The six Ps of manufacturing strategy.
Over the last decade, the ability of North American manufacturers to stand the test of global competition has come into question with increasing frequency and intensity. Many observers have placed some measure of the blame for this condition at the feet of corporate managers who are more interested in the intricacies of finance than the details of making good products. Skinner has suggested that a major benefit of manufacturing strategy is that it provides a means for focusing the attention of corporate management on manufacturing concerns. This article argues that manufacturing strategy can serve as a platform for improving the management of manufacturing companies but that such a role requires that strategy be viewed from a broader perspective than the narrow planning view which has dominated the literature.
In particular, a narrow, planning-oriented view of manufacturing strategy impinges on one's ability to understand firms that are world class in their approach to manufacturing. Many manufacturers have established the goal of achieving or maintaining the status of world class manufacturer (WCM) and their manufacturing strategies are expected to reflect and support that goal. Although the meaning of world class is in the eye of the beholder, there is general agreement that a WCM is a firm that has:
* attained a high level of manufacturing capability;
* used that capability to gain competitive advantage; and
* constantly strives to improve those capabilities.
For example, Schonberger describes the goal of the WCM as continual and rapid improvement with respect to quality, cost, lead time, customer service, and flexibility. Hayes and Wheelwright describe four stages in the development of manufacturing's strategic role, where stage IV manufacturers have achieved world class status. According to Hayes and Wheelwright, WCMs make efforts to anticipate the potential of new manufacturing practices and technologies, involve manufacturing "up-front" in major marketing and engineering decisions, and pursue long-range programmes to acquire capabilities in advance of needs.
The relative manufacturing abilities of US versus Japanese-based auto makers are well documented. The difference in manufacturing capabilities cannot be attributed to strategic planning, however. Although Japanese auto manufacturers such as Toyota and Honda are clearly world class, authors such as Ohmae, and Quinn and Mintzberg argue that they have achieved this status with little regard to formal planning. Rather, these manufacturers have built capabilities incrementally and, in the manner suggested by Hayes, these capabilities have yielded a robust and sustainable advantage.
Six Ps of manufacturing strategy
Although discussion of manufacturing strategy has appeared in management literature for at least 20 years, writers in the field continue to struggle with its definition and its boundaries. Mintzberg addressed a similar problem in the field of competitive strategy by suggesting five Ps (plan, ploy, pattern, position, and perspective) which represent five separate concepts that define strategy. To this end, we suggest six Ps of manufacturing strategy: planning, proactiveness, pattern of actions, portfolio of manufacturing capabilities, programmes for improvement, and performance measurement. Descriptions of each are provided in Table I.
These six Ps are not intended to be definitions, per se. Rather, each P is offered as a distinct view or snapshot which is partially revealing about the strategic intentions and capabilities of manufacturing. When these snapshots are pieced together, the observer is able to discern a clearer portrait of a business unit's manufacturing strategy. Assembling a sequence of such portraits over time captures the dynamic elements of strategy. It is intended that these six views be useful both to researchers who are striving to observe manufacturing strategy empirically and to practitioners who are assessing their own manufacturing strategy or that of a competitor. Each of these views is described next.
Table I. Six complementary views of manufacturing strategy
Planning Manufacturing strategy as a part of an essentially hierarchical corporate planning framework which assures a fit between manufacturing goals and actions and those of the larger organization
Proactiveness The ability of a manufacturer to anticipate new manufacturing processes and technologies and to implement long-term programmes to acquire capabilities in advance of needs
Pattern of The observed stream of decisions or actions of a manufacturer over a actions period of time in nine categories: capacity, facilities, process technology, vertical integration, production planning and control, quality systems, organization, workforce, and new product development
Portfolio of The portfolio of manufacturing capabilities manufacturing reflects competitive strengths possessed by the capabilities manufacturing function and their relative importance. Generic manufacturing capabilities include: cost, quality, delivery performance, flexibility, and innovativeness
Programmes of The set of structured, time-phased, and evaluated improvement actions which are implemented to improve the manufacturing capability of the firm. Examples include total quality management, group technology, just-in-time, etc. Programmes typically involve broad worker participation
Performance The systemic means by which manufacturing is measurement evaluated. Good performance measurement schemes are aligned with strategic organizational goals so that behaviour which furthers those goals is systematically reinforced
The first view of manufacturing strategy is strategy as a plan. As was argued in the introduction to this article, strategy as a plan is the most common view taken by manufacturing strategy researchers. Indeed, the seminal work by Skinner featured a planning framework which suggested the important items for manufacturing management to plan and a method for aligning manufacturing strategic plans with a broader corporate planning framework. He observes that:
A company's strategy at a given time places particular demands on its manufacturing function, and conversely, that the company's manufacturing policies and operations should be specifically designed to fulfill the task demanded by strategic plans.
Many researchers have continued to describe manufacturing strategy primarily in the context of a larger plan. For example, Anderson et al. define operations strategy, a broader term that encompasses service operations strategy as well as manufacturing strategy, as a "long-range plan or vision for the operations function. This plan must be integrated with the business strategy and implemented throughout operations". Hill differentiates his planning framework from others by emphasizing the need for combining manufacturing and marketing functional strategies and incorporating these in a corporate decision framework.
Hayes and Wheelwright characterize Skinner and most other writers as implying a stage III (internally supportive) role for manufacturing. Specifically, Hayes and Wheelwright argue that:
Manufacturing organizations in Stage III firms are still largely regarded as being responsive in nature (albeit with better foresight and a broadened perspective), and are simply encouraged to pursue their traditional roles with more ingenuity and somewhat greater resources.
Thus, according to Hayes and Wheelwright, the top-down planning paradigm of Skinner and others applies mostly to stage III manufacturers. In a review of the manufacturing strategy literature, Leong et al. report that a top-down view of manufacturing strategy is still predominant in the literature.
The problem with a planning-oriented process model is not that it is wrong but rather that it is insufficient. Although a view of manufacturing strategy as a plan is in many ways satisfactory, it is not all-encompassing. Schonberger notes that planning is only a single dimension in the manufacturing strategy process. Similar arguments have been made for corporate and competitive strategy planning. Quinn argues that a single formal plan is far too unwieldy for large diversified organizations. Instead, according to Quinn, strategies tend to emerge incrementally from strategic subsystems within the corporation and corporate managers must link these strategies in a logical fashion. Quinn finds that formal planning has its greatest impact when it takes the form of a special study of a major change in business practices or environment. Hayes makes similar arguments for an incremental approach to strategy making. In addition, Hayes observes that capabilities are much more difficult to develop than plans and that capabilities ought to be exploited for strategic gain. Hayes suggests that formal planning is most appropriate in situations where external discontinuities require centralized decision making. In short, both Quinn and Hayes argue that top-down planning is not the only way to achieve strategic success and they agree that an incremental, consensus actuated approach is a more realistic model of how firms arrive at strategies.
The usefulness of a planning view of strategy is manifold, however. It provides insights into the way some manufacturers always make manufacturing strategy (stage III manufacturers, to use Hayes and Wheelwright's terminology). The essentially top-down planning approach contributes to improving manufacturing in at least five other important ways:
(1) Most manufacturers have yet to achieve stage IV or WCM status and a well implemented top-down planning framework would mark a major improvement in the strategic capacity of the manufacturing function. Hayes and Wheelwright argue that it is difficult or impossible to "skip" stages and, therefore, the top-down planning model suggests a strategic goal for those manufacturers that are still stage I or stage II with respect to manufacturing.
(2) The planning paradigm provides a framework for formalizing strategy that is useful in corporations that have a mixture of stage III and stage IV business units. The planning paradigm does not preclude incremental or bottom-up strategies. It is just not the most efficient means for developing them. The planning structure also provides a firm anchor for companies that are pushing capability building further down their organizational structure and are evolving into WCM status.
(3) The centralized strategy making implied by the planning model is most effective when an organization faces dramatic environmental change. Hayes suggests that WCMs from Europe and Japan may be adapting US style strategic planning and grafting it to their existing systems "... so that they can be better prepared for dealing with the discontinuities that sometimes confront them".
(4) Manufacturing capability building often entails major capital spending programmes. Proposals for such programmes have to be evaluated with respect to the capital needs of the entire enterprise and potential benefits compared with competing uses of funds. The planning framework provides an excellent vehicle for judging capital investment requests.
(5) The formality of the planning model provides a useful framework for evaluating strategy regardless of how it was made. The planning paradigm provides managers and researchers with the elements of the process which must be addressed whether strategy is deliberate or emergent.
Skinner's landmark article is among the first to suggest that top management pay more attention to the manufacturing function in formulating the firm's overall corporate strategy. Others have ascribed the ailments to the indifferent attitude that top managers have towards manufacturing. In fact, critics suggest, manufacturing has often taken on a subordinate strategic role to the marketing and financial functions. This makes manufacturing an "inferior partner" with the result that manufacturing accepts a reactive rather than a proactive role. In such an environment, manufacturing is expected to be concerned with short-term issues. We argue that manufacturing must take a proactive stance if it is to be of strategic importance to the business.
Proactiveness is, in fact, the single characteristic that discriminates between manufacturing functions that offer strategic benefit to the firm and those that do not. Hayes and Wheelwright illustrate this point in describing the four-stage model for manufacturing companies to become world class competitors depicted in Figure 1. Stage I manufacturing units react blindly to the demands placed on them from the top and offer no strategic advantage to the firm. In contrast, stage IV organizations are depicted as those which have developed manufacturing capabilities that can be exploited for competitive advantage by the firm. The manufacturing organization's move from complete neutrality in stage I to being a source of competitive advantage in stage IV is marked by the degree of proactiveness.
Hayes and Wheelwright observe that most writers in the field of manufacturing strategy imply a stage III role for firms' manufacturing function. Stage IV manufacturers are distinguished by three dimensions:
(1) they make efforts to anticipate the potential of new manufacturing practices and technologies;
(2) manufacturing is centrally involved in major marketing and engineering decisions; and
(3) long-range programmes are pursued in order to acquire capabilities in advance of needs.
In other words, stage IV firms (or WCMs) are out front in developing technologies, collaborating with other functions and developing capabilities before they are needed. Thus, the difference between stage III and stage IV firms lies primarily in their proactiveness.
Such a difference in proactiveness can be illustrated by an example. In the early 1980s electronics industry journals reported the promise of new packaging technology for electronic components. This new technology would allow components to be "surface mounted" as opposed to the traditional "through hole" method of attaching components to printed circuit boards. The primary advantage of surface mount technology over conventional packaging is that components can be mounted more densely and, thus, achieve space economies. Denser circuit boards translate into smaller products which are often more attractive in the marketplace.
The catch in all of this was that surface mount assembly required radical changes in the manufacturing process to accommodate gluing as opposed to soldering components and also to provide higher yields since rework was more difficult. Proactive manufacturers viewed surface mount technology as an opportunity and developed expertise in manufacturing before they had a product which required it. Proactive manufacturing units were then in a position to work with engineering in developing products that employed surface mount technology and gain further marketplace advantage. Reactive manufacturers, on the other hand, were forced to try to catch up with the leader when their product engineering departments responded to the competitive challenge with surface mount product offerings of their own. This resulted in new product introductions that were slower and more chaotic than usual for reactive manufacturers and profit margins that were lower because of manufacturing incapability.
Pattern of actions
The third view of manufacturing strategy is as a pattern of actions. The essence of the concept is that one can infer the content of a firm's manufacturing strategy from observing its actions or recorded decisions, even if one knows nothing about the articulated strategy of the firm. The concept is brought into focus by Quinn with the following quote from an executive interview subject:
When I was younger I always conceived of a room where all of these [strategic] concepts were worked out for the whole company. Later, I didn't find any such room ... The strategy [of the company] may not even exist in the mind of one man [or woman]. I certainly don't know where it is written down. It is simply transmitted in the series of decisions made.
In a similar vein, Hayes and Wheelwright note that it is the
pattern of structural and infrastructural decisions that constitutes the manufacturing strategy of a business unit. More formally, manufacturing strategy consists of a sequence of decisions that, over time, enables a business unit to achieve a desired manufacturing structure, infrastructure, and set of specific capabilities.
Mintzberg also defines competitive strategy as a "pattern in a stream of decisions". In order to make inferences about manufacturing strategy from a pattern of decisions or actions, an observer must know which kind of decisions are strategic. The manufacturing decision areas that are of strategic importance converge on nine areas: capacity, facilities (location and design), process technology, vertical integration, production planning and materials control, quality systems, organization, workforce and new product development. The pattern of actions or decisions made within and across these areas provides a view of the manufacturing strategy of the firm.
The view of strategy revealed by observing patterns of decisions or actions is distinctly different from the view one gets by observing plans or assessing proactiveness. Patterns reveal the content of manufacturing strategy without regard for the process by which that strategy is made. In contrast, proactiveness and planning views emphasize process, although these views also provide some insights into strategy content. An understanding of both process and content is necessary to understand a manufacturer's strategy.
Mintzberg and Waters use patterns to bridge content and process. They advocate observing streams of behaviour of a firm, identifying the strategies revealed through the patterns in those streams and then tracing the strategies back to their origins as a means for understanding the relationship between intended and realized strategy. Mintzberg and Waters' contribution in this area is in articulating the possibility that strategy can be discerned through patterns even when no such strategy was intended by the firm's leaders. Mintzberg and Waters also note that it is more practical for researchers to observe patterns of actions rather than decisions since decisions necessarily represent the intentions of the firm's leadership, and hence cannot be observed.
Patterns of actions on the part of manufacturers also tell us something about the manufacturing unit with respect to the four-stage model of Hayes and Wheelwright. Stage III and IV manufacturers will act consistently across the decision areas and a profile of their strategy will emerge. Stage I manufacturers, however, will often be difficult to classify. These manufacturing units are often whipsawed as they react to an inconsistent set of management demands. This stage I plight is captured in a description of the manufacturing task credited to Skinner:
On Monday, they want low cost.
On Tuesday, they want high quality.
On Wednesday, they want no backorders.
On Thursday, they want low inventories.
On Friday, they want maximum overhead absorption, so we have to work the weekend.
In sharp relief to the consistent patterns displayed by stage III and IV manufacturers, the actions of a stage I manufacturer will appear to be without pattern. Stage II manufacturers do exhibit a pattern, however, the patterns of actions will reflect movement in accord with industry norms rather than toward achieving competitive advantage through distinction.
Portfolio of manufacturing capabilities
A fourth view of manufacturing strategy evolves from the manufacturing capabilities of an operating unit. According to Hayes and Pisano manufacturing strategy is "about selecting and creating operating capabilities a company needs for the future". In addition, the portfolio of manufacturing capabilities of the manufacturing unit reflect the intersection of operational and market considerations. In a large sense, market considerations consist of the firm's perception of its own and its competitors' positions with respect to what it offers the customer. Wheelwright uses product-process concepts in describing the differences between two successful competitors in the electronics industry. Hewlett-Packard's tradition of product engineering domination precludes it from attempting to gain scale economies that Texas Instruments, with its tradition of manufacturing dominance, pursues as a matter of course. In a similar analysis, an examination of technology-driven strategies for the Deere Company and Warwick Electronics showed that both these companies were in trouble because they were slow to recognize that a change in product strategy caused the manufacturing tasks to change as well.
Published research in manufacturing strategy identifies five generic manufacturing capabilities: cost, quality, delivery performance, flexibility, and innovativeness. An empirical study of European, Japanese, and North American manufacturers by Ferdows et al. shows that Japanese manufacturers ranked cost as their top priority while North American and European respondents ranked quality as the most important area of attention. Ferdows et al. suggest that a high degree of quality has already been achieved by Japanese respondents so achieving quality is not their number one concern (although maintaining quality remains important). These manufacturers' existing strength in quality is maintained while other capabilities (e.g. cost and flexibility) are pursued. Putting Ferdows et al.'s interpretation of their data in Hill's terms, Japanese respondents believe that quality has become a "qualifier" in the market segments in which they compete. Order winning criteria for their customers are cost or product feature related, provided that the qualifying level of quality is maintained.
De Meyer et al. use additional data to further develop the case made by Ferdows et al. They reveal evidence that top Japanese manufacturers are currently stressing flexibility and low cost production as their strategic thrusts. These authors argue that instead of viewing capabilities as alternative stand-alone points of concern, Japanese manufacturers in the study sequentially considered quality, dependability, cost, and flexibility as capabilities that a firm builds over time and that this progression has been a source of advantage used by excellent manufacturers. Ferdows and De Meyer also propose a sequential model for building capabilities. In the same vein, Stalk posits that time is the source of competitive advantage currently exploited by WCMs. "Fast-cycle" companies such as Toyota, Honda, Seiko, Freightliner, Atlas Door, and Benetton, are able to produce quality products at lower cost, provide better customer service (faster and more reliable delivery performance) and introduce new products quicker than the competition. In short, some excellent manufacturers appear to be continuing to add to their portfolios of capabilities. The evidence indicates that as soon as one set of capabilities is achieved at a high level, emphasis shifts to another dimension while maintaining the high levels achieved previously. The dynamic nature of capability building for excellent manufacturers makes catching up difficult for their competition.
Programmes of improvement
Another revealing view of a firm's manufacturing strategy can be gained by examining the programmes of improvement the firm undertakes. Hayes et al. argue that:
The ultimate purpose of strategic management is to focus an organization's resources, capabilities and energies on building a sustainable competitive advantage over its competitors along one or more dimensions of performance.
Similarly, Pisano and Hayes suggest that before management adopts any programme, they should ask the following question: "What specific capabilities will this program create for my organization, and are these capabilities valuable in competitive terms?" Programmes of improvement are the means for building capabilities which are the basis for competitive advantage. Based on this view of strategy, how a firm chooses to expend its resources on programmes of improvement is indeed critical to understanding its strategy. Others have taken a similar view. Fine and Hax define manufacturing strategy as "a critical part of the firm's corporate and business strategies, comprising a set of well coordinated objectives and action programs aimed at securing a long-term, sustainable advantage over competitors".
Hax and Majluf describe an action programme as "a structured, coherent, timed and evaluated continuum of actions, with a clearly defined schedule for completion in a relatively short time span, normally, from 6 to 18 months". Examples of improvement programmes abound. Just-in-time, total quality management, computer integrated manufacturing, group technology, flexible manufacturing systems implementation, and employee involvement are just a sample of programmes that firms have implemented to gain a competitive edge. Of course, these programmes must be co-ordinated with existing capabilities and strategic needs. Fine and Hax provide a good example of broad and specific action programmes pertaining to Packard Electric's wire and cable business unit.
Miller and Hayslip argue that both formal planning and improvement programmes are needed in manufacturing. They contend that strategic planning is, by its nature, the exclusive province of top management while action programmes are necessarily inclusive. Well designed action programmes require participation from all levels within the organization and are intended to improve the capabilities of the firm in areas that are of strategic importance. Strong capability development efforts and strong strategic planning efforts are both needed to achieve competitive advantage. In addition, improvement programmes should be results-driven and focused on achieving specific, measurable operational gains.
The final view of manufacturing strategy is through performance measurement. The proposition on which most discussion of manufacturing strategy is based is that successful manufacturing strategy leads to competitive strength and ultimately to better performance. However, this proposition has not been substantiated empirically and more research is required in this area. Additionally, Minor et al.  note in their review of empirical manufacturing studies that few have examined the impact of manufacturing strategy on overall business performance. Specifically, questions about the situations in which companies benefit most from manufacturing strategy and which aspects of manufacturing strategy exhibit the greatest leverage with respect to an improvement in firm performance need to be explored more thoroughly.
Despite the critical need for research in the area, performance measurement systems themselves provide a normative window through which manufacturing strategy can be viewed and themselves be evaluated. The very choice of measurement criteria ought to reflect the strategic goals of management. For example, a business unit that stresses rapid delivery performance across many product lines ought to measure and reward delivery performance. Human nature dictates that if employees are being evaluated on quantity and efficiency but expected to concentrate on quality and customer service, workers and managers are likely to emphasize numbers with little regard for quality or customer service. If the measurement and reward systems are aligned with strategic goals, then everyone in the organization will understand the importance of quality and delivery performance and behave accordingly.
For example, the importance of new product introductions is becoming clear to many electronics firms. Some of these firms have begun to focus on "break-even time" as opposed to traditional cost-based performance measurement schemes. Hewlett-Packard has reported that such alignment between strategic goals and performance measurement has led to improved competitive performance.
Performance measurement can be classified as a strategy process issue because it provides information to strategy makers about the efficacy of strategic choices and suggests areas for strategic correction. A business unit's choice of performance measurements, however, also provides a window into the content of its strategy, because a good system of performance measurement will reflect the competitive priorities of the business unit. Design of performance measurement systems which accurately reflect these priorities is currently the subject of much interest among manufacturing and cost accounting practitioners. This interest is reflected in the numerous conferences and workshops being offered on the subject and in articles appearing in practitioner journals. It appears that there is a great deal of concern among manufacturers in tying performance measurement to strategic factors more effectively[27,28].
Integrating the six views of manufacturing strategy
The previous discussion establishes that each of the six views provides a unique and useful window into manufacturing strategy. Despite their usefulness, each of the windows only allows a limited view of strategy and an observer runs the risk of misinterpreting a business unit's manufacturing strategy if he or she relies on a single view. An analogy to the fable of the blind men and the elephant can be made. In the fable, each blind man felt a different part of an elephant's body and could not correctly identify those parts. An accurate identification of the elephant could only result if each of the blind men's stories could be integrated. An attempt to describe manufacturing strategy based on a single perspective is hindered in a manner similar to each of the blind men's accounts. Several views must be taken and integrated together to portray accurately the manufacturing strategy of a business unit.
Figure 2 is presented as one means for integrating the various views of manufacturing strategy suggested earlier. Three of the views, planning, proactiveness, and performance measurement, describe the process of manufacturing strategy. The other three views, programmes of improvement, portfolio of manufacturing capabilities, and pattern of actions, represent the content of manufacturing strategy. Therefore, an even split among process and content is achieved with the six views. As noted earlier, an understanding of process and content issues is necessary to understand a manufacturer's strategy.
In addition to providing an important view of manufacturing strategy content, examining patterns of actions has the potential to provide a bridge for researchers studying the process of manufacturing strategy. Mintzberg and Waters make this point with respect to competitive strategy. Researchers in competitive strategy observe patterns of behaviour in practice and trace back from the observed patterns to explore the decision processes that led to those observed patterns. Mintzberg and Waters provide numerous examples that are applicable to manufacturing strategy.
The nature of the bridge from content to process that is accorded by observing patterns can be illustrated by an example. Texas Instruments has a well-documented reputation for pursuing the experience curve aggressively to sustain a low manufacturing cost position which often serves as an effective barrier to entry in high-technology product markets which are otherwise tempting to technological followers. The pattern of pricing decisions and actions which reveal the low cost capability (content) and manufacturing cost improvement programmes (content) also suggests a path which will lead to the strategic process. Detailed Harvard Business School case studies of Texas Instruments Time Products Division and Texas Instruments Speak and Spell trace how content decisions were made. These two cases reveal a well established planning framework which permeates every level of manufacturing decision making and evaluation at Texas Instruments. The point of this example is to demonstrate how discovery of a pattern of content decisions may lead to investigation of the process by which they are made. The bridge works both ways; reflecting on a particular firm's strategic process may spur discovery of a pattern of actions.
Similar to the bridge from content to process provided by examining patterns of decisions or actions, performance measurement affords a potential bridge from process to content in manufacturing strategy. The performance measures emphasized by firms yield insights into the strategic capabilities and programmes of the firms, thus moving the researcher from "how" to "what" with respect to manufacturing strategy. An example of the usefulness of such a bridge is provided by the well documented problems experienced by Mazda, USA with its kaizen programme in its assembly plant at Flat Rock, Michigan. Although the programme is in operation, it is meeting severe resistance from the workforce which comprises members of the United Auto Workers union. A review of performance measurements at the plant would reveal that continuous improvement has been emphasized by management but its measurable achievement has been limited. This leads to an assessment that, at least in the short run, Mazda's intended manufacturing strategy (continuous improvement) is at odds with its realized strategy (traditional, negotiated improvements).
In short, we argue that understanding manufacturing strategy requires viewing the strategy in question through multiple lenses. The lenses provided by the six Ps allow a sophisticated and reinforcing picture of strategy to be constructed which portrays both process and content issues. Manufacturing strategy researchers must consider the entire fabric of manufacturing strategy to provide useful prescriptions concerning what works under which conditions. Similarly, manufacturing executives have to consider both the content and process of competitors strategy to gather the insight needed to gain the upper hand.
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|Author:||Leong, G. Keong; Ward, Peter T.|
|Publication:||International Journal of Operations & Production Management|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1995|
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