Conducting an Honest Self Review: How to Benefit from the Results of Manufacturing Transformation

Optimizing your shop’s operations and approach can refine your competitive edge. How you choose to conduct that optimization depends on many factors, including how much of the transformation you can accomplish on your own. If you’ve realized that your goals and focus point to a need – and a desire – to grow, or to see where you stand, chances are you’re ready for the types of insights and strategic assists that evaluation can offer. If you’ve also set yourselves up for success with an investment in networking your machine tools and a top-to-bottom staff commitment to straightforward honesty, you’re probably ready to decide whether to go it alone or look for advice from an external consultant.

Before you address decisions about internal evaluations versus consultant-guided transformations, however, you’ll want to clarify what you want to accomplish and how you want to transform your shop. Are you –

  • Seeking new customers?
  • Looking for better quality control?
  • Interested in expanding into new industries?
  • Or simply preparing to sell your shop to a new owner?

No expert can offer you targeted suggestions on how to reach your destination unless you know where you want to go.

If your internal evaluation has yielded significant approaches to improve your competitiveness and you think you’ve found the right adjustments to maximize your potential, you may not think you need an outside source to guide your transformation. In fact, a good consultant can look at the answers you already have found, affirm of what you’ve discovered – and serve as a sounding board with additional suggestions about how to implement your ideas.

What might propel you to work with an external consultant rather than complete your own self-guided internal assessment? Some of the answers to that question evolve directly from the reasons you chose to explore manufacturing transformation in the first place. After you’ve explored the status quo of your performance, looked at how you might improve production efficiency and thought about the types of work you’d like to take on – besides your current jobs from existing customers – if you’re left with more unknowns than answers, you may want to consider posing those questions to an outside expert.

Likewise, if you’ve acquired the performance data from your machine tools, analyzed the numbers and still haven’t identified causes of or solutions to problems with part quality, production volume or other measures of shop output, you may want to share data with an outsider and see if an external opinion yields new insights. Finally, if you want to expand your business but can’t decide where best to apply or stretch your capacity, an outside assessment may be able to help you speed up your search for the right path to explore.

If you do decide to work with an external consultant, some targeted advance preparation can optimize the value of their visit and the results they can help you achieve. For example:

  • Make notes about workflow, digitalized processes, tool management and ordering, and how your jobs progress through your shop from beginning to end.
  • To typify your processes, you can document how a representative job works its way from order to shipment, including all the steps along the way and the timing of each one.
  • To examine a pattern of part problems, look for attributes that all these jobs share.
  • Look at your tool orders, on-time shipping performance and the volume of business you do with each of your customers over the course of a year.

You’re looking for stumbling blocks, bumps in the road and instances in which the smooth train of production derails because something’s not ready, available or prepared. As you examine these situations, it’s essential to remember the difference between understanding them and explaining them away. Of course, you want your shop to be productive and showcase its efficiency, especially in front of an outside consultant. But figuring out the “why” that causes a problem isn’t the same thing as making excuses. You can’t solve a problem unless you understand its cause, but you don’t have to point fingers.

Likewise, this preparation isn’t the time to hasten through a last-minute technology upgrade in an attempt to make your shop “look better” to an outsider. The process of manufacturing transformation always depends on an honest review of where you stand, so last-minute changes may obscure what you need to accomplish rather than reveal it. It’s also important not to assume that all your current methods are either ideal or misguided. No shop, regardless of how outstanding its work or its results may look, is perfect.

If you decide to engage a consultant, look for someone who can offer you insights and expertise that apply directly and fully to your work, your industry and your dilemmas. As a manufacturer, you want a consultant with manufacturing experience, one that’s seen operations like yours before, and can apply long experience to spot both your problems and your opportunities. Find an external resource with the vision and the advanced tools to help you assess your shop and advance its efficiency to new competitive heights.

If you bring in a consultant, expect to learn new ways to achieve efficiency and new places to increase it. If you decide to go it alone, dig in, find your problem areas and their causes, and think through ways to resolve them. Whichever approach you choose on the road toward transformation, maximize your opportunities to find the best results for your unique shop.


What can you learn from the internal review process that precedes manufacturing transformation? A lot – and in some cases, enough that you can diagnose your own best course of action without any help from outside. Whether you engage a consultant or go it alone, think through these things to put your shop on the path to improvement.


    What are you trying to accomplish through manufacturing transformation? Do you want to go after new clients or expand to new types of work? Are you preparing to sell your shop and want to maximize its value? The success of a transformation depends on how well – and how thoroughly – you can understand what you want to get out of it.


    If you’ve examined your processes, production data and profits, figured out where you can improve your operations and taken advantage of the input from your employees, you may have the insights you need without any external assistance.


    When you run the numbers and can’t figure out what they really mean, or you can’t decide in which direction to take your shop, an outside expert may be able to provide the guidance you need.


    Take notes: About your processes, your procedures, your problems, your questions. Look at your numbers and see what you think they’re trying to tell you. Above all, keep an open mind and look at everything with an observant eye.


    Ideally, you want to find a consultant with real experience in your industry, someone to whom you don’t have to explain what you do. Look for real experience with your types of production, equipment and customer base.

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