, Lean and ISO 9000/9001 programs lead the way with rates of 29% and 25%, respectively. Overall, 73% of companies surveyed had some formal continuous improvement program in place or planned within a year, and most have a combination of more than one.

These programs provide proven methodologies for supporting the realities of balancing consistent operations with the realities of day-to-day manufacturing schedule dynamics while anticipating demand fluctuations. Without standardized, cross-functional programs, companies are often forced to operate in a highly reactive “firefighting mode” with minimal preparation, if any, for these growing dynamics.

While structured continuous improvement programs such as these provide an important foundation, they need to be supported by accurate data collection and analysis capabilities, and this is where supporting software technology enters the picture.

Which Software Applications are Companies Adopting on Their Operational Excellence Journeys?

Our research shows that historically most companies have been using ERP software to manage overall enterprise operations, and that many are choosing to deploy MOM software applications to support more agile operations that are needed today.


The chart above shows adoption rates for the top MOM software applications today. Each of these applications plays a key role in enabling agile manufacturing operations:


  • Quality Management Software: Without effective quality management, manufacturing organizations lack the ability to ensure product consistency while simultaneously handling the inevitable changes in supply and demand. Quality Management Software keeps product variability in check and helps companies avoid being in an out-of-control, “firefighting” mode.
  • Planning, Scheduling & Dispatching Software: Manufacturing operations are always dynamic and subject to changes, whether it’s a customer order schedule, a supplier delivery, unplanned equipment downtime, or other issue. This software facilitates agility by greatly shortening the response rate in rescheduling and planning around these manufacturing dynamics.
  • Manufacturing Execution System (MES): MES is crucial in enforcing and tracking established manufacturing practices to ensure consistent and reliable production. An effective MES solution that allows for harmonized processes and workflows across sites to be rapidly adapted to the changing needs of plant operations is a key step in ensuring current and future agility.


It’s clear from looking at the growing rates of standardized process adoption and MOM software implementations that manufacturers are increasingly turning to these tools to bolster their continuous improvement initiatives and improve agility.

In the next post of this series, we’ll examine how companies are rolling out these processes and technologies across plants, lines of business, and enterprise-wide, and look into how these capabilities are directly translating to better agility for manufacturing.

Accelerate Your Operational Excellence Journey – Attend the LNS Research Webcast

We’ll be drilling much deeper into operational agility and other ways to  accelerate Operational Excellence journeys through the alignment of people, process, and supporting technology resources in the upcoming LNS Research webcast: “Accelerating Operational Excellence for Global and Regional Manufacturers,” on January 29, 2014, 11:00 am EST.


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