Operations startup and thriving in the comeback

Throughout history, we have always found a way to overcome obstacles and challenges. We will overcome this. When that time comes, those unprepared for the wave of pent-up demand will likely get buried by it. Now is the time to assess manpower, inventory, and equipment to ensure readiness.

Plants will not start up and go immediately back into normal production as if no time passed. News reports coming out of China in the last week have already shown this will be challenging and require new operational protocols.  Surprises at startup may end up costing precious time.

The war room you established for your shut down activities will be critically important in managing your startup.  Mapping out all possibilities, just as you would for a new product or plant launch, will be essential in identifying and overcoming issues before they become a problem.

Identify Key Bottlenecks

Manpower - Not having the necessary manpower will cripple your operations.  Assuming everyone will be back after shutdown will create surprises.  Childcare issues, health matters, and other opportunities may leave lacking resources.

  1. If you’ve kept up with your employees and their welfare during this time, make a last effort to ensure you know what your staffing will be for your return. If you haven’t been touching base, now is the time to do so.
  2. Make a list of critical positions. Understand which roles can be temporarily covered, can cause a slowdown, and which could result in stoppages.  Have a backup plan for the most critical positions. You may need 3rd-party resources ready to deploy quickly.

Equipment – Starting up equipment after an extended shutdown isn’t as easy as flipping a switch.  A plan for this is essential. Extended shutdowns, especially if sudden, can bring about problems you may have not thought of or encountered before.  Confirm readiness before the first operator sets foot on your shop floor.

  1. Have your maintenance team walk the entire line several days before startup. Utilize your team’s knowledge of what’s gone wrong in the past and take advantage of those lessons learned.  This applies even if your only equipment is a forklift.
  2. If possible, run the equipment with a smaller crew before the full workforce returns. Utilize these days to perform preventative or necessary maintenance and to thoroughly inspect your equipment. 
  3. Push your team to think of what’s possible, not just what’s likely. Sit together and perform a simplified failure mode and effects analysis.

Operations – Pull out your value stream map and identify critical areas.   Starting up from an extended shutdown can present new and unexpected challenges, even for those who previously had a command of their process.

  1. Identify areas that will stop or slow your operations. Walk your production areas like it’s the first time.  Look for issues that may impact your overall operations.
  2. Develop a detailed action plan for potential stoppage issues.
  3. Create a lessons-learned from your shutdown. What could you have done better?  Document don’t just discuss.
  4. Ensure necessary staffing is in place to receive and put away materials before your startup. Make sure the right people are in place to receive not just direct materials, but also indirect materials (gas for forklifts, etc.).

Suppliers – Connect with your supply base prior to and during your downtime.  Validate your suppliers are taking the steps to ensure their startups.  Slow supplier startups may impact your operations just as you've gotten past your ramp-up curve. 

  1. Develop plans with your suppliers for actions they will take in the event of unexpected operations or sub-supplier impact.
  2. Check again (yes again) that all planned shipments are on track. Determine 'go/no go' materials and plan which you can and can’t run without.
  3. Don’t forget about non-parts suppliers. Ensure production material suppliers are operational and considered in the startup plan. 

Communicate Effectively

Do you have a protocol in place to communicate with your sales team, your leadership, and your supply base?

Your sales teams need to be aware of operational limitations.  This is not the time to oversell your current capabilities.  Your teams should be honestly communicating (within limits) with your customers, keeping their expectations as reasonable as possible. 

Never assume information is public knowledge among your employees.  Emphasis and re-emphasis that your team keeps communication open within the organization at large and their teams.  Over-communicate your startup plans and times.  And of course, don’t let your employees learn of changes from outside of your business before they hear it from you.

Have established sessions in your war room daily until the danger has passed.  Utilize the key metrics you established when you set up your war room.  Identify if critical metrics need to be adjusted now that you have switched to ramp-up mode.  Don’t continue to monitor metrics that are no longer relevant, save your time for what’s important.

A Strategy with Flexibility

Finally, when this economy does bounce back, it will be important to maintain stability while being extremely flexible. The recovery will be a series of PDCA loops as you lead your company back to the front. Stability in the vision, flexibility in the path, coupled with the right metrics will give you what you need to thrive in the comeback!


About Seraph: 

Seraph's team of operational managers and senior consultants intercede on our client's' behalf to fix a crisis that is putting the business at immediate risk, turnaround a situation that is damaging the bottom line or restructuring to improve the balance sheet. Seraph has successfully delivered projects in the following regions: The Americas, Europe, China, and India. Seraph's Industry Expertise Includes Aerospace, Automotive, Energy Infrastructure, Healthcare, and Medical Devices. Through our other operating companies, we are continually looking for distressed situations where we can put our expertise and capital to work to create value.

01 April 2020