Production Systems – How to Make Them Really Work

by Tim Richardson | Iter Insights

Production Systems – How to Make Them Really Work

Production systems – how to make them really work

Many production systems today are underperforming, and the problems often stem from a lack of clarity of purpose and a lack of meaningful engagement across the organisation from day one.

The benefits of having a production system seem obvious: less waste, more efficiency, better quality products and increased customer satisfaction. But systems are often launched without clarity on the key objective. Defining the technical tools and processes is relatively simple but stimulating behavioural change across the organisation is far more challenging and needs careful thought.

Many organisations we have seen start production system design without really considering how the front line team, supervisors and team leaders are empowered and enabled to make change. Without this, the outcome will be a lack of engagement, poor design and as one of my colleagues would say, another “dinosaur carcass” on the factory floor.

Clarity of Purpose

By not being totally clear of the purpose at the outset, and how you are going to engage, empower and inform everyone, you run the risk of major challenges in the system: most significantly underperformance and a lack of sustainability.

Even with clarity of purpose, very often a Production System is seen as another corporate initiative, rather than being the core of the operational DNA. A really excellent design we supported was nearly undermined at one stage by the tensions between the long-term culturally driven benefits from a production system and the corporate KPIs that put pressure on the site management teams for short-term performance. This is not to say that short-term performance isn’t important, but there has to be structured time and budget put aside to deliver longer-term cultural and performance improvement alongside short-term results. Stopping the complete production process for 30 minutes each week, as is the case in some automotive OE manufacturers, is a powerful way on institutionalising change.

Being clear what the system is – and what’s it’s not – still requires senior stakeholders to be really honest about how the current ways of working either enable or prevent the clarity of purpose becoming the core of the operational DNA. It’s not an easy discussion, but defining how the current organisation needs to change is invaluable.

Engagement and Empowerment

People often say that empowerment is the key to success and yet we nearly always put most of our effort into designing the technical aspects of the system, and not how the people will use it.

In the best examples of production system design we have seen, as much focus was put on two way communications as technical design. People at all levels were engaged from day one in the design, direction setting through steering groups, and were central to the implementation from the start. This involved traditional presentations and meetings, but also best practice visits, workshops, ongoing open two-way communication, and joint decision-making.

Once the production system is started to be implemented true engagement is even more important. In one manufacturing company implementing a production system a machine operator had to walk 15 metres to get a pair of scissors from a shadow board and by the time they returned the machine had often snagged. A simple idea was to get another pair of scissors and locate them on the machine. By the time this had been approved and ordered through procurement, five weeks had passed. By giving the Team Leader a small improvement budget – which he didn’t have to justify each expenditure on – the operator was able to go to a local shop the same day and then be immediately reimbursed. The result was the same but making this simple change created so much more belief and commitment.

Our Recommendations

Having worked on many production systems both in the design of new systems and the rehabilitation of existing ones, it is quite clear to us what differentiates good from bad. These four points are absolutely key:

  1. Get clarity on what you want to achieve from a production system at the outset
  2. Get senior support, but make sure they are totally bought in to the need for the organisation to change to enable a production system to be successful
  3. Design the system from bottom up: focus on how people at all levels can be truly engaged and empowered and not just on how the system will technically operate
  4. Focus on the overall communication and feedback on how the system is operating to make it live and adapt to “will of the people.”

I’d love to share my experience with anyone looking at designing a new system or improving their existing one. Simply email me, Tim Richardson, Development Director by mail ( if you’d like to schedule an information discussion.

Tim Richardson
Development Director

Iter Consulting