Follow the Leader: But what’s best for the plant?

By Becky Ferrell


“Good morning, Becky, I have an assignment for you!” Not an unusual statement given the caller was my boss, Bob. I grabbed a sheet of paper and pen and got ready to take notes.


Task: Streamline Packaging

“I’ve decided I want to streamline the expendable packaging (i.e. cardboard) used by your component suppliers. Your goal is to reduce the proliferation down to 5 standard boxes. Have your packaging engineer start the study to determine those 5 boxes. I’ll expect a report in three weeks. Oh, and keep in mind I’ll want to expand the use of those 5 to our other plants.”

OK…… given the goal and timeframe for the study, I stepped down the aisle to my packaging engineer’s cubicle to deliver the assignment.  Although an eyebrow was raised with the obvious question of “why”, since the assignment had come from HQ and our Director, it was not verbalized.  I told her I’d like to discuss her progress in about 10 days to ensure we were on target to meet Bob’s deadline.

It only took a week for her to come to my office.



Findings: Costs & Inefficiency

“Becky, this is not yielding positive results…”

“No? How so?” Well, it turns out given the architecture of our product, the number of components and their various sizes, there would be a significant number of parts not well-suited to these containers. Box quantities would change, in some cases, drastically. Delivery periods would be impacted. Inventory storage to accommodate the new container sizes would need major adjustments. Lineside footprints for each container would need to be reworked, as would our delivery replenishment cycles. Perhaps worse, trailers could no longer be effectively cubed out, so our shipping costs would go up significantly as we paid for dead air space.

All-in-all, this was not a good deal for the plant. I told her to keep checking her numbers and ensure we couldn’t find a means to make this work.


But, if it works for the Competition…?

A little less than three weeks later, Bob called to check on the progress of the assignment. I told him the study results indicated there was no potential for this to work for the plant. I briefly went through the work it would take in the plant to adjust to the packaging sizes, but more importantly the extra cost associated with inefficient cubing on inbound transportation.

Bob was not happy. “I don’t think you understood the assignment. Your job was to make this happen.” At this point I had to ask the question, “why” was this so important. “Because our major competitor has reduced his proliferation down to 10 common container sizes, so I want to get to 5.”

I shook my head and softly replied, “Bob, it won’t work for us; it will create costs that will not be offset by reducing the container proliferation. And, frankly, if our competitor thought 5 was a competitive advantage, don’t you think they’d already be there???”

I probably should have left that last statement unsaid. “You can stop working on this.  I’ll give it to another plant who CAN make this happen!”  Sigh….


Focus on Results

Why tell you this story?  What assignments have you given your personnel? What this scenario speaks to is ensuring the targets you’re focused on, or that you have your personnel working on, are truly ones that will yield a good business result or a competitive advantage for your facility. Spending scarce resources working on a project that will not increase production, reduce expenses, improve quality, or decrease costs creates waste in the system.

Are you or your personnel focused on the targets that will elevate your business?


At HVM, our resources are experienced professionals who have launched greenfields and improved operations at brownfields.  We know how to help you find the areas that will improve your business processes in ways to enhance your bottom line.  Give us a call. We’d love to help!


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