It Starts at the Top: The Keys to Delivering Manufacturing Projects on Schedule

It Starts at the Top: The Keys to Delivering Manufacturing Projects on Schedule
It Starts at the Top: The Keys to Delivering Manufacturing Projects on Schedule

With a myriad of moving parts—both literally and figuratively—managing the complex nature of manufacturing projects is no easy feat. What with priorities that constantly change, interruptions to supply chains, and ongoing resourcing challenges, it’s no surprise that embracing, managing uncertainty is one of the top reported challenges of project management in the industry. Sound familiar? Throw in an ongoing pandemic that’s sent roughly 60% of the workforce remote, and we round out the recipe for what could derail our efforts altogether. 
In light of all the challenges, how do you accurately determine when? After all, knowing when is critically important to the success of the project—and those that come after it. When will my projects be done? When can my team take on more work? If you’ve asked yourself these questions, you’re in good company (and the right place).
Moving into the new year, we have plenty to overcome to achieve the level of project management excellence we aspire to. That said, it is achievable.

5 best practices for accurate project schedules

1. Utilize available technology

There’s certainly no shortage of available software tools that promise the world (read: maximum collaboration, unparalleled visibility, and exponential output) all wrapped up in a neat and affordable package. But not all project management software is created equal.
Consider your current tech stack and ask yourself, “What’s working and what’s not?” Perhaps your teams excel at organization and task management but struggle with cross-functional communication or prioritization. Invest in a robust tool that enables your team to overcome that key problem area. While you may not need one singular tool to manage all aspects, reducing the number of platforms, logins, and other complexities is one of the quickest ways to eliminate wasted time and inaccurate reporting.

2. Plan tasks with ranged estimates

Consider this: When asked how long it takes to drive to work—you instinctively answer with a range. It depends on the time of day, route, traffic, weather, etc. Maybe it’s only 15 minutes but could take up to 30.
Managing tasks within a project should be no different. There’s a best case and a worst case, depending on other factors that may or may not be within your control. Equipment setup should take two to three hours. Completing shutdown inspections, 30 minutes to an hour—again, depending on what could arise. These ranged estimates are so powerful, because they blend historical data while capturing the uncertainty that exist in every task, employee’s day, and project lifecycle. Additionally, ranged estimations derive a realistic prediction of when work will actually be done.
3. Prioritize at every level
If we all work in a vacuum, we set ourselves up for mismanaged priorities, lackluster communication, and the possibility for costly duplication of effort or re-work, all of which lead to a complete lack of alignment and catastrophic failure of the business.
Visible and candid prioritization across the company creates a proverbial true north for all. Setting priorities at the task, project, program, and portfolio levels is the best method to ensuring the right people are working on the right things at the right time. Additionally, it creates a layer of visibility within the entire portfolio which eliminates ‘me first’ thinking and much of the unnecessary politics that often plague siloed management teams.
4. Delegate to and empower SMEs
Each of us is only as good as the team that surrounds us. And because our project success is often a product of the collective effort of that team, we have to trust that the people in place are knowledgeable, capable, and effective in carrying out their duties.
An accurate accounting of resource availability is only part of a formula we’ve long used to find success. While critically important, resource management needs to be thought of as more than timesheets and available hours. Investing to develop and expand individual and team capability will enhance throughput and benefit productivity. Consider defining growth tracks to develop core skillsets. Then empower team members to help shape and refine processes as subject matter experts. Even small investments in these areas will pay big dividends over time.

5. Lead with empathy

Remember: Our team members are human–they take breaks, get distracted, and are sometimes absent. Even robots, where employed, have downtime for scheduled or unexpected maintenance. In work, as in life, things happen. Priorities shift, communication breakdowns happen, and sometimes, projects don’t succeed. But each of these examples provide an opportunity for us to learn and do better.
In the effort of leading your teams to the best of your ability, consider leveraging the acronym C H A N G E  (Culture-focused, Humble, Accountable, Not afraid, Goal-oriented, Empathetic). Thinking through this, prior to engaging your team, helps address inevitable lapses and encourages the pursuit of higher productivity. Additionally, it will help you to strike the right tone and message that will resonate better with employees.


What’s next?

There’s no doubt that this year has brought a mountain of change—especially in the manufacturing industry. As it is clear, this "new normal" will extend throughout most, if not all, of 2021, we need to collectively be better at identifying risk, empowering teams and adapting to change as it comes.
That said, try and start with these best practices. They have proven to be quite effective in my company. With a background in HR leadership, I commend you on your mission for continuous improvement and urge you to continue to seek ways to improve the processes in your organization. Best of luck.

About The Author

Ted Hawksford is the CEO of Liquidplanner. With 25 years of diverse professional experiences, Ted has accrued expertise in leading business transformations and developing teams to achieve large scale-growth. Before joining LiquidPlanner in February 2019, Ted was vice president of human resources at Restaurants Unlimited.

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