Our clients in the manufacturing sector often tell us of the difficulties they face in networking and learning from their peers in such a sprawling industry. Owing to the constraints of their environment, someone in a leading manufacturer may not know everybody in their department or facility, let alone the wider sector.
As everybody comes up against the same challenges and difficulties in their working lives, networking allows us to share knowledge, innovate and support one another. So, when during our Pcubed Manufacturing Innovation Hub, (a team set up to think innovatively about ways to drive the company, sector and industry forward) the idea of an event that would bring together people from industry was proposed, it was no surprise that everybody got on board, excited to start this new and exciting venture.
Posed as a solution to the networking difficulties inherent in the industry, our vision for, ‘Future Leaders’ was to create a community of current and future leaders within manufacturing, helping to foster networking opportunities and knowledge sharing in the context of an industrial trend or topic.
Over the past 25 years, Pcubed has worked with over half the fortune 500 companies, helping them solve some of their most complex challenges. We wanted to tailor the concepts and ideas we planned to discuss to benefit our attendees, helping them to address the real and immediate challenges they currently face, drawing on both our experience and that of others in the room.
With this goal in mind, we next needed a theme to focus on. As stated at the top of this article, manufacturing has never been so complex. The trends affecting it are forcing companies to expand into new markets, such as South America and Asia. Businesses are constantly forced to re-invent themselves which has led, amongst other innovations, to the advent of electric vehicles and autonomous driving. The shockwaves produced by such re-inventions have rippled out and are being felt by supply chains and production lines, who are forced in turn to become more reactive to automation.
So, how should companies respond in order to survive?
The Answer Is Innovation
Innovation isn’t easy, it’s risky and doesn’t end at thinking of a great idea. There are many things that stand in the way of a company having a strong innovative culture and therefore succeeding. For me, these issues can be split into four categories; people, process, management and product.
With regards to people, how do you ensure your employees are motivated and empowered enough to think innovatively and actively seek ways to drive your company forward? How can they be made to feel that they can think independently without losing support of the company?
Amazon are a shining example of how this can be done. Dave Limp, the company’s head of devices has at his disposal reams of proposal documents in which various internal teams set forth their visions for revolutionary products and services, including a 2011 memo proposing ‘Alexa’, the virtual personal assistant.1
Even with the vast financial resources the likes of Amazon can marshal, these kinds of innovations only surface in companies that foster cultures conducive to innovation.
What process challenges do businesses face? Does the company have a strong strategy for driving innovative development that ensures collaboration and diversity to get the best results, not only for the R&D teams but for all?
Innovation is inherently a natural, organic progression, however it can be enhanced and developed through certain methodologies. It is also important to note that internal processes can hinder innovation and this can be a huge blocker which brings us to our next point.
While it’s a generally accepted fact that internal processes can hinder innovation, driving it from the leadership team, is a task fraught with complexity. Leaders need to consider where effort and funding are invested by assessing a disparate group of variables.
Despite the fact that necessity is not the only mother of invention, there can be a short-sighted air of complacency; ‘if our current product offerings are successful, why would we invest all this money in new ventures?’ Adding to the complexity, innovation can’t be measured through traditional methods, by revenue or sales volume, it has to be measured through different means, perhaps by new ideas generated or time spent on innovation. Moreover, we must ask ‘are the new products aligned to the overall business strategy not just ROI?’
When creating a new idea, ask whether it solves the customers’ problems. Will it be forced into an already saturated market where the effort isn’t going to match the rewards?
Businesses spend countless hours and money looking for a ‘Unicorn’, the next Uber etc. that will make millions of pounds and change an industry overnight. If you have a strong innovative culture this will drive these ideas out into the open and ensure backing from the company anyway.
Bear in mind that innovation isn’t just about a consumer product, it can come in the form of a service you offer, or as a new revolutionary way of performing one of your current processes. The thing that redefines your company, improves efficiency, produces jobs or reduces waste could be an internal process that the general public or wider sector never even see.
From Drawing Board to Factory Floor with Future Leaders
So how can other companies, departments and individuals replicate these successes?
Together, we set out to answer this question by basing the first Future Leaders event around Design Thinking, Lean Start-Up and Agile. These three methodologies offer ways of helping transport an idea from the planning stages to the market.
In a linear fashion, we walked the group through the stages of product development, from the nascence of an idea with Design Thinking to the build stage with Scrum.
We opened the workshop with a discussion around the need for innovation, the challenges we all face and an introduction to the three methodologies. This was followed by an introduction to Design Thinking, an approach that emphasises empathy with the customer to discover the customer’s need and create ideas that solve that need. Consideration should be given to whether it solves problems from an original angle or whether it will be left to languish in an already saturated market.
Ben Carew, a Principal Consultant at Pcubed followed this with an introduction to Lean Start-Up, the methodology by which the idea formulated with Design Thinking is evolved into a product or offering.
Lean start-up is an iterative approach where a product is built, its success is measured and assessed by how well it achieves its intended aim, then finally adjusted and improved until the best product is produced. As an added benefit, it guards against building a product without a market, as improvements are made with consumer insight added into each incremental gain, taking the end customer and wider company on the development journey with you.
The day was concluded when Senior Consultant, Ben Beavers, gave an overview of ‘Scrum’; an Agile framework used in the build phase of a project, designed to iteratively and incrementally evolve the creation of a product whilst remaining reactive to changes in scope, funding and many of the other maladies projects are prone to fall foul of.
This model is the perfect combination of an iterative and experimental approach capable of solving a number of the challenges faced by anyone seeking to innovate.
This was the first event of many carrying the Future Leaders banner under which we aim to grow a community of leaders within manufacturing, and in which we can learn from one another. During this event, we had industry leaders from various manufacturing companies, providing positive networking opportunities for all involved.
We enjoyed in-depth and challenging discussions regarding all three approaches to innovation and the ways in which we as a company help our clients use these tools to succeed.
1 How Does Amazon Stay At Day One? Hal Gregersen. (2017)
2 Rolls-Royce sets new aerospace record with UltraFan® Power Gearbox
Aidan is part of Pcubed’s Manufacturing Leadership Team currently working in one of the UK’s leading OEM’s where he has helped implement and run a PMO amongst other improvement initiatives. A former Engineering Leadership Graduate, he has spent his time since achieving a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering in a variety of consulting, project management and process improvement roles within the manufactuing and logistics sectors.