John Woodruffe, director at CUBE Thinking, offers his top ten planning tips for manufacturers to bring business through recovery.

Over the last 15 years I have worked with many businesses, mainly in the manufacturing sector. By incorporating ‘Lean’ tools and planning techniques, I help business owners to develop their vision, strategy and action plans through to implementing process improvements in their factories and warehouses.

During the last 12 weeks Cube Thinking has been working with the Boost Lancashire team delivering the #AskForHelp support, which has now moved seamlessly into #BoostYourRecovery.

In this period we have supported over 120 businesses, giving us a great insight into what companies should consider when coming out of hibernation and ramping back up to full capacity.

What gets measured gets done’ and the value of having a plan is crucial. So here are my Top Ten planning tips for manufacturers:

1. Cash is King

Usual advice is have enough cash flow saved for a rainy day, but we now need to have enough for two rainy days. Cashflow projections should include different scenarios, for example, worst and best case scenarios or in case of another COVID-19 outbreak.

Reduce breakeven point.  Are you spending money on fixed and variable costs, have you negotiated a rent or mortgage payment holiday? Why not also improve payment terms with suppliers and customers?

2. Talk to your customers

Your customers need to know what your plans are for the next 90 days and how you can help each other. Explain to your customers what your plans are for the next 90 days and then you can tweak these plans to suit them individually if required.

An authentic, sincere conversation is what they are looking for – you will be judged in 12 months for how you are engaging with them now.

And, who are your top customers? Your top 20% of customers will most likely account for 80% of your sales!

3. Work with your supply chain

Are you single or global sourcing? UK suppliers can help cash flow, offer better payment terms and not payment made as soon as goods are on board a ship.  They can also help reducing stockpiling as shorter lead times may be available. Even if this is not ideal, then dual sourcing should be considered to spread the risk, 80/20 or 70/30 are standard splits and its adds some competition between suppliers.

You may need to increase stocks for certain products so make sure it is on the right items. Understand who supplies your suppliers, as they may all have the same supplier!

4. Can you work more effectively?

Who is generating ideas that will help your new future?

Is your data able to tell you where efficiencies and future process improvements can add most value? Are you mapping processes, identifying potential improvements?

5. Look after your employees

Communicate with your staff even if they are on furlough or working from home. Tell them what the plans are and involve them in your planning or strategy development to give them ownership and confidence for the future.  Unfortunately, there may be redundancies, but it may be good to recruit from within, while considering benefits of new skills from outside.

6. Develop a plan and strategy

‘If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you’ve always got’. Now is the time for change to develop the company for the new future and remember that it is different to BC (Before Coronavirus).

You need a plan to work from with actions, owners and completion dates. You will then need to complete these, which will be quicker having a team with the mindset, grit and determination to implement your plan.

7. Develop a continuity plan

A key lesson from the last three months is that you need to plan for two rainy days. How resilient are you and your supply chain, working from home again, managing cyber security, maintaining the health and wellbeing of staff and communication with customers and suppliers, whilst overseeing your production planning?

What happens if the next time it is a fire or a flood, how will you cope? All staff need to be aware of the plan and the team to deliver it.

8. Innovation and diversification

Consider if your business can diversify to take advantage of the opportunities raised during this pandemic. Can you supply products or services to larger organisations like the NHS, aerospace, nuclear, automotive and pharmaceutical, since their supply chain is also being tested?

9. Digital transformation

It is important to develop a digital strategy-based on your company strategy and remember the issues that have been identified over the last few weeks, cyber security, access to files while working remotely or access via cloud?

You need to understand your CRM, MRP, ERP and other IT systems and their accessibility. Can you develop your systems so that you can connect to your suppliers and customers digitally? It’s all worth thinking about.

10. Asset evaluation

You need to review your machines, offices, canteen and other premises to see if they can be utilised better. You may be able to change your layout to accommodate social distancing or adopt one-way systems.

Shift working can help with social distancing and protects half of your workers in case of another outbreak. As assessment of your assets, review your machines and equipment as you may not need as many, or more importantly you may need new machines that are more efficient.

John Woodruffe and fellow directors at CUBE Thinking have decades of experience to help you make sense of business challenges and find solutions. Operational directorship, international improvement programme delivery and service in all sectors enables them to see clearly where others cannot.

The CUBE Thinking team played an integral part in supporting Boost’s #AskForHelp and #BoostYourRecovery campaigns and are currently working in conjunction with the Lancashire County Council on the Two Zero Scaleup Resurgence Programme.

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