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Manufacturing Tomorrow

Manufacturing Tomorrow


2 Keys To Efficient Order Fulfillment

Jul 19, 2016
By: Mark Stevens

Manufacturers should evaluate their order fulfillment processes and remove any potential hurdles that could stop or delay the workflow.

The keys to increasing order fulfillment efficiency are ensuring that critical information is available at each stage of the process and fostering informal communication across departments. Manufacturers need to build on information as an order advances, and cross-functional dialogue can help to ensure that everything move smoothly. Here’s a closer look at each of these key areas.

Availability of information: The “job box” is a workflow-oriented concept in which you identify the critical pieces of information needed at each step in the order fulfillment process. The idea is that an order does not advance past one stage until all the information that is required for the next stage is in place.

Sometimes, in the spirit of moving projects along, orders advance when the “job box” is half full. This can create all sorts of challenges at the other end, including questions, mistakes, frustration and, in some cases, hostility.

It’s critical to understand what you need to know to make the manufacturing process successful, then put that information in the “job box” and advance it through the system. That’s where you can leverage the workflow tools that exist today. Technology gives visibility into whether the “job box” is full, what stage it’s at and who has it.

As much as you’d like to trust the system you have in place, you need someone to shepherd orders until they get to the floor. That expeditor should be a liaison between functional groups and be responsible for ensuring an order continues to move through the system. Your ERP or workflow system can alert the expeditor if an order is halted somewhere in the process while providing additional information that may be used to smoothen the process in the future.

Cross-functional dialogue: Communication is vital to an efficient order fulfillment process, particularly if you can get people from different departments talking informally. When you bring together cross-functional people that play different but critical roles, they can begin informal relationships, which are the best way to learn and present the best opportunity to improve efficiency.

Take for example a printing company that had its sales, customer service, purchasing and scheduling in different corners of the building. Other than the lunch hour or occasionally crossing paths in the parking lot, nobody in those different departments interacted in person; they only communicated via emails or phone calls. As a result, it took days to communicate about a process. The company found it could foster more efficient communication by bringing these different groups together to interact in an informal setting.

As an article on the EMS1 website notes, communication can suffer when organizations are arranged according to internal departments that concentrate on specific tasks.

“With this approach, work groups erect fences around their duties and build silos of information,” the article reports. “They become specialized and territorial and want no overlapping. Each territory or silo needs to be protected by department managers, who may fear for their jobs.”

Break down those barriers and encourage people to interact in an informal manner. The result will be better, more efficient communication because people feel more comfortable reaching out to one another. Regardless of how efficient your ERP or workflow system is putting people from different areas together has a tremendous impact. It promotes horizontal flow versus functional (or vertical) flow.

These concepts related to workflow and communication are about ensuring everyone is working together in the most effective manner possible toward order fulfillment. Missing information and a lack of communication can throw a wrench in even the best of plans.


Mark Stevens
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