We recently attended INFO*FLEX 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. The show had approximately 2,000 attendees and more than 300 exhibitors all focused on making improvements in the Flexographic Printing Industry. While promoting the show on their website, the FTA stated “Be there to discover ways to win more jobs, increase profits and become a better printer/converter.”
Further down they affirm, “It’s here that you will build new ideas, discover new solutions, and find revolutionary technologies that will propel your business forward.” Having spent two full days at the show, including taking in some of the technical sessions, I feel like, as usual, they delivered. The other thing it highlighted for me is that there sure are a lot of us out there trying to get some of your project improvement money.
If you’re like most of us, at some time in your career you were involved in either a capital investment or some other improvement initiative that did not wind up as expected. You may have equipment that has been mothballed, process control equipment that has been turned off or removed, or even improvement plans that have been scrapped. As a business person you have to ask yourself two questions;
- How did this happen?
- How can I prevent this from happening again?
Since there is probably a unique story for every answer to the question, “How did it happen?” I prefer to focus on “How can I prevent this from happening again?” So here are five tips to prevent you from investing time and money in a disappointing improvement project.
1. Assess Your Culture
This chart has been around for years but I think it’s a great place to start:
Honestly assess where you fall on this New Product Adoption Curve. If your company doesn’t have the desire and resources to try new things, even if they fail, stay away from the newest technology. There is a reason that the leading edge is sometimes called the bleeding edge. Let’s face it, if you’re reading this, there is a 97.5% chance that you don’t fall into the innovator category. That’s fine. Let them test and perfect the newest technology.
The rest of us are more comfortable waiting until something is proven before we introduce it into our production stream. No harm in being a little conservative. Make an honest assessment of your culture and select projects consistent with that culture. If you are part of a laggard culture, there is probably little we can do to help.
2. Line Up With Your Company Objectives
This has become so cliché for business improvement experts that I almost didn’t include it. However, it is certainly one of the biggest factors that determines success. Many well run companies are able to distill annual or quarterly objectives down into a few key objectives. At Norcross, we refer to them as rocks. Your company objectives may be based on sustainability, gaining market share, improving productivity, or any number of other targets established by the company’s management. When you are aligned with those objectives you stand a much better chance of getting support from upper management. While upper management may not be directly responsible for the implementation of new technology, they are certainly in a position to supply the resources required to get it done. Lining up with your company objectives ensures that your projects are helping advance the company toward its goals while simultaneously increasing the chances that you will get the support and resources you need to be successful. This is very often a recipe for a great improvement project.
3. Establish Measurable Expectations
You need a target for success and that target has to be quantifiable. The most frequent tool we see when assessing projects is a simple ROI, (Return on Investment), calculator. Often these calculators will calculate how many days it takes for the investment to pay for itself. For example, if you invest $10,000 but the improvement saves $1,000 per day, the payback period would be ten days. Some companies will establish an acceptable payback period. For example, some companies will not look at an improvement project, capital or otherwise, unless it can pay for itself within two years. Some companies require a shorter payback time and others will accept a longer time. Understand what your payback requirements are and make sure you have a way to prove the impact of the improvement. This often takes the form of establishing a baseline of performance so you can show before and after and easily calculate the improvement.
4. Get Your Improvement Partners Speaking the Same Language
Frequently, improvement projects require the resources of another company. I am talking specifically about capital improvement projects. It’s not uncommon for most of us to view salespeople with a bit of skepticism. Unfortunately, this lack of trust causes us to be careful with information, making it difficult for the salesperson to identify what we want. That is why so many marketing messages are trying to capture everything; money, productivity, quality, etc. Once you’ve decided on your measurable expectations, do yourself and the salesperson you are dealing with a favor and tell them. This will save both of you a lot of time by getting it all out in the open as soon as possible. If you aren’t comfortable sharing this information, get another salesperson or another company. It’s too difficult to work with someone you can’t trust. None of us has that kind of time. An honest salesperson will tell you whether or not they can meet your measurable expectations.
5. Get a Performance Guarantee
The performance guarantee should be a natural outflow of the previous four steps. You have the culture, the commitment, the measurable expectations, and your improvement partners understand and are speaking the same language. The only thing worse than spending time and company resources on an improvement project that doesn’t perform is having to pay for the equipment too. Process improvement equipment suppliers should be comfortable guaranteeing the performance of their equipment. If they’re not, find another supplier. Reluctance to give a performance guarantee often means one of two things:
- They've had a bad experience in the past
- They are uncertain whether they can meet your expectations
If they place some stipulations on the guarantee, (for example you must follow their instructions on how to use and optimize the equipment), that is fine. That is just a sign that they probably know what they’re doing.
Like I said at the beginning, INFO*FLEX 2016 had many great ideas and opportunities to improve your flexographic printing operation. If you follow these five tips, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of a bad improvement project, and it will make it easier to decide which of the many improvement opportunities you should pursue.