Articles

The same – but different!

In UK productivity, Uncategorized on April 4, 2011 by Tim Aikens

In quite a few of my posts I have talked about the need to think differently, behave differently or simply do differently.  Here’s a look at a different side of ‘different’.  Talk to any manufacturing company and they will tell you the secret of high productivity and quality is high volume, repeatable processes and well trained people.  In other words when you start to do the same thing over and over again, you get better at it!  You do it faster and better.  The other day I watched my daughter’s orthodontist apply the elastic bands to hold her new brace.  He completed both upper and lower jaws in a time that would have me struggling to finish the first tooth.  Then he told me he had done over 30,000 of them. So no wonder he is fast.

But today we have an issue. The wisdom is recognised, but many customers do  not want to be the same as everyone else.  How do we ‘make’ the same but make it different?  Look at a couple of industries.  Construction is one.  Such is the congested nature of the UK that it is difficult for even a company like Sainsburys to build two identical stores. The size and shape will have to vary to match the available space. Think of going into a clothes store, find something you like, but not in a colour you like, because you want to be different.  The manufacturer has a set range of colours – take it or leave it.

How can the supplier meet this need?  There seem to be two answers.  The first is to try to be as close to a ‘mass production’ factory as you can. Standardising process techniques and technology so that you get progressively better at whatever it is you do.  There is a hospital in India that only does open heart surgery.  It is now very, very good at this in terms of both cost and quality.  But that is all they do. Another example is in some of the modern farming techniques and specialisms we have.  Without them much of our meat and dairy produce would be substantially more expensive.

The second solution is to ‘move’ the factory as close to the customer as you can.  An early adopter of this approach was Dulux with their in shop colour mixing, which has been available for years.  Standard paint, but whatever colour you want.  The construction industry is just beginning to take this on board more than it has done in the past.  More precast concrete units, more factory based products.  This increases the amount of logistics management needed in the industry, but so what if it creates a better more cost effective result.  Another good example is insurance. The industry has recognised the need to standardise .  The process (online) is the same for everyone, yet every policy is bespoke to a particular set of circumstances and can be sold and maintained much more cheaply than in the past.

These concepts are not new. However, I suspect that far too few people think this way at present.  If someone wants something different, the belief is that it has to be ‘bespoke’ and attract the price and low productivity that goes with it.

Is your factory close to the customer, have you refined and specialised as much as you can?

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