Improving Your Odds For A Successful Manufacturing Workflow Strategy

By David Shaffer

When it comes to succeeding with manufacturing workflow, we are drowning in data but starved for wisdom.

That thought was first put forth by futurist John Naisbitt 40 years ago in his classic book Megatrends. Naisbitt the futurist was indeed a prophet.

His prophecy is true because today even with the ever-expanding use of technology, there is an overabundance of data. The challenge is to disseminate that data into information that can be acted upon to achieve the organization’s mission.

The overall mission and foundation of business today, as it was 40 years ago and undoubtedly will be true 40 years hence, is to maximize customer service. Today this is also referred to as the customer experience.

Great business thinkers like the late Peter Drucker said that without customers, there is no business. Giving the customers what they want, when they want it and how they want it is an ongoing challenge. Simply put, keeping the customer satisfied requires improved manufacturing workflow.

Because improving your manufacturing workflow is about keeping the customer satisfied, the best manufacturers are obsessed with it. These organization’s want to make themselves as easy as possible to work with from a supply chain, distribution and services standpoint. The good news is applications including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) have greatly improved manufacturing workflow.

However, almost daily you can read or hear of information systems like ERP not fulfilling manufacturing workflow expectations established at the time of acquisition. In fact, despite the most diligent efforts in defining requirements, evaluating options and selecting systems, the probability of higher-than-expected investments and system implementation issues are extremely high.

If it sounds like the odds are stacked against you, there are ways to improve your odds. ERP needs to be seen as an investment, rather than an expense, and therefore you must find ways to maximize the return on investment (ROI).

How To Improve ROI

Improving your manufacturing workplace is a bet, a gamble, a wager. Author Damon Runyon once said: “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”

No business plans to lose its bet on ERP. It is fair to assume that all participants in the implementation of technology are focused upon improved manufacturing workflow results for their individual and collective departments. The aggregate of these improved results should be focused on, and result in, improved results for the company as a whole.

Specifically, a concise definition of measuring improved results as a positive gain in the implementation of technology. If there is nothing to gain then there is obviously no reason to change.

If you want the biggest gain, bet on quality. To all organizations, quality is what is expected. To that end, in the absence of standard operating procedures, the result is variation in process and by definition; variation is the enemy of quality. By determining the least wasteful method of performing a task, quality is improved, cost is reduced and on-time delivery is the final result. By performing a task the same way each time assures consistency and eliminates variation.

As workflows are identified and the standard operating procedures are put in place, the success of these procedures will be directly determined by how effective an organization is at answering the following questions:

• What are the required inputs?
• How were you trained?
• What do you do?
• How do you know your output is good?
• What feedback do you receive?
• Who are your customers?
• What keeps you from doing error-free work?
• What can be done to make your job easier?
• What would you change as the manager?

It is hopefully fair to assume that all employees want to do a good job and would rather do an activity right the first time and not be faced with rework or quality issues. Standard operating procedures, as information or product, are passed from one group to another allowing for consistency in both input and output, resulting in improved quality and happy customers. That is a winning parlay.

Those Pesky Competitors

For a significant number of businesses however, changes are dictated externally by competition, customers, and vendors and for publicly traded companies, possibly the shareholders. This external pressure, when coupled with potentially internal conflicting goals tends to increase anxiety levels and can further contribute to poor system selection and/or utilization. How often is it heard that if we don’t change we will lose? The Internet and e-commerce are recent examples of technology forcing many businesses to react.

One of the ways businesses have tried to deal with change and the expected pressures is through strategic planning. When done correctly, and shared appropriately throughout the organization, the strategic plan becomes a roadmap and a source of reference throughout the year. By establishing a Target Operating Model (TOM) that reflects the strategic plan, the selection of the appropriate ERP can be measured against its alignment with the TOM along with value derived.

Procedures And Policies Are Linked To ROI

It is assumed that the procedures and policies associated with a new system will be integrated as part of the implementation process. Vendors of technology and software will do their best to provide the appropriate operational training however are not generally in the business of assuring that the organizational infrastructure can absorb the change. That is left to the management and implementation team.

Recognizing that a new system carries risk as well as rewards, the management team is functioning under its’ own level of pressure and may not be the best in soothing the concerns, issues and change being felt by the employees. The good intentions associated with the new system may indeed be counterproductive without the corresponding balancing of the attitudes, goals, objectives and concerns of the people that comprise the organization.

Implementing The Strategy

Regardless of the status of the current information technology, that is utilizing an existing system or entering into the selection process of a new one, it is essential that the TOM and value to be derived are clearly defined. That is, just how will we as an organization measure the ERP value and, equally important, how will our customers measure us to decide if we are in fact successful in implementing our strategy. In addition to this measurement is the strategic plan. It must be reflective of where we want the business to be and how we will measure our success.

Finally, the integration of technology and infrastructure are essential to maintaining the balance of maximizing customer service. We must place equal emphasis on understanding and implementing positive attitude as we are in implementing technology.

Defining and achieving improved results is critical to the on-going success of most businesses. To invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in technology and systems without recognizing that tools are only as good as the operator is a formula for disappointment. It has been said that the majority.

Monitor And Communicate Progress

Many organizations struggle with the implementation of key initiatives; accountability is frequently a major stumbling block. By assigning Project Managers and the consistent use of project chartering, project plans can be well defined, resourced and monitored. The aggregate results of the charters collectively address the implementation of defined key initiatives. It is customary that on a weekly basis, each Project Manager reports the status of their charter so that combined project plans are managed by a single source. That is, for quality and consistency the overall progress of the initiatives is maintained in a central repository accessible to the entire management & leadership team.

There are many ways to distill strategic planning into execution. Chartering is a great way to focus on execution while creating accountability & buy-in throughout the process.

If you are open to a conversation about improving manufacturing workflow or how our in-depth work style and personality assessment could help your team, including pricing and the science behind the tests, please contact us at 310-453-6556, extension 403.

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, Santa Monica, CA, (310) 453-6556, & our website:

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2021

David Shaffer, Senior Consultant with Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC, is recognized for his ability to effectively integrate all aspects of business including financial management, information systems, infrastructure, sales management, sales strategies and operations. David assists companies from executive strategic planning through operational and business process improvement opportunities to the selection and integration of management information systems solutions. His range of company support includes start up through Fortune 500.

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style & personality assessments for new hires & staff development. LCS can test in 19 different languages, provide domestic and international interpersonal coaching and offer a variety of workshops – team building, interpersonal communication, stress and time management, leadership training as well as our full-service Business Consulting Division. To order the books, Cracking the Personality Code, Cracking the Business Code, and Cracking the High-Performance Team Code, please go to:

How to Increase Revenues With Market Research

By Henry DeVries

“As a venture capitalist, I get pitched dozens of times every year, and almost every pitch contains ‘market research’ lies,” says Guy Kawasaki, a Silicon-Valley based author, entrepreneur, and evangelist. “I am often accused of ridiculing market research and focus groups. Guilty as charged.”

Kawasaki says useful market research can help you decide what needs attention, how to select the appropriate issues, and what strategies would address the most pain points where you have the most to gain.

“My mission is to empower entrepreneurs,” says Kawasaki. “For them I advocate real-world market research, a technique practiced by Honda, Walmart, Dupont, and other successful companies that entails sending employees at every level to observe how their products or services are actually used by customers.”

Proven market research involves listening. Chris Stiehl, an independent research consultant who calls himself “The Listening Coach,” has built a career on helping companies really listen to their prospective customers, guests and clients.

“Your prospects are talking, but are you really listening?” asks Stiehl, a human-factors-engineer by training who has worked for the Cadillac division of General Motors, Cisco System, Pacific Gas & Electric, Cisco Systems, and even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Stiehl and I met when we both taught market research at the University of California San Diego, and then went on to co-author a bestselling book on market research titled Pain Killer Marketing: How To Turn Customer Pain Into Market Gain.

“At Cadillac, we spent about $20,000 on a Voice of the Customer project that saved the company $3 million per year going forward,” says Stiehl, who notes that a lack of listening is not just a North American problem. “We have conducted listening research in India, China, Brazil, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Switzerland, as well as Canada and the United States.”

During the journey, Stiehl and I have identified several myths that are holding companies back.

The Eight Great Myths Of Market Research

Myth # 1: Focus Groups Are The Best Way To Listen. I say down with focus groups, and I have been a focus group facilitator. Focus groups rank as the number one waste of marketing research dollars.

Myth #2: Marketing Research Is Prohibitively Expensive For Most Companies. Many people think marketing research projects cost $25,000 to $50,000, but that is not true. Typically, a small to medium sized company may invest $6,000 to $12,000 in a solid market research study. If the prospect is harder to reach, such as doctors, the price goes up. As Barack Obama said on Twitter in 2013: “If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century.”

Myth #3: You Cannot Know The Mind Of Customers And Clients. The reality is just the opposite. You must ask and then really listen. If you want to know what customers and clients think, go have conversations with them.

Myth #4: You Need To Survey Hundreds Or Thousands To Really Know. What you really need to do is talk, not survey. A dozen one-on-one interviews will generate as many customer pain points as seven focus groups. The problem with low-cost online surveys is that results are skewed. Surveys have their place, but they must be formulated by listening to interviewees first.

Myth #5: You Have To See People Face-To-Face. In this time of pandemic, the last think you or the interviewee want is to be face to face. Reach out and touch people by phone or by Zoom. Also, these one-on-one interviews by phone or Zoom can be conducted with people in different time zones, something difficult to achieve with focus groups.

Myth #6: Interviews Cannot Go Deep. Actually, interviews allow you to probe. The depth of information obtained for each topic is actually greater in one-on-ones as well, since the moderator or facilitator does not feel the pressure to cover every topic.

Myth #7: The Key Is To find Out How The Customer Or Client Will Gain From Your Product Or Service. Actually, you want to find the pain. Pain beats gain every time. Psychologists and sociologists have repeatedly found that consumers are more motivated to avoid pain than to seek pleasure.

Myth #8: Market Research Is Above Company Politics. Sadly, this is not the case. When it comes to market research you need to skip the politicking. How does a company decide which pain points to address? In most cases, the decisions are political, based upon who claims the loudest.

During conversations with a prospect the goal should be to monopolize the listening. A good rule of thumb is to listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent.

These are the three proven steps for success Stiehl and I have used when it comes to listening carefully and responding appropriately:

Identify the issue. What is on their mind? What is their goal, what assets do they have in place, and what are their roadblocks? Ask questions to find out and listen carefully.

Listen for the prospect’s mindset. This is not about good and bad people; actually, this is about how they view the world at this point in time. Are they a thinker, a doer, a struggler, or an achiever? How do they view similar products or services. Again, ask questions and listen carefully.

Respond in a way that meets what that person wants and needs. To respond appropriately requires matching your language to the mindset of the prospect. Say the appropriate words that the thinker, doer, struggler, or achiever needs to hear. Great market research can help you target the correct messages in your marketing customer service.

Active listening is the skill needed to execute this type of questioning. Active listening involves participating with the customer in the interview. When you have heard them, you must summarize what you have heard to make sure you have heard correctly.

As Tom Peters described in his book Thriving On Chaos, “Listening to customers must become everybody’s business. With most competitors moving ever faster, the race will go to those who listen (and respond) most intently.”

Pain Into Gain Market Research Riddle

Your target prospects experience their own unique frustrations and pains. As the old adage states, “People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.” Truly identifying your prospect’s predicament tells them that you understand and empathize with them.

How will prospects hire you unless they trust you?
How, in turn, will they trust ideas they have not heard?
How, in turn, will they hear without someone to speak?
How, in turn, will you speak unless you have a solution?
How, in turn, will you have a solution unless you understand their pain?
How will you understand their pain unless you listen carefully?
How will you prove you listened unless you respond appropriately?

When you have conversations with prospects, here are ten starter market research questions you might work into the conversation:

1. Can you describe for me the “ideal” experience with a ____________ (your product or service). How do most compare to this ideal?
2. Can you describe for me a recent time that the experience was less than ideal?
3. What are the three most important aspects of doing business with a___________?
4. If I said a __________ was a good value, what would that mean to you?
5. In what ways does dealing with a _________ cost you besides money (time, hassle, effort, etc.)?
6. What is the biggest pain about working with a _________?
7. Would you recommend a _________ to a friend or colleague? Why, or why not?
8. How does working with a _________ help you save money?
9. What does a _________ do really well?
10. If you had the opportunity to work with a ________ again, would you? Why, or why not?

The magic phrase during in-depth listening sessions is this: “Tell me more.”

The Bottom Line

Finally, all of the internal and external data is combined to direct improvement to the places that can have the maximum impact on the customer relationship—in other words, where you achieve the “biggest bang for the buck.” (Note: This process is often called the House of Quality; see the May-June 1988 edition of the Harvard Business Review).

Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC offers custom market research specializing in understanding customer wants, needs and requirements. We have designed and implemented one-on-one in-depth research studies, surveys and quantitative studies across a similar range of internal (employees) and external (customers) audiences. And sometimes we even conduct focus groups.

These market research services can be parlayed with the other offerings from Lighthouse Consulting Business Practices Division such as talent development, in-depth work style and personality assessments, team building, sales & customer service training & workshops, presentation skills, cyber security, manufacturing workflow, IT strategies, ERP selection and CFO/COO best practices and planning. If you are open to a conversation about this, we are ready to listen to what you have to say.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2021

Henry DeVries is a market research consultant with Lighthouse Consulting Services Business Consulting Division as well as an author and educator. He is the author of 14 books on marketing and writes a weekly marketing column for Henry has a 30-year successful track record of market research projects including business forecasting, in-depth interviews, focus group facilitation and surveys for clients such as Marriott Corporation, San Diego Padres, Foresters, The Fieldstone Company, and the University of California San Diego. Previously he was director of research and president of an Ad Age 500 advertising agency where he doubled billings from $5 million to $10 million in five years. He also served as the chief marketing officer (assistant dean) and marketing faculty member for the University of California San Diego continuing education program, where he helped raise annual non-state (private) revenues from $22 million to $45 million in seven years. On a personal note, he almost won $13,000 on the TV game show Jeopardy!, but did manage to snag $13,000 on Family Feud.

If you would like additional information on this topic or others, please contact your Human Resources department or Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC, Santa Monica, CA, (310) 453-6556, & our website:

Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style and personality assessments for new hires and staff development. Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC can test in 19 different languages, provide domestic and international interpersonal coaching and offer a variety of workshops on team building, interpersonal communication, stress and time management, leadership training as well as our full-service Business Consulting Division. To order the books, “Cracking the Personality Code”, “Cracking the Business Code” and “Cracking the High-Performance Team Code”, please go to