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Job two.

You can't help but feel good about quality these days. Like the Ford ad claims, more American corporations. The surveys-including our own-tell us that quality is number one on the minds of American business executives.

To that end, US manufacturing is facing a greater challenge than competition from the Pacific Rim or the newly invigorated European communities, a challenge that will see it either emerge once again as the preeminent world manufacturing power or fall so far behind that it will look back fondly on the dark days of the mid-1970s.

But, to meet that challenge, will the emphasis on quality be enough? The answer has to be no." What happens when everybody's door closes tightly? When the air conditioners all cool and the clothes all fit? We are moving toward a world where quality alone will not differentiate your product, a situation that is already taking place in Japan. It's getting to the point where super-high quality is only the ante to get into the game, necessary to suiting up for the competitive battle.

"Manufacturing managers must avoid being trapped by the quality and continuous improvement paradigm currently in vogue," write the authors of the most recent Boston University Study on Manufacturing's Future. "They must develop and communicate to the entire organization a wider vision of the continuously changing face of the competition."

That challenge centers on the question: "Are we willing to run our business differently?" The global marketplace has changed American industry drastically in the past decade, and many companies are futilely trying to compete using techniques learned when industry was capacity driven. We have, in effect, become world class at doing many of the wrong things.

No department or division is immune to change. We have to revisit the way we approach human resources, quality sales, the factory floor, supplier relationships, planning, and even new-product development.

So what is "Job Two"? Flexibility ! In my most recent book, Shifting Paradigms:

Reshaping the Future of Industry, I point out: "Simply put, flexibility is a company's ability to respond to the market. More specifically, we define flexibility as excellence in three areas: (1) Rapid response to the shifts in product mix and volume increases and decreases; (2) Quickly customizing products for specific customers; (3) Shortening the time to bring new products to market..."

Just how flexible are we going to have to get? One celebrated Japanese bicycle factory, Panasonic, manufactures in lot sizes of one-that is, every order is a special order, out of 11 million or so possible end products. In the next couple of years, if you haven't reduced your time-to-market to one-third of what it has historically been, you'll be falling behind.

We recently had the opportunity to test our theories on flexibility when we decided to do a series of professional quality news broadcasts from the floor of the American Production and Inventory Control Society convention in New Orleans. In only 12 days we had camera crews, talent, a production van, writers, the cooperation of the association and hotel, and a full-blown cable TV show on the air in New Orleans. Of course, it took a lot of work. But because we were able to flex, to respond, the whole project worked.

The recent events in Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East drive home the reality that not only can markets change overnight, but the entire world can change just as fast.

Would you have factored that into your global strategies a year ago? The old paradigms for American manufacturing are relentlessly inflexible. We become flexible by becoming fast, and we become fast by examining the way we've traditionally run our businesses.

And we do all this while reducing costs, keeping our eye on the bottom line. It reminds me of a marathon where all the participants run while juggling three balls. It's difficult, but not impossible.

It comes down to a simple paradigm: flex, or stand aside for the companies that do
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:flexibility after quality
Author:Garwood, Dave
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Words:660
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