, on January 23, 2020, 07:51 PM

Managing Through Priorities

You’ve just sat down in the conference room of your company for the weekly Monday morning meeting to set goals and plan activities for the week. The manager announces that there are only two weeks left in the quarter and the planned outs for a specific product is behind schedule. The sales team chimes in to herald a new, super-hot order that arrived over the weekend that must receive the highest priority until fulfilled. The equipment group highlights a single-source tool that is overdue for a preventive maintenance procedure, and to delay the maintenance any further will risk production quality. The facilities group reminds everyone that a specific area of the manufacturing facility will be powered down this week to re-route electrical conduit so that tool capacity can be increased later this year. The floor supervisors sheepishly state that half of the floor operators have called in sick this week due to the flu. The process engineering group shows a trend chart of increasing defects on a specific product, and they are asking to constrain capacity through the tools likely contributing to the problem.

Silence descends over the room like a lead curtain. No one says anything. The gears of forecasting and planning have ground to a halt. Gridlock. In the book The Outstanding Organization: Generate Business Results by Eliminating Chaos and Building the Foundations for Everyday Excellence, Karen Martin perfectly encapsulates in one sentence the above scenario that regularly plays out in manufacturing sites around the world:

“When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

Strategies For Managing Production Priorities

Balancing multiple priorities within a company can be like herding a group of cats. When you think you have control of a majority of the priorities, something will occur that causes the perfect plan to be completely upended. Goals and targets, once declared, are almost immediately “stale” when the Monday morning meeting adjourns because the information going into the meeting (on which the plans were made) has changed while the plans were being made. As hopeless and fruitless as planning may seem (given the opening scenario above), planning is key to meeting goals and deadlines, and effective planning becomes more important the larger the facility. Priorities are a fact of life in manufacturing but in managing these priorities, you have to appease all your external customers and also make money! I’d like to offer a few suggestions on how best to work through priorities and, maybe most importantly, a tool that can be used to communicate these priorities to the floor operator (and it doesn’t involve a Microsoft® Excel® spreadsheet!)


Whether you are a site manager, floor manager, floor technician, CxO, or any position between, one must arrive at an understanding that everything cannot be a priority, even under the best of circumstances. Accepting and embracing these limitations puts you in the proper mindset to establish effective goals and plans within the boundaries of limitations unique to your site.


Minds cannot be read (yet)! When planning the week’s priorities, make your request and need known! Your decisions makers (if not you) will want every piece of data possible before making a decision and setting a plan in motion that positively affects and minimizes the adverse impact to the entire facility. Make sure your needs and concerns are expressed so that they can be included as datapoints in the final decision.


Problems to be solved and priorities to be completed often don’t exist in isolation. Your priority may be able to be slipstreamed between someone else’s priorities or done in parallel with someone else’s priorities. Take advantage of the change when it happens.


Even after plans and priorities are expressed, changes occur. You may not be able to make everything a priority, but you can respond more effectively to changing priorities. Ultimately, systems (more than people) need to adapt quickly to a changing landscape so that productivity and tool utilization are maximized given the current set of constraints.

Applications, such as SYSTEMA’s Event-Driven Dispatcher (EDDi) enforce the week’s priorities and then dynamically responds (in real time) to facility-wide changes in tool availability and/or capability by reprioritizing the list of material available to run at a given step. EDDi can divert incoming material around new bottleneck tools, balance incoming material across a set of similar tool types, route material to available tools, change the dispatch priority of material at a given step based on tool and/or process availability at both upstream and/or downstream tools, and change the priority of a given step’s material based on established inventory levels, only to name a few capabilities. Automated solutions do what human intervention tries to do implement the plan based on the current state of the manufacturing facility, thus, maximizing productivity within the given current constraints.

Planning is not an exact science. In fact, most managers will admit that while skill, knowledge, and experience play an important role in effective planning, elements of luck also sneak into the mix. But planning is essential and unavoidable. With your subject matter experts around the conference table on Monday morning discussing and debating the priorities of the week and automated systems that help implement the plan AND immediately respond to the changing manufacturing environment, you can rest assured that you are maximizing your potential productivity and optimization while meeting priorities and due dates on any given day.


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