Manufacture Change

How Project Managers Can Best Use Their Skills In A Factory


By Don W. Schiff, PMP

Being a project manager in a manufacturing environment can be difficult. A manufacturing plant is the most “functional” type of organization on the functional-to-projectized scale, so project managers have less authority in this environment than in others. They might not even realize what a profound impact they can make in their company. However, two critical areas of the manufacturing sector in particular call for expert project management: new product development and equipment changes.

As a project manager in the manufacturing sector, you have the opportunity to make the whole organization more effective and efficient.

Product development projects arise frequently. While new product lines and portfolios gain the most attention, organizations more commonly launch new products within an existing product portfolio. Here's where you can implement project management discipline and help ensure the new product delivers benefits to your company.

Your first objective is to develop a draft scope statement from any documentation available from the customer or internal client requesting the new product. This will only be a draft, because unless your manufacturing organization has a mature project management infrastructure, the initial request will be missing important information, and assumptions will be implicit instead of stated. So the next step is for the project manager to obtain that key information and state the assumptions clearly.

I have found it beneficial to create checklists specific to each product portfolio. They cover the information I need when a new or refined product is being developed within an existing portfolio, and they all start with three questions.

  • How is this product used?
  • Why has this new product been requested?
  • What does the client perceive as the critical aspect of this new product?

After getting the answers, I use a checklist of physical configuration components to confirm what artwork and drawings are needed, the packaging options and the shipping requirements.

When I look back at any product rollout that didn't go well, I usually realize I didn't have enough information. So get in the habit of reaching out and asking questions. One obstacle to this in nonprojectized enterprises is that you'll probably have to go through an internal sales representative or customer liaison, who might respond to your “Why?” questions with something like, “Because that's what they asked for.” It will take time, practice and development of your own interpersonal skills to find how to best get your questions answered. But when everyone involved understands you're trying to prevent problems before they occur, people will realize it is in their best interest to provide all the information they can.

Keep the Gears Turning

Good project management can also make a big difference when manufacturing plants require equipment changes. This can mean the purchase of a significant piece of manufacturing line equipment, an upgrade or modification to major equipment, the removal of obsolete equipment or a periodic overhaul of a large, critical machine. Some project managers might overlook the latter as a significant project because its regularity makes it seem routine. However, failure to complete this maintenance on time, on budget and within scope could be devastating to a company. Project management processes and discipline can help ensure this exercise goes as smoothly as possible.



The functional manager responsible for this machine already will have maintenance objectives laid out, along with a budget, a timeline, the parts needed and the skilled technicians on hand for the project. So, with the scope, schedule and costs clearly specified, how can the project manager help? Here are a few areas where you can bring your skills to bear on equipment overhauls.

  • Project scope statement: Explicitly state how success is defined.
  • Lessons learned: Review the lessons from the last overhaul and prepare a briefing for the applicable personnel. Or, if nothing was documented last time, ask team members who performed the previous overhaul what would make this one go better. Document their answers.
  • Vetting quality: Find out if parts vendors and outsourced technical expertise have been evaluated based on prior performance. Is there a plan for executing claims against vendors for unacceptable parts or delays to schedule? What is the plan to follow up with accounts receivable and vendors to ensure claims have been paid?
  • Communication: Determine if there is a communication plan established to notify related departments, such as sales, human resources and purchasing, about status updates and unexpected events during the overhaul.
  • Risk management: Ask yourself: What could go wrong? What is the contingency plan?
  • Procurement: Find out if the organization's procurement protocols are being followed. Is applicable compliance documentation complete, correct and appropriate?

As a project manager in the manufacturing sector, you have the opportunity to make the whole organization more effective and efficient. Don't underestimate that opportunity. PM

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No one knows project management better than you, the project professionals “Getting It Done.” So every month, PM Network shares your expertise on everything from sustainability to talent management, and all project topics in between. If you're interested in contributing, email [email protected].

img Don W. Schiff, PMP, is a project manager at Southern Index Inc., Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA.



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