With everything else there is to worry about in the rapidly evolving and increasingly digital age of manufacturing, it's pretty easy to overlook something as seemingly simple as project management.

But with time and resources so valuable, project management tactics are easy to incorporate into an already well-oiled machine to help forward-looking leaders maintain successful balance in areas ranging from budget management to employee productivity.

In manufacturing, where goods may be produced in a linear fashion on a conveyor belt, processes are rarely linear, so it is vital that the project manager never lose sight of the big picture. Here are three ways to keep you and your staff on task, on budget, and on top of your game:

Start thinking about Systems Thinking
In Systems Thinking a resource or process or employee is not seen as an independent entity, but as part of a connected network of people, structures, processes and resources that influence each other. By implementing Systems Thinking, project managers are able to understand how changes in one part of the system affect others and put the effects in context of the relationships that exist between the different parts of the system, which is especially important in manufacturing where there are several moving parts and as manufacturers are expanding and operating on a global scale. With the big picture always in mind, complex projects are easier to manage, especially if one parameter needs to be changed or modified to meet regulations.

Remember that Resource Management = Budget Management =Time Management
Often people only think of raw materials, tools or employees when they think of resource management in manufacturing. Of course they are right, but there is more to it. Resource management is also tied to budget and time management, which are vital to keep the manufacturing process running smoothly. Classical cost and budget management consists of first estimating purchasing costs of all necessary materials, goods, or services during the project’s planning process, usually in close cooperation with the finance department. Once the overall budget is determined, it is important that cost and spending control is part of the whole project lifecycle. As more manufacturing companies expand internationally, this is especially important as companies need to adhere to international regulations.

Equally as important is time management. In manufacturing, project managers should always look at the overall budget and performance of the project, calculating possible cost increases due to resource restraints, supply shortages, overproduction causing increasing storage costs or a shortage in skilled workers causing delays in production. Managing a budget is not administrating costs, but overseeing a process and reacting to changes early enough, before they have a huge negative impact on your overall project performance.

Control and Improve Processes with Feedback Loops
By implementing Systems Thinking, manufacturers are able to improve their processes by continuously assessing impacts on all parts of a system. The feedback loop shows manufactures not only how ‘A’ influences ‘B’, but how the effect on ‘B’ channels back to ‘A’, which is vital as manufacturing project managers are often managing projects that span states, regions and international boundaries. Think of it in terms of the triple constraint principle. The time frame of a project is tightened, which affects the costs and scope. The less time you have to complete a project, the more resources you need to allocate, hence rising costs. The less time you have, the smaller the scope that can be realized, hence you need more people on the project, which again means rising costs. It all points to a necessary cost increase because more staff is needed, right? This is the linear approach. Manufacturing project managers who implement Systems Thinking will evaluate the real benefits of any changes by looking at the back channeling. When doing so, they will discover two kinds of feedback loops: reinforcing loops that describe processes of exponential growth and ultimate collapse, and balancing loops that limit this growth to prevent collapse.

As more manufacturing companies expand, they often need to add team members, but that often means more time and money spent on recruiting and training. Another, time and cost friendly alternative is to provide existing employees with more efficient tools and the latest training in industry trends. Project managers should reevaluate the prioritization of the tasks and analyzing where things can be sped up, and reallocate employees from projects that are on track to those that need more manpower. Such decisions are not based on gut feeling or intuition but on hard facts. Feedback loops in System Thinking don’t make for a quick fix, but will ultimately lead to a better, balanced, and more effective solution.

By implementing effective project management, manufacturing firms are able to better maintain a successful balance across the line, from budget management to employee productivity, ensuring projects are completed efficiently and on time and contributing to the overall long-term success of the firm.

Andreas Tremel, Co-Founder and CEO of InLoox, is responsible for strategic development and product development as well as for the company’s marketing and communication strategy. With over 15 years of experience in developing software solutions, Tremel has made InLoox’s priority to build a PM software that would add value to the standard procedures of task management.


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