“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” – Henry Ford


There’s a lot of hype surrounding data analytics for the manufacturing industry. Despite the hype, there is a practical side.  

Business Intelligence or BI (i.e., dashboards and scorecards that expose key performance metrics in real-time) is in fact often the shortest path to mining untapped productivity and profitability.  

Why? Because accountability is one of the greatest drivers of motivation in the workplace. Cy Wakeman, proprietor of realitybasedleadership.com, explains this in her article for Forbes Magazine, "Personal Accountability and the Pursuit of Workplace Happiness":

"Many of today’s leaders have blindly bought into the concept that engagement and happiness come from a lack of stress at work. As a result, they’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time and resources working to perfect their team’s circumstances - creating nothing more than a culture of entitled employees with unrealistic expectations.” 


Why BI Is The Key To Automating Accountability In Manufacturers’ Operations and Culture

Work to bulletproof your people instead of attempting to make their world a cozier place. Once they stop focusing on what’s happening "to" them and focus on what they can do within their current circumstances to succeed, they will get the results they are looking for.

These results will lead to a happier, more engaged attitude – particularly at work – as it will reaffirm that they are the architects of their own lives and can handle whatever comes their way. Once they realize how competent they are, a greater confidence in their abilities will follow.

Good employees won't stay long in an environment of entitlement and excuses. They'll wilt under the burden of fuzzy goals and the reactive pressure to "do better."  

Without successful business intelligence, management can't get a clear picture of what's working and what's not, resulting in a low-level sense of panic and erratic decisions. Similarly, under the pressure of uncertainty and wrist-slaps, employees regress to defensiveness and deflection.

Like successful executives, good employees are driven by concrete goals and hard truths about what's standing in the way of those goals. This is where business intelligence can transform manufacturing companies, elevating them above the dysfunctions of top-down pressure and wage-earner mentality, to a team of equals focused on a common goal. Treat people like grown-ups who own their responsibilities, and they'll rise to the occasion.  

Good instrumentation (i.e., business intelligence dashboards and reports) allows managers to hold employees to empirical, objective standards, and it arms employees with the clarity they need to take command of their success at work, rather than playing politics or dodging blame. 

Once in place, a successful business intelligence system automates many of the dynamics that make employees - and their companies - more successful.  

However, most companies struggle to successfully harness their data. For the companies studied in the Harvard Business Review article, "Companies are Failing in their Efforts to Become Data-Driven," despite 92% increasing their investment in data analytics, 69% report that they have not succeeded in creating a data-driven organization.

New call-to-action

Four Principles of Business Intelligence for Successful Data Initiatives

Having worked with over 200 companies toward putting their data to good use, Blue Margin has identified four principles of business intelligence that make the difference between data initiatives that succeed, and those that end up in IT purgatory.

1)  Avoid top-heavy management.

Authoritative, pressure-based accountability limits companies to the "hero constraint." Think about Lee Iacocca. A good leader empowers each employee to own their work by making their goals - and performance against those goals - crystal clear. Give them the keys to accountability, and they won't wait around "for the grown-ups to show up."

Management most effectively empowers employees by helping them measure productivity.  Employees can't easily improve what they can't measure.

Like a horse to the barn, they can lead themselves. Without clear direction, you're left directing every step.

 If performance isn't clear in real time, managers are reduced to riding their employees, and calling on the most significant recent data point as their leverage.

2) If not real-time, make sure reports and dashboards are "on time."

Delayed insight doesn't work. That's why annual reviews have gone by the wayside as a staple of corporate management.

If a pilot only sees updates on vector, air-speed, and altitude every 10 minutes, they can't safely land the plane.

Manufacturers work in a fast-paced, real-time environment. On-time delivery, ready-inventory, and quickly identifying points of constraints are table-stakes for successfully edging out global competition.

3)  Make insights and access to dashboards easy.

If gaining insight requires finding the most current report, wading through tables of data, and performing mental calculations to draw a conclusion, employees will stick with what they know, relying on urgency and instinct rather than measurable feedback.

If answering critical questions means requesting reports and waiting for an analyst to spend hours building measures, pivot tables, and v-lookups in Excel, employees will opt to take their cues from their established biases.

4)  Make sure data-awareness delivers a significant payoff to end-users.

Why do fans, coaches, and players constantly check the scoreboard? They’re looking for a sense of "knowing," finding a reference point to understand the flurry of activity on the field. It lends control and rationalism to something that otherwise appears out of control.

The same is true for operations in manufacturing. Overcoming the weight of controlled chaos is as simple as giving the same reference points to your executives and employees that scoreboards give to the game.

Have you ever experienced this? A member of the management team feels overwhelmed by the sheer number of details they're juggling. To them, the issues seems countless and insurmountable. But by organizing the issues and rationalizing the chaos, the path forward comes quickly into focus.

By using a simple root-cause analysis framework you can quickly reduce what seems like a thousand variables down to the few root-issues that really matter. 

By rationalizing the frenetic world of company operations down to dashboards that spotlight the key metrics and KPIs that most move the needle, you'll bring clarity to your team and touch the right nerves to align focus and prioritization.

Toiling away in darkness leads to burn-out and self-doubt. Give your team a sense of calm and control. Give them their sanity back. Dashboards gamify work and give employees a concrete picture for how they can win.  


Business Intelligence for Manufacturing Takeaways

Bottom line, manufacturing is increasingly competitive. There is immense pressure from overseas competitors with low labor costs.  Advancements in automation means manufacturers must continually improve their output to stay in the game. You already possess your greatest weapons - your people and your data. Bring them together with effective business intelligence and you’ll create continual improvement, and a unified, accountable team of equals.

Elgin Fastener Group | Case Study | Blue Margin

Jon Thompson

Written by Jon Thompson

Jon Thompson is co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Blue Margin Inc. An author and speaker, Jon sheds light on how businesses can take advantage of a revolution in business intelligence to become data-driven and accelerate their success.