Recently, the Toward Zero team examined some effects of organization culture on manufacturing execution system (MES) decisions. In response to our article, “MES Tug of War: The Battle Continues,” Farukh Naqvi succinctly lays out ISA’s ongoing work to develop a framework and methodology for “solving conflict among the three diverse stakeholders” of an MES effort. While the ISA-95 framework delivers perspective on system integration and the thousands of actions and data points throughout a manufacturing enterprise, it also inadvertently reveals the need for enterprise-wide cross-functional collaboration.
Diversity of Thought Fuels Progress
It’s a natural tendency to view all conflict as “bad” — certainly from a one-on-one perspective, but also at an enterprise level. In reality, high performing organizations and teams rely on healthy task conflict as a productive means to test assumptions and unify the collaborative execution roadmap to realize goals and objectives. Put simply — effective organizations rely on diversity of thought to get things done. In contrast, conformity of thought — group think — leads to organizational stagnation and atrophy.
Ultimately, a manufacturing company’s effectiveness in realizing its vision and goals is the direct result of its ability to successfully collaborate across roles, levels, and functions throughout the enterprise. Collaboration must span the organization and bridge organizational clusters. While the ISA-95 framework contributes to bringing to the forefront exclusive operating unit requirements within a manufacturing organization (IT; operations, engineering, etc.), it also inadvertently reveals functional “fault lines” that manufacturers must bridge. However, the goal of collaboration is to build permanent bridges, not organizational “drawbridges.”
MES Project: Permanent Bridges
With fault lines exposed and when combined with immature collaboration processes, solution selection can quickly become an exercise in trying to satisfy as many individual expectations as possible. Cross-functional project teams become bogged down with entrenched “turf” demands rather than due consideration for clear strategic and tactical requirements to meet organizational goals. The implicit project goal/charter becomes “let’s get this thing over as quickly as possible by trying to make everybody happy” or an elaborate quid pro quo bartering exercise. The question of how MES can best support strategic and tactical goals gets trampled into the ground.
Not surprisingly, when uncertainty sets in and the organization doesn’t meet deliverables, up goes the drawbridge.
Ultimately, successful MES design and implementation must span the organization and bridge fault lines. By developing and applying mature collaboration practices, an organization can:
- Successfully navigate the project design phase, (requirements and implementation);
- Establish a foundation for ongoing continuous improvement to realize day-to-day operational goals (operational metrics, process, culture); and
- Deliver improved productivity and the ROI targets.
The hinge to turn this is a more in-depth understanding around organizational “collaboration.” Effective organizations have established norms that orient and guide the collaborative process. In the case of an MES system, a collaborative process would be in place for guiding principles and norms for “critical decision” projects. This guide would govern, for example, the type of team to be formed, competencies required, expectations around the project charter, and the rules of governance. A critical decision team is distinct from a tactical project team or an emergency response team, for example. (Northwestern University’s Professor Leigh Thompson’s work is invaluable in shedding light on architectonic foundations of building an effective collaboration process).
Collaboration: Ingredients for MES Project Success
MES projects are, by their very nature, hybrid projects. While they are, for the most part, tactical (L3-L1), they encompass strategic elements within L4, and depending on company size may include L5. As a result, MES requires a strong corporate commitment and vision. This vision is a “north star” to guide the project team. Several takeaways from Thompson’s work prove highly relevant for MES projects:
- The organization must articulate an effective vision which resonates throughout the enterprise, and more importantly to provide common ground across functional requirements and interests.
- The company must establish a realistic understanding of its organizational, leadership, and capabilities maturity levels. This self-awareness is critical for guiding resource allocation and methods to direct and realize the project (see Paul Hersey’s and Ken Blanchard’s work on situational leadership). This understanding also clarifies the collaboration architecture and the level and type of direction and outside assistance that the organization may need.
- The organization must decide what type and size team it needs for the MES project — the team must be fit for purpose! Forming the project team should also include:
- Clearly defined charter and operating norms;
- Competency requirements and timeline expectations (also acknowledging what it doesn’t know); and
- Tools and activities to build mutual trust and healthy dialogue.
- Finally, the organization should check and periodically check for clarity along the organizational fault lines and ask, “How will we bridge the divide and align around requirements and priorities?”
Ultimately, a company can only meld clearly defined functional requirements into positive outcomes using collaboration framework best practices tailored to its maturity level. Best practice collaboration is both the salve and the suture that binds the organization and the mechanism to successfully realize corporate goals and objectives such as MES implementation.