3 Rules for Getting the Most Out of Operations-Improvement Consultants

3-ball clip artConsultants can be a panacea to a firm, bringing in:

•  Fresh outside perspectives

•  Expertise

•  Unbridled firepower, since they’re not beholden to the daily production grind

But bringing in a consultant, if done wrongly, can be disruptive—and even destructive—to a firm.

The wrong way

I experienced the wrong way first-hand when I was employed at a company as its sole industrial engineer, many years ago.  I had a list about ten pages long of all the opportunities for improvement that I had identified in its manufacturing, ranked by ROI (return on investment).  I made rapid progress completing projects and knocking them off the list, but it was disheartening seeing all the money that we were still leaving on the table, being that I was only one guy.  Try as I may, my boss would not or could not hire more engineers.

One day, I heard that the vice president of operations had had a consulting firm come in for $30,000 for a couple weeks to assess opportunities for improvement in our manufacturing.  I saw the document that the firm produced and almost all of their ideas were ones that I already had on my list.  I showed the V. P. my list and he was surprised.  I was dismayed that my company had seen fit to have an outside firm come in to do what I had been chartered to do, without even consulting with me.  If done properly, I would have welcomed the consultants, appreciating the long-overdue extra manpower and enjoying working with them as a team, showing them what I had, and putting our heads together to identify even more opportunities for savings and working together to execute our plans.

That would have been the right  way.

But, as it was, I firsthand experienced the wrong  way to bring in consultants.

The right way—3 rules

  1. Bring in a consultant who knows that  the front-line people who’ve worked in a company for years have more ideas and insights than even the smartest outsider.
  2. Bring in a consultant who knows that his job is not to displace local experts, but to employ them as a foundation to create-—together-—even more ideas, then work together with them to implement them.
  3. Bring in a consultant who knows that working as a team with local experts—as equal partners—not only brings the tangible benefit of making use of all the employees’ experience and ideas, but it also wins their psychological support.  When they see that the consultant will be an ally and source of empowerment for them—not an opponent—they support him fully.
Simitar, Inc. permits republication of all or part of this article, provided that (1) it is attributed to Robert Kotcher of Simitar, Inc., and (2) a link is provided to either the Simitar Home Page (if article is wholly republished) or to this article’s page (if the article is partly republished).

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Bob Kotcher

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    • “At Western Digital, I brought in Bob Kotcher based on his exemplary job performance, project management skills, academic & practical knowledge, and teamwork/communications skills, all of which Bob had repeatedly demonstrated to me when I had the opportunity to work with him prior to Western Digital. Bob brought with him world-class academic credentials and a simply outstanding knowledge of Factory Physics, including Capacity Modeling, Cycle-Time Simulation, and Lean Manufacturing. Bob is a great guy to work with and would be a valued member of any operations staff wanting to improve its productivity and/or lower operating costs. He won’t let you down.”

      Guy Harper – Engineering Projects Director
      Calisolar, Inc.
    • “At MMC, Bob initiated and led numerous cross-functional process improvement teams that made significant improvements to our production. For example, in one area, he linked together several disparate operations into a cell, reducing cycle time and WIP by 97% and saving $220,000 a year in labor and damaged product.”

      John Kim – Director, Thermal Reactor Process Engineering
    • “At Headway Technologies, we were planning a major capital investment in an additional photolithography stepper tool in order to improve throughput at this bottleneck. Bob did a Monte Carlo simulation analysis of this area and found something that none of us had suspected. The capacity at this work-center was actually operator-constrained, not machine-constrained. He showed us how, by adding operators, we could meet the required capacity increase. A few additional operators in the photolithography area kept these tools at an optimum utilization and this extra Opex was a small fraction of the capital depreciation that another stepper would have cost.” 

      Guy Harper – Engineering Projects Director
      Calisolar, Inc.
    • “At each company that he works with, [Simitar founder Bob Kotcher] strives to improve day-to-day operations, and thus to improve the bottom line.  Bob is not afraid to present politically unpalatable truths, if his work suggests that a change will lead to overall improvement.”

      Dr. Jennifer Robinson – Chief Operating Officer
      Fabtime, Inc.
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