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Before you grow, know where you’re going: A guide to getting to the next best version of your manufacturing operations

Sep 18, 2022

Consider this scenario: Your manufacturing business is an app that your customers can download to their mobile devices. An app they can use to research and buy your products, access tools, interact with you and more.

What version of this app are you running? Are your customers stuck with the same version that was in place when they first started working with you? Or can they expect to take advantage of new capabilities and interact with you in new and more helpful ways?

It's an instructive exercise when determining where you want to take your manufacturing operations. Whether your strategy calls for growing your core business, stretching into an adjacent business or expanding your customer segments, you need to have a plan for publishing that next version.

Three drivers behind every new release

New versions of apps are published for three reasons:

  1. To fix gaps, problems or bugs
  2. To refine existing capabilities and features
  3. To introduce new capabilities

If you think about your manufacturing business’s growth in terms of an app, you know to focus on one of these three areas.

For example, fixing a problem or bug could be about improving customer service or product quality. Or it could be about streamlining behind-the-scenes operations, such as customer short or job estimating. The goal is to improve operations to support your growth strategy.

The essence of refinement is making your business better, whether it’s the way people interact with you, the services you provide or the products you manufacture. How do you make your app — in this case, your business — more appealing? How do you make it more accessible? How do you provide your customers and channel partners with a superior experience? At its heart, this is about making it easier to do business with you and for you so you can grow your core business and your customer base.

Introducing new capabilities is where the potential for growth can take off — or be derailed. There are seven essential needs that are fundamental to a manufacturer’s ability to thrive. In introducing new capabilities to their “app,” manufacturers need to ensure they are focusing on one or more of these elements:

  1. Customer acquisition/service: You must acquire and retain customers; this is the essence of building market share.
  2. Profitability: You need to make enough money to survive the next year, and the one after, and so on.
  3. Enough talent: You need to have enough people on the floor and in the back office to execute on the promises you made to your customers.
  4. Credibility: Your credibility is the currency you need to keep existing customers, win new customers and earn the trust of lenders.
  5. Compliance: You have to comply with the laws of the land. Period.
  6. Strong decision-making: You need to have the tools to make strong, timely decisions so you can guide items 1-5 in this list.
  7. Ability to navigate the landscape: Unforeseen challenges and opportunities are part and parcel of being a manufacturer. You need the agility to respond or capitalize on changes as they arise.

With these components in mind, manufacturers can start thinking about what to add in their next version.

Holistic planning is key

Understanding what key capabilities you will improve or build on in your next version is fundamental to knowing where your growth strategy will take you.

Having the right people at the planning table is essential. It’s very important to think holistically for projects that will span multiple departments and teams. Rather than ask them to establish milestones on their own and hope that everything aligns at the end, first ask what the next version needs to accomplish. Then ask how each team can contribute to this version.

If a team or department can’t contribute to that goal, then they should be getting ready to contribute to the next version. Because here’s the thing — you should always be working on the next version of your business.

Incremental changes lead to big opportunities

How are manufacturers supposed operate their current version while imagining and investing in the next version? The answer is, you don’t need to boil the ocean.

Every version does not need to be the equivalent of implementing a new enterprise resource planning system. Maybe that is a long-term goal. But in the meantime, you can add automation capabilities to improve throughput or add dashboarding tools to make better use of your data.

Version 2.0 of your business is likely to be much different than version 1.0. But along the way, you’re still making improvements and adjustments. Think of these as versions 1.25, 1.5, maybe even 1.85. They don’t need to be a big leap, but they can get you ready for the next big leap.

Thinking about growth in these terms makes it easier to define and prioritize elements of your growth strategy. It also helps you manage investments. By thinking in terms of versions, you can narrow the thinking from “what’s possible tomorrow” to “what’s necessary today” to be relevant, responsive and ready to capitalize on new opportunities. 

Start planning your next version

From talent shortages to supply chain disruptions, manufacturers are dealing with unprecedented challenges. A robust response is called for to not just manage uncertainty, but to also take advantage of new openings. Market shifts are occurring too rapidly to grow and expand without a plan in place. So what will the next version of your business look like?

Backed by more than 90 years of experience in the manufacturing sector, Wipfli’s manufacturing and technology specialists can help you identify and take advantage of growth and expansion opportunities. Learn how we can help guide you through the steps to plan and execute on the next version of your business — and the one after that.

Next up in our series on growing your manufacturing business, we’ll explore how to use data to grow with intelligence. Don’t miss out on that and our other thought-provoking articles just for manufacturing leaders. Sign up using the form on the righthand side of this page to receive articles and our manufacturing newsletter directly in your inbox.

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Luis J. Murgas
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