One lesson of many I have learned since I started down the consulting trail years ago is that when the management team of a client company is committed to the idea that they are different, and the principles that apply in other sectors of manufacturing don't apply to their unique situation, it is best to pack up and move on. "Do you have experience with a dairy products manufacturer that is 50% employee owned selling to both retailers and restaurant supply distributors with factories in both Alabama and Nebraska?" is code for "We ain't gonna change."
It is especially curious to hear how a particular industry is so unique that their challenges – and obstacles to improvement – are far beyond those any other sector of manufacturing faces when the entire senior management team has never worked in any other facet of manufacturing other then the one they are sure is so difficult. I wonder how they know that automotive/consumer products/defense/fill-in-the-blank has it so much easier than they do when none of them have ever been in any of those industries.
The most notorious of these is pharmaceutical. On the whole the state of manufacturing management in the big pharmas is pretty dismal; and on the whole they are more inbred than just about any other sector. This article is fairly typical of the stuff you read in their trade publications: "Inventory turns are poor due to several pharma specific issues: 'No Stock-Out Philosophy' … 'Regulations' … 'Labeling Requirements' "
Guess what boys? Every manufacturer has a "no stock-out philosophy". The folks in the food products, defense and aerospace businesses have a regulation or two they have to follow, and everyone selling into consumer products has a "need to have unique labels and hence unique SKUs". Most of them do not use those challenges as pathetic excuses for dismal manufacturing practices and results.
This particular issue stuck in my craw after I read that the Johnson & Johnson's plant making children's products has been closed down after four recalls in seven months. The FDA met with Johnson & Johnson's senior management in February and they still can't figure out how to make children's Tylenol and other products without "foreign materials and black or dark specks" in them. This is no primitive outsourced operation – the solution of choice for many of the big pharmas to address their unique challenges. This plant is in a suburb of Philadelphia.
The FDA inspectors found "thick dust and grime covering certain equipment, a hole in the ceiling and duct tape-covered pipes." I guess the challenges of dealing with all those labels are moot. The FDA is urging J&J's customers to use private labeled alternatives – generics – anything but Johnson & Johnson. How's the 'No Stock-Out Philosophy" working for you now, J&J? Seems as though the government has concluded that a stock-out of Johnson & Johnson products is about the best thing that can happen to their customers.
The rationalization that you are different – your problems are so difficult and unique that no one else can understand them – is a formula for disaster. It makes management sound like so many teenagers – or alcoholics – whining 'no one understands me'. In fact, just about everyone understands you quite well. The only one who doesn't get it is you.
It is not difficult Johnson & Johnson – just stop believing your inane rationalizations for mediocrity. Call the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center – the local MEP – and have someone come out and show you how to clean off your machines and fix the hole in the ceiling. You would be surprised at how many manufacturers face the challenge of shipping products to specifications – and they even put labels on them – and they clean off their machines from time to time too. You just might learn enough to open up for business again.