The Can Do! conundrum.

Author:Archer, Tom
Position:Manufacturing management

When skill and dedication disguise an operation's basic weaknesses

Can Do!--a universally admired characteristic--is the ability, creativity, enthusiasm, and attitude to accomplish the difficult in the face of daunting odds. We label people who get things done as optimists, achievers, heroes; we honor and award them trophies, certificates, medals, and, in business, with bonuses, raises, stock options, and promotions. We like to associate with them. Can Do! is "politically correct." Conversely, the "abominable nomen" (and women) in our businesses are perhaps valued for their technical skills, but generally ignored in decision-making and rarely achieve upper management ranks.

Makes sense; right? The "nomen" will stagnate a business; right?

As with so many "good" things, the danger is in the subtle extremes. It's a little like food. Food is good; some is downright delicious. We all avoid the obviously fatal things we might ingest, so there's little risk there. But a tad too much food, consistently, over the long run, sneaks up on us and leads to dangerous health problems. We don't wake up one morning and discover that by some miracle we've gained 20 or 30 lb; it's a day-by-day accomplishment. Gaining a pound a year doesn't sound like much, but some of us are old enough for that to make a difference. And if we want to be healthy, we'll try to lose it carefully, not radically.

So where's the manufacturing analogy? When is Can Do! unhealthy in a manufacturing company? The answer: When it's a substitute for basic business disciplines; when Can Do! is the chronic "work around" for hidden but fundamental weaknesses in business processes and operations.

The impact can he shocking. At the extreme, we've seen Can Do! lead to manufacturing costs 800% higher than necessary; 20% to 200% higher manufacturing costs are relatively common. Can Do! companies simply suffer seriously reduced profits; despite great people and great attitudes, they incomprehensively perform at or below industry norms.

Two common areas where Can Do! causes these subtle, enigmatic, but significant bottom-line problems are:

* Product features and offerings; and

* Product design-to-manufacturing transition.

What's profitable?

When a manager boasts that his or her company is customer-or market-driven, it isn't always a "good thing." Actually, most of the time it means "We're salesdriven." A sales-driven company focuses on increasing sales without much thought to other performance...

To continue reading