Are There One or Two Paths from Envision 2016?

The Road Less Traveled

Reading the variety of post-event comments from Microsoft Envision 2016, it is very clear that two strong camps have emerged. Which is not to say that they are in conflict with each other. Just that, in my opinion, there were two important outcomes from the event. The outcomes aren’t even exclusionary. I believe that those individuals who care about one are also those individuals who will care about the other.

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The Inevitability of Digital Transformation

The Inevitability of Digital Transformation

At the inception conference for Microsoft’s Envision this past week in New Orleans, digital transformation was at the heart of CEO Satya Nadella’s keynote address. Anyone not present for the keynote or not particularly focused on the software industry could be forgiven for wondering why a speech was delivered about transferring your photos or music to digital media. After all, haven’t we already done that?

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When Convergence Evaporated

When Convergence Evaporated

When Convergence Evaporated, What Did We Gain?

For the last ten years the first quarter of my team’s calendar year has been heavily focused on wrapping up final details and preparing for Microsoft’s event, Convergence. For us the planning effort begins almost as soon as the previous year’s event ends. So one might think that Microsoft’s recent announcement – Convergence is out and Envision is in – would be helpful in eliminating or adjusting resources.

Surprisingly, that is not true. A different challenge awaits.

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The Great Search for the Right Integrated ERP

The Great Search for the Right Integrated ERP

Like every other year for the past 15 or so, I will speak with many organizations that plan to acquire manufacturing software or expand the capability of their existing solutions with functionality like quality management. These organizations will take similar but not identical routes in their investigation and evaluation of proposed solutions. A high number will find themselves facing the end of 2016 still not having made a final selection; they will be strongly concerned about how to balance their team’s ability to digest such a project and its perceived benefits.

Delivering “Two for One”

To a manufacturer, the most important characteristic of an ERP solution is integration. I call it the “two for the price of one” behavior. This is most evident when we see how every inventory transaction carries a complimentary transaction through to the general ledger, facilitating timelier financial reporting. It is also evident when the sales or customer service team can peer into shop floor records and see what production has scheduled. It is no longer necessary to get up and run around the facilities to identify the status of a customer order. A most significant aspect of this behavior is demonstrated when the system processes inventory records and presents a view of the use-up and replenishment plan.

Most any product that calls itself a manufacturing solution will deliver this core “two for the price of one” benefit, which means that such performance is no longer a core differentiator when selecting a solution. So what features and capabilities should the buyer be considering when weighing his options?

We think it comes down to three fundamental questions. Will the solution:

  1. Overwhelm the resources I bring to the project and to daily activities?
  2. Deliver expandable functionality easily when and if I need it?
  3. Provide a wide enough range of manufacturing transactions so that it can efficiently mirror how I make my products?

Will this solution overwhelm my organization?

There are really two aspects to this first question:

First, bear in mind that an integrated solution may render obsolete certain resources that are presently performing critical tasks. So, the first indication of overwhelm you may face is getting staff to give up their islands of data in favor of shared data. Only you know if you can overcome that obstacle.

Second, not all solutions are created with the same processing and setup architecture. Some solutions require more time up-front to evaluate setup selections and can be less forgiving if the evaluations are incorrect. Some solutions have more rigorous processing controls, which can be very important for some industries but unnecessarily constraining for other industries.

Will it “go” where I grow?

Integration challenges between what used to be non-compatible operating systems (think Apple and Windows) are clearly a thing of the past. But don’t be so sure that such standards apply equally with all ERP solutions. It is certainly reassuring during the purchasing cycle to hear that everything is made to be functional with everything else. But businesses have a life of their own, their models and markets evolve, sometimes in not predicable ways. No one can guaranteed that your future needs will be ideally met so you must select solutions that will allow you to easily integrate unexpected solutions. Buy with an eye towards best flexibility.

Does it really mirror what I do?

I like to think that manufacturing is the same everywhere, in that it takes raw material and transforms it into something else. But in practice, each manufacturer has specific needs for how to value and count that transformation process. In the article titled “Selecting Solutions for Manufacturing – What is Changing?” in the Winter 2016 edition of GPOptimizer, we point out that today’s manufacturers are less likely to fall into the old classifications of being either discrete or process. Instead, more of them are what we call Mixed Mode – meaning they need some degree of both process and discrete capability to easily reflect the details of their manufacturing processes. Technology changes in the form of new materials, production methods and equipment has shifted activities, particularly for the traditional discrete manufacturer, from lot sizing based on economic order quantities to lean-and-pull principles that encourage economic quantities of one. These shifts can increase transaction overhead significantly if the manufacturing solution lacks the flexibility to keep up.

Rating the Benefits

All of these points of evaluation don’t really matter if the team does not understand and agree upon the desired benefits and recognize the potential sacrifices required to achieve them. All too often there is no rating system that defines what is most important to achieve and what is least important to give up. A solution that is one-size-fits-all or -fits-many is a very large, unwieldy solution. If the organization has not determined early on what they are willing to do without or what is less important, you can find yourself operating in an unsuccessful fairy tale; think Prince Charming with a glass slipper but no Cinderella.

If your organization is just beginning to consider a manufacturing or quality management solution search, we’d be delighted to help. Drop us a line at and we will be happy to send you a questionnaire that can help you better understand your needs.

Is Confidence the Difference Between Estimates and Guesses?

Estimate or Guesstimate

At the Dynamics products user group summit in Reno in October, we decided to engage in a small social experiment.

We asked attendees to tell us how many pieces of Candy Corn (we were very seasonal) they thought were in the jar we were displaying. We provided a few tools to help them develop their answer: measuring tapes, sample candy, a template of the base of the jar and, of course, the jar itself was accessible. We had no restrictions on the use of tools like smartphones as calculators. We also expanded the sample size of the experiment by providing a web page for online answers. The webpage had a photo of the jar with a 16-ounce bottle of water to provide scale.

Finally, we incentivized participants by offering $10.00 gift cards for the fifteen closest answers.

Then, in what we thought was the most important part of the experiment, we asked our players to identify how they had reached their answer. Did they guess, estimate or measure?

We posted the count and the breakdown of methods on our website – you can go and take a look to see how many answers were close and how they were achieved.

Evaluating outcomes in 90 seconds or less

We used our quality management software solution to collect the data and we planned to use it to analyze the data, too. We wanted to show how quickly and easily we could find the closest answers and analyze the responses.

We were pretty impressed with how quickly we were able to go from finding out the answer – thank you to Jane Olsen from The Partner Channel for unsealing the envelope that contained the count – to seeing the distribution of answers received. You can check out our video to see how quickly we went from data collection to data analysis using our built-in dashboard tools.

Technology matters – here is what we used

At the event we ran our software on a virtual server hosted on a 13.3 inch touch screen laptop running Windows 10. We entered data using our touch-sensitive user interface. This interface is specifically designed for touch screens and enables staff in the quality department to collect and enter data as they move around using tablets or lightweight laptops. The user interface changes to match the result data type, which makes data entry more efficient and highly accurate. For example, when asked how they had arrived at their answer, participants were offered a defined list of possible choices. This made answering a one-click event, eliminating extensive typing.

Counting is the only way to get it right but confidence plays a big role

So other than demonstrating our software capability, what did we learn?
What we did discover is an interesting difference between estimates and guesses. It seems the difference is all about confidence. Guesses seemed to infer that the guesser didn’t have a lot of confidence in the accuracy of the answer. Estimators had more confidence that their answer was in the right ballpark, even when it wasn’t.

So even with useful tools and plenty of time to consider the number, a lot more people got it wrong than got it right. But of course it was just a game and 15 people who made the effort will get gift cards in the mail.
Next time though, I think we will add a question like “rate your confidence that your answer is within 10% of the right answer”. I wonder what those responses will tell us.

Do you have an opinion on the difference between guessing and estimating and the influence of confidence? I’d love to hear it.

Learning from First-time Flyers

Learning from First-Time Flyers

I have a deep respect if not an actual fondness for the way the airline cabin crew executes their safety announcements. Regardless of how many passengers are on the plane, they deliver their messages consistently and clearly. Sure, they understand that there are likely more than a few passengers aboard who have flown before, but they also recognize that some individuals are making their very first flight. For the safety and comfort of all, they deliver their messages to ensure that all fliers are well-prepared.

I believe there is an important lesson in this consistent effort by the airlines and it is this: no matter how common we believe an experience or piece of knowledge to be, there is always someone for whom the experience or the information is new. We serve best when we remember this – to keep groups, events and knowledge growing, we must acknowledge the experienced participant and make available the tools and programs needed to educate and bring confidence to new members.

Satisfy a range of experience levels

This behavior of having content for those new to the experience, as well as for those with a few more miles under their belt, is one of the factors that makes organizations like Dynamics Communities and Dynamics Professionals so valuable. They provide programs and education for every range of product user, partner type, and professional focus.

Participating in the events they sponsor and manage, such as reIMAGINE 2015 in Fargo and the GPUG (GP User Group) Summit 2015 in Reno, reminds me how important it is to create and maintain that range of content. While airline announcements remind me how important it is to always find time to go back to basics.

Back to basics: How manufacturing types affect inventory risk

That’s why this year, for our Partner presentation at reIMAGINE, we chose to provide some quick education on how to help manufacturers address their greatest risk – inventory. We could have used the time to sell our products, but we decided to deliver a more meaningful contribution to the success of the event by providing information that can be used to help clients be more successful.

I work every day with manufacturing clients. The type of manufacturing – discrete, process or mixed-mode – is a quick analysis for me to make because of my daily experiences. It is certainly easy to tell the difference between discrete and process manufacturers if you have had experience with both. But like our first time flyers, there are always some to whom the differences and related requirements are new information.

If you would like to understand the differences better, so that you can select products that best fit your manufacturing style, check out the video from our presentation. When you do you will also gain a few tips on how manufacturers can right-size their inventory.

We are always here if you have other questions about quality management or manufacturing. Give us a call. We are happy to share what we know.

Business Success Comes Through Improvements

Meaningful business success always comes down to one thing: improvement. Show me a new product, a more successful company or a happier customer and I will show you improvement.

Given the exceedingly strong correlation between success and improvement isn’t it a wonder that more companies don’t have formal methods for the improvement factor?

Improvement Management Becomes Formalized

In the upcoming release of the ISO standards 9000 and 9001:2015 the concept and formality of improvement management will be getting a bit of a kick in the pants. It is an area of the standard that has undergone some rethinking, reworking and rewording. This is not because it was redundant or lacked value but because its value is incredibly important for those really dedicated to success.

Quality Teams Should Be Relied On Through These Changes

Often, the quality professionals in an organization are relegated to back of the room status. Their contributions are seen as costly, but necessary and as “takers away” from not “adders to” the profit side of a business equation. Yet they are one of the few groups in your organization that has formal training and focus on the process of improvement.

Sure, your quality team members are the keepers and interpreters of the rules. They are relied upon to let you know what is acceptable and unacceptable. As the bearers of the news they frequently run the risk of being shot or injured in the line of duty. Yet they turn up every day hoping that today is the day they will get to show their stuff and help the organization improve through targeted and methodical processes based on formal improvement management.

When I provide a product demonstration to the quality, manufacturing or financial team, it is generally because the IT department has identified that our solution might help the organization achieve some initiative for cost reduction or data management efficiency. I am so impressed by these managers who can see and embrace change that brings improvement. I recognize those brave souls who are willing to take on the risk of the “not fully known” because they can see potential improvement and how it can lead to greater success.

The leaders who most stand out to me are the ones who give themselves formal methods of evaluation and assessment. They attempt to diffuse the fear factor in software changes that comes with change by establishing objective methods of evaluation and measurement. I also find that because these leaders have used such formal methods in the past, they more easily inspire confidence in their teams to move forward with them.

I have also seen that when the groundwork of identifying the benefit of the improvement has been laid out, it helps move such projects forward with limited resistance. This contrasts sharply with project engagement that is focused purely on rectifying an issue or replacing critical systems before they fail. Certainly fulfilling those needs is a critical part of solution selection, but project engagement and success is significantly heightened when the focus is on targeted improvements that come with, or in addition to, system replacements.

So, next time you are considering a project to fix an issue or replacing failing systems why not ask your quality team to suggest improvement opportunities achieved as part of the project? You may be surprised at the significant benefits to the bottom line quality staff can deliver when the focus shifts to improvement management.

Are You Increasing Busyness Instead of Business?

We just completed our four video summer learning series, designed to help with business tasking that is often overlooked. Basically, we feel busy is not always better… particularly when simple changes can lead to significant improvements. When you can do better, you should.

These four short video lessons will spark better processes to improve business while reducing wasted time in busyness through automation and streamlined efforts.

Lesson 1: Certificates of Analysis – Any Way You Want

Do do you need to provide your customer’s with documentation certifying your product performance? Are you tired and confused managing multiple formats and data points? We can show you how to alleviate these burdens and streamline your processes.

Lesson 2: Vendor Qualification and Risk Assessment

The right vendor just makes you look better, you know it. But how can you better manage finding and evaluating the right vendor? Centralize vendor data, standardize performance evaluations, these are just a few of the initiatives you can launch and manage easily with Quality Essentials Suite.

Lesson 3: Decision Intelligence – Data that Goes Beyond Cost and Count

Not everything we track to manage our business better is sourced in our accounting package. Sometimes data like temperatures, or heat treat id or country of origin are critical for conforming to our customer requirements. So where can we keep this data reliably and then analyze it quickly for process improvement? Try using the data types and dashboards in Quality Essentials Suite to help you get the best results from your results.

Lesson 4: Enhanced Lot Management Q&A (Quarantine & Accuracy)

Product conformity, sourcing and tracking are increasingly important to all of our customers. Managing these responsibilities cost effectively and reliably is an important business improvement investment. With DynamicsGP and Quality Essentials Suite we can create a seamless process for lot and serial control, quarantine and trace that meets those customer expectations with ease.

If you or someone you know would like a targeted presentation on any of these or other manufacturing and quality topics please let us know. We would be happy to arrange a custom demo. Find all the Summer Learning Series videos here.

Improve Your Supply Chain with Better Vendor Management

The term “supply chain” is not new. As the sources for our goods and services become both closer, due to speed of travel and, more so due to the global nature of economies, the term “supply chain” increases in relevancy and meaning.

Managing supply chains requires awareness and competency in many fields from understanding the elements of lead time, to incorporating the public holidays of foreign countries in the planning cycle, to managing exchange rates. Some of the factors to be managed for successful supply chain however are not directly under our control, consider the recent West Coast ports slow down as an example.

Yet, we still have to plan and manage our businesses in a way that allows us to be profitable while maintaining buffers to insulate us from unexpected or out of our control events. For some organizations a method that they use to improve performance of their supply chain is to have formal and rigorous processes for selecting and qualify vendors. Such methods are sometimes required by customers, as occurs in food and automotive industries, but in many other industries these methods are simply seen as good business policies.

We believe a well-balanced and effective vendor selection and qualification system consists of these elements.

Product quality. Product quality is not just lack of identifiable problems but also a measurement of errors found against all materials procured. A system therefore helps identify trends and provides base line data for determining improvement in quality.

Price. Price is another clearly vital value. After all, this is where the concentration of purchasing effort occurs, but for organizations focused on vendor selection and quality, price encompasses more than consideration of a currency amount. It is understanding if the price is consistent with the overall market conditions and recognizing what is included in the service of price.

Delivery. Delivery, too, seems like something that cannot be ignored. After all, if the materials don’t show up it is pretty obvious as production plans have to change and customers have to be contacted. But those actions are just a response to problems and are not the same as evaluating and rewarding vendors for consistency of on time and complete performance.

Responsiveness. Responsiveness is generally only considered in emergencies, when something breaks or mistakes are made. But vendor responsiveness should incorporate other factors like delivery of samples for new products or pricing adjustments if market conditions change. If we need information for our records or have to schedule a site visit these should be easy and quick to obtain. These factors form a broader picture of responsiveness.

Effective use of the improvement management system. When effective use of the improvement management system comes up, it really needs to be preceded by confirmation that the vendor has an actual improvement management system in place. The impending release of ISO9000 and 9001:2015 will bring heightened awareness to the need for improvement management systems. But in the meantime, we need to know our vendors have tools to ensure a mistake identified is not a mistake repeated.

Certainly, when you expand your business process to incorporate formal vendor selection and qualification you are expanding the business tasks that need to be accomplished. Like any other business process however, such an expansion will prove beneficial if the time is taken to develop and incorporate systems that help us collect and analyze the generated data. For some organizations, the challenges of effective data collection and analysis are what delay the deployment of formal supplier selection and qualification methods.

Quality Essentials Suite includes tools to help formalize, document and analyze the data from such efforts to help organizations move forward. You can get started by learning about some of these tools when you view video 2 in our Summer Learning Series.

If effective supplier management can help your organization reduce shipping costs by 5% or reduce annual purchases by even 1% would that be worthwhile?

Defining Your Data For Decision Intelligence

The cost and count data of any business is critically important. Universally held judgment on business health is highly dependent on common measures of cost and count like revenue statements, earnings per share and asset value. But arriving at business success requires appropriate management of individual operational areas. Each function needs evaluation and fine tuning to ensure it contributes effectively and correctly to the whole. So for many businesses there are supplemental pieces of data, different from the core cost and count disciplines that must be monitored too as leading indicators of possible or probable outcomes.

With this awareness of the need to monitor for these early warning indicators at the department or functional level, comes the challenge of understanding exactly what the patterns of such indicators are. To answer that we must:

  1. Determine what data will be most relevant.
  2. Discern what patterns in the data are actually valid and meaningful.
  3. Have awareness of actions that will affect the data in support of the outcome desired.

Choosing Tools for Early Warning Indicators

There are two aspects of the quality management function that provide tools closely aligned with solving those three challenges.

,strong>Seven Basic Scientific Quality Tools

These tools focus on analyzing and then improving known processes many of them familiar from school mathematics curriculum.

  • For quantitative analysis: check lists, control lists, Pareto charts, histograms and scatter diagrams.
  • For non-quantitative insights: flow charts, cause and effect diagrams.

Regardless of the purpose, we are using these tools for the collection and analyzing of data around known or defined events or instances. Our best selection of the right tool is generally dependent on the effectiveness of our use of the classic quality management tools defined in the following.

Classic Quality Management Tools

These are the tools we use when our most significant challenge is to understand and define a complex situation. The most common versions of these tools come in the form of diagrams such as affinity, tree, matrix and activity. They are often supplemented with process decision program charts. Their purpose is to help us

  • Explore and organize challenges in a formal manner that both defines scope and ensures completeness of investigation.
  • Allow challenges to be better understood and accurately communicated.

The result of using these tools is the development of an actionable plan that can be monitored using the Scientific Quality Tools above.

Collecting & Monitoring Data

Once your business team has developed an understanding of the complex relationships through use of the diagramming tools the process of collecting, monitoring and analyzing your data can begin.

Many organizations rely on spreadsheets initially. Spreadsheets are useful, especially for early modeling, but they do have some key limitations for longer term use:

  • They remain silos or islands of data that require much duplication of effort to be meaningful in a timely manner.
  • They require effort to maintain data integrity, whether it is for ensuring data entered conforms to datatypes or for managing user security to prevent data corruption.

Timing a Move to Integrated Solutions

When activities grow more complex, your business should consider a move from spreadsheets to other integrated solutions for collecting and managing your decision data. The timing for such a move is generally indicated by:

  • A need for single source accuracy and pinpoint timeliness to ensure that true decision intelligence is supported.

Understanding the contrast between simple spreadsheet management of decision data and the efficiency and accuracy of integrated solutions is another valuable step towards achieving decision effectiveness.

You can learn more about how our quality solution supports decision intelligence by reading our recent article in the Summer 2015 edition of GPOptimizer. We also invite you to register for one of the videos in our learning series such as: Decision Intelligence – Going Beyond Cost and Count.