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Failing to plan is planning to fail.

The truth is that planning is the key to being responsive, mobile and opportunistic-the very things that industry producers cherish most.

When I mention the word "planning" to many plant managers, managing directors or CEO's, I get reactions ranging from disdain to outright hostility. It's as if I have said something inappropriate or downright offensive.

"Our business isn't suited to anything so formal," I'll hear. "We need to be flexible, fast on our feet, ready to change direction overnight. The easiest way to lose our competitive edge is to start acting like the big-time paper shufflers."

All of this has a nice gutsy ring of truth. After all, more than a few companies have "planned" themselves straight into oblivion. However, this logic is similar to arguments leveled at mandatory use of automobile seatbelts. "If I crash, I want to be able to get out of the vehicle." OK, but the facts simply don't support the risks. In a crash, you're much more likely to be thrown through the windshield ("windscreen" for our U.K. readers). No, you can't afford to lose touch with the business through a planning process, but the benefits almost always outweigh the risks.

Let's look at "planning" relative to two factors that are absolutely crucial to the success and survival of disposables operations worldwide and particularly in Western Europe, where the multi-national consumer giant(s) are putting the private label producers into a pressure cooker.

The crucial factors? Not surprisingly, they are people and technology-and here's how they respond to planning.

A Map ... Or A Plan

"If you're doing all the driving, you may not need much of a map," says the chief executive of a small converting operation in California. "But as you grow, you need to delegate authority and show people where you're going."

Where you're going and how to get there is ... well, a plan. When company leaders commit this to writing and share it with employees, all the underlying assumptions can be examined and questioned. The "mystery" of the plan disappears, but if scrutiny by employees and staff can unravel the plan, then perhaps it requires a second look. The way employees see the company's goals and how well it's being managed can have a profound impact on whether they work together as a team-and, ultimately, on the performance of the business.

It can also determine whether people stay with your company or leave. Training and retention of qualified people are major issues for most converters. Bottom line, peak machine performance is heavily tied to competent machine operators. If they see. no evidence of a serious plan to achieve business and career growth or job stability, top notch employees will quit.

For example, I watched a well-known equipment supplier to the disposables industry systematically frustrate the efforts and mandate of its employees to develop some meaningful plan of action to get the company on track. "The ship is sinking and all the owners want is for the employees to bale water faster," remarked a project manager as he walked out the door for the last time.

Planning should provide you at least the following tangible benefits: "It brings order to chaos and sets priorities for the 55 things that all need to be done at once.

"It takes you beyond what you would like to see happen and forces you to explore how you're actually going to make it happen.

"It distributes the "burden of improvement" to staff and employees who can assist in the process.

It gives the basis for tactical decisions and a framework to say yes or no.

Golub's and Murphy's Laws

Golub's Second Law of Computerdom says that "a carelessly planned project takes three times longer to complete than expected; a carefully planned project takes only twice as long."

Murphy and Golub are apparently relatives-both know the difficulty of executing a successful project.

But the problem really isn't what it appears to be on the surface. I guarantee that if we were to go to any idled plant and power up the lines, all the motors would turn in the right direction, the hammermills would chew up pulp and diapers would come out of the stacker. But for a variety of complex reasons, the "technology and equipment" failed to sustain the business.

This is almost always the case. Historically, the private label industry has enjoyed remarkable success in developing technical solutions and counter-type product and features in response to national brand initiators. And, historically, the industry has tended to de-emphasize the people issues. The assumption continues to be that the technical issues are the tough ones and the people issues are easy.

But just the opposite is true. Which is why, although we are now addressing technology," we have come full circle back to people and their relationship to technology.

Additionally, getting people to accept and effectively utilize new technology takes good planning. The following examples come right off the pages of a special report recently published in Manufacturing Engineering, titled "Lessons Learned In Implementing New Technology."

"...we focused too much on installing the equipment and making it work and didn't involve the operators as much as we should have."

"We underestimated the time it takes for people to be trained, especially when expertise in-house is limited." "We really needed a dedicated team of people ... that should have worked together on the equipment from the beginning-as it was being built by the vendor, as it was being installed and after it was in production."

One way to avoid these problems is to visualize technology as a "system" versus separate components of hardware and people. This forces you to think in terms of how all the elements will come together to achieve the desired business objective.

Disposables Planning Priorities

"A plan is like a good chart to a sailor," says one business strategist, "but you can't just watch the charts-you also have to watch the stars." Well, aided by a wisdom shared at a recent economic conference and a healthy gaze at the stars over the U.S. and Europe, I'm making the following "mini-forecast" of planning priorities in the disposables industry for the immediate future.

* Pricing pressures overall, but particularly in Europe where market share is still up for grabs, will force companies to emphasize a competitive strategy based on cost control and productivity improvement.

* The integration of people and technology, creating more effective "business systems," will become a necessity, not a novelty. The competitive storm that passed through the U.S. disposables industry in the last few years has come ashore in Europe. Relaxing of EEC trade policies in the next few years will only accelerate the process. Progressive European private label firms are recognizing this trend and moving away from traditional management methods.

* Participative work systems, where employees shoulder more of the burden for improvement, will become more important as companies learn to capitalize on untapped talent in the work force.

In summary, intelligently planning for these events is not nearly as horrifying as business leaders imagine. As business management theorist Peter F. Drucker says, "Success often hinges on exploiting the unexpected event" (if you are prepared).

So plan, and if you plan well, unlike your competitors, you'll know the unexpected when you see it. Excerpts, quotations and concepts for this article were drawn from two previously published articles: "Real Entrepreneurs Don't Plan, " Inc., November, 1985; and Lessons Learned In Implementing New Technology,' Manufacturing Engineering, June, 1989.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Profitable Manufacturing; nonwoven fabrics industry and disposables industry
Author:Schuler, Tom
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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