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How to Build Manufacturing Strategies That Actually Work

By: Ben Baldwin

May 20, 2022

How to Build Manufacturing Strategies That Actually Work

Manufacturing strategies either ensure success or spell out doom for manufacturers fighting for a place in the competitive market. Since the introduction of the TPS (Toyota Production System), JIT (Just-in-Time), TQM (Total Quality Management), Lean methodologies, and various QMS standards, manufacturers have been flooded with new and improved “best practices” that promise minimization of waste and maximization of value in their competitive environments.

But have these manufacturing strategies worked?

The answer is… only some of the time.

Now, I'm not here to disparage industrial pillars like Lean Manufacturing. Certainly not! A lot of these manufacturing strategies have incredible ideas that do work.

The problem is that companies tend to perform 2 key errors:

  • Their strategies improve their manufacturing operation while forgetting about value for the customer.
  • They focus on the form of the manufacturing strategy while forgetting about substance and key skills which enable success.


These two issues are subtle yet crucial to the success of your manufacturing strategy. If the value for the customer is forgotten, then the company's mission is lost and the competitive edge becomes dull.

At the same time, if companies focus on the mechanics of their strategies without giving due time to develop their capabilities, the strategy doesn’t go anywhere.

Let’s take Kaizen as an example.

It is great to continuously improve your operation, but these process improvements need to be grounded in adding value to the customer. Continuous improvement tells us WHAT needs to be done, but we need to focus on HOW the continuous improvement is achieved.

Likewise, there are many discussions about the form of continuous improvement but very few discussions seriously broach the topic of how it is achieved or present the necessary tools. To that effort, we’d like to focus on 2 core elements:

  • HOW manufacturing strategies are implemented;
  • And HOW to make them as effective as possible.
pro tip

Pro Tip: Collecting production data is a powerful method to apply continuous improvement initiatives that work. Use VKS guidebooks to automatically capture key metrics and record valuable input through operator engagement.


The External Structure of the Manufacturing Strategy

Before we delve into the internal structure of the manufacturing strategy, it is vital to understand how the strategy fits into the whole organizational framework. A pyramid describes and breaks down the organizational silos and the strategic structure fairly well.

manufacturing strategy pyramid

  • Mission Statement: What unique vision sets it apart from other competitors? This is the reason why your company exists.
  • Goals & Objectives: What are the factors that determine a successful business? These are the objectives that maintain the business and promote growth.
  • Business Strategy: How are the goals and objectives going to be achieved? This is the overall plan that maps out key actions and how a company will compete in the market.
  • Manufacturing Strategy: How does manufacturing support the business strategy? This strategic plan focuses on the efficiency, productivity, and sustainability of the required actions that fulfill the business strategy.
  • Marketing Strategy: How does marketing support the business strategy? This strategy determines which specific markets need to be targeted to fulfill the goals and objectives of the business strategy.
  • People and Processes: What actions need to be taken to maintain the direction and purpose of the above strategies and goals? This is where the rubber meets the road. People and processes provide foundational support for all organizational functions and actions.

What we can see here is that the bottom pieces of the pyramid support the blocks above them while the top pieces provide direction and purpose for the pieces below.

Manufacturing Strategies: Substance Over Form

Ok, maybe substance is not always over form but it is at least equal to it!

It's like a car engine. We can make sure that we have the best quality components and have them assembled exactly according to specifications.

But if there’s no gas, or there’s no one who knows how to drive the car, then the car is going nowhere.

This is why, when developing a manufacturing strategy, we need to consider how the objectives will be achieved. Key factors that pertain to the substance of a manufacturing strategy are:

  • Workforce skills and competence
  • Machine capabilities
  • Supply chain proficiency
  • Systems that enable strong management

Our work instruction software enables manufacturers to add substance to the form of their manufacturing strategy. Employees receive the knowledge and skills they need to perform their jobs accurately and with confidence. Management then receives in-depth production data, which enables better decision-making and advanced strategic planning.

By focusing on the substance of your manufacturing strategy, you safeguard yourself from seeing your strategy as a general solution to various problems. Rather, you see your manufacturing strategy as a mechanism that guides you and your team in the right direction.

The 4 Key Elements of a Manufacturing Strategy

Manufacturing strategies are about aligning the production developments alongside the intended goal and business strategies. This can be compared to planning a trip from one location to another using a map.

When using a map, it's fairly easy to see the required direction. But there are roadblocks, one-ways, speed limits, and obstacles that get in the way of going in a straight line. That's why an intelligently planned route that uses the appropriate streets based on these factors is important.

It is the same for your manufacturing strategies. There are 4 key elements (or avenues) to a good production plan.

1. Easy to Understand

worker with tablet

If a manufacturing strategy is hard to understand, it will be even more difficult to follow.

When looking at your manufacturing strategy, make sure that anyone reviewing it can answer these 4 key questions.

  1. What are the objectives?
  2. What are the manufacturing requirements?
  3. How will manufacturing interact with other business functions?
  4. What metrics and data will be used and which will determine success?

One helpful way to make your manufacturing strategies clear to understand is to not get bogged down in strategic methodologies. This can make it difficult for employees to determine the appropriate actions when the time comes.

Instead, workers need a clear set of guidelines that define the manufacturing objectives and requirements. Your employees shouldn’t need to be experts in Lean manufacturing to know what to do or to follow Lean methodology.

pro tip

Pro Tip: Creating easy-to-understand processes and procedures is paramount within the modern competitive manufacturing environment. Use pictures, videos, annotations, and more to reduce training times and boost repeatable quality practices.


2. The Manufacturing Strategy Supports the Business Strategy

Have you ever heard the expression: “A house divided cannot stand.”?

Your various organizational strategies and objectives do not exist in separate silos. They are connected within the whole organizational structure.

To help you situate these separate yet connected elements, remember IMEDD, which stands for Integrate - Monitor - Establish - Develop - Direct. Each one of these correlates to a layer of the organizational framework pyramid we saw before.

  • Integrate all subfactors under the mission statement.
  • Monitor and adjust company objectives that will see the mission statement realized.
  • Establish a business strategy that considers internal and external elements that affect production and the organization.
  • Develop a manufacturing strategy that supports and reflects the above mission statements, business objectives, and business strategies.
  • Direct the assimilation of the manufacturing strategy into the workforce and processes.
pro tip

Pro Tip: Ensuring compliance with your manufacturing strategy may seem like a daunting task, but it's easier than you think. Use work instruction software to direct workers through every step of a process. This way, no worker is left without the direction they need.


3. Keep Your Customers In Mind

Probably the most important thing is to make sure the manufacturing strategy is developed with your customers in mind. Often, manufacturers will build a plan based on what is good for their operation, forgetting about WHY they are producing the product.

It’s always for the customers!

They are the ones deciding that the benefits of your product or service are worth the money. And you are the one enriching their lives with the product. Reviewing how your product is made and what value-added processes make the product better is extremely beneficial within the competitive market.

4. Get Ready for Change

We’d like to think that once our manufacturing strategies have been established, everything will work out as planned. The workforce, resources, machinery, and other manufacturing factors should align perfectly, right?

Sadly, this is often not the case. But this is a good thing, and I’ll show you why.

Even though manufacturing strategies are often created in a vacuum, your operation is not. Your production of goods and services is just as reliant on external factors like resources and customers as it is on internal factors like the workforce and efficient methods.

You can somewhat control internal factors, especially with tools like work instruction software, but external factors often elude a complete level of control. For this reason, manufacturing strategies need to be developed with change and flexibility in mind to move with the following ever-changing factors.

  • Market shifts and challenges
  • New customer expectations
  • Opportunities for improvement
  • Periods of downtime

There is a fine balance that every manufacturing strategy needs to consider. It should set clear goals and develop key methods of achieving those goals while also being flexible enough for changes and shifts in the plan.

pro tip

Pro Tip: Paper documentation and quality records do not easily accommodate for change. Update processes quickly with digital work instructions. Easily gather and review manufacturing data that enables you to make informed decisions.


What’s Your Strategy?

putting the pieces together

Here at VKS, we’ve written about various new strategies while touching on almost every method that helps boost productivity, quality, and efficiency. But most importantly, we provide the tools that enable manufacturers and other industry leaders to see these strategies become realized and successful.

Paper maps have become obsolete, and so have paper instructions. modern manufacturers need intelligent digital processes that enable their manufacturing strategies to come to life.

Giving your workforce a powerful standardization tool that supports every worker with advanced knowledge is the best way to ensure your manufacturing strategy is followed. Additionally, it gives you the insight to continually move forward and advance the skills and capabilities of your people, processes, and organization.

Want to learn more about digital work instructions? Book a demo today and we’ll show you HOW VKS can provide substance to your unique strategies and requirements.

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