Several factors can create challenges for manufacturing project teams. For example, among the many concerns for PMs today are unexpected supply chain issues related to ramping up after a prolonged downturn. It can be tremendously difficult to juggle increased manufacturing needs—often with time pressures as primary drivers—against potentially decreased bandwidth across suppliers and producers.
It’s critical that the center of excellence have clear and detailed insight into what their needs going forward will really look like, which problems are most likely to arise as they work to bring their supply chain up to the desired levels, where triggers lurk across the supplier and material base, and what sort of impact these issues could have for the organization. Without identifying and accounting for these supply chain challenges, high-stakes project plans will be at risk of missing their mark.
Where are the challenges?
The very nature of supply chain issues makes them difficult to predict and mitigate without some background to help guide the team. Internally, it’s easy to underestimate the scope of what’s needed to revamp, expand, or restart manufacturing operations. Existing facilities may not have the infrastructure necessary to support upgrades such as new or additional machinery. Employees’ previous expertise might not be sufficient to safely and efficiently operate new equipment or adhere to updated procedures. Regulatory requirements may have also changed, leading to greater financial obligations than the company initially expected.
Externally, customer demand is often exceedingly difficult to estimate. Fluctuations in market pressures and changes in the competitive landscape are among the elements that influence how much customer demand exists now and how it will evolve by the time the project is complete. If delays occur that move a manufacturing project’s target deadline back, customer demand may diminish in the interim. This can lead to lower revenue projections and perhaps even a dangerous lack of sustainability within the organization.
The vendors that comprise the supply chain bring their own challenges. When the economy softened, many suppliers reduced their workforces accordingly. The availability of materials was scaled back and stocking levels decreased. Some vendors shuttered plants or eliminated portions of their product lines. Though the marketplace is more robust today, historic supply chain levels can’t be regained overnight. Previous suppliers may have gone out of business and some long-standing vendors don’t yet have the capacity to meet the growing manufacturing needs.
Strategies to head off problems
A careful and detailed review of all tasks within the project scope is critical in ensuring the success of any manufacturing initiative. Will additional training for employees be required? Are equipment validation and other mandated activities included in both the project’s schedule as well as its budget? Have safety or other requirements created new expenses that must also be considered? Are tasks that depend heavily on the supply chain identified so the team can properly monitor them throughout the project? Several tools can help the project manager and team achieve the necessary insight into the project’s activities and task dependencies, including a work break down structure and network diagram. There are also planning methods that enable making decisions about the appropriate level of detail and keeping team members accountable for their activity duration estimates. In addition, stringent project controls are a vital component in ensuring that potential problems are spotted early enough to be addressed without causing delays.
Contingency planning is another skill that will be instrumental in helping the project team sidestep problems without losing forward momentum. This may include identifying alternate suppliers or specifying multiple materials that can be quickly substituted if availability of a preferred product becomes an issue. Considerations around storage, transportation, packaging, and handling should also be worked into the contingency planning phase to ensure that unexpected problems in those areas don’t derail the project.