During an automation leadership conference at ISA headquarters, Peter Martin, PhD, vice president of business value consulting at Schneider Electric (and a real hero of U.S. manufacturing, as named by Fortune magazine) delivered a presentation titled The Future of Automation and Control that enchanted the audience. He described three driving forces that he predicts will shape the future of automation:
- new and unique opportunities from technology
- increasing speed of business
- measureable business value
Martin explained how these forces, along with other workforce shifts (e.g., the ageing workforce and the lack of skilled workers available to replace them), will influence various aspects of automation and control, which really hit home.
I bring this up, because as I sat there listening, I realized that these forces are happening throughout all of manufacturing (whether we like it or not). These trends will affect us all personally at some point—and they should affect the decisions we make and how we make them. The ability to make better decisions will not only help you personally in your career, but also help your company progress.
Before diving into the tips, know that successful decision making is a bit of an art that is influenced by many factors, including your plant environment, marketplace, company objectives, company culture, and available resources. So, when considering these four quick tips, use them as a guideline to steer your decision-making process.
1. Look beyond the needs of today and make improvement-based decisions
With the increasing speed of business and high workload, it may be easier to decide, for example, to simply replace an existing automation system with the same exact version of a new one, because it is quicker and easier. Do not fall into this trap. Ask yourself if this is a wise decision that will not only be beneficial in the short term, but add value now and for years to come. Consider the new technology available, and analyze any accessible data from your existing system, both historical and current. Use the information you have available. Take the initiative to research new technology to improve the process. Considering future needs and improving a process is both a smart and strategic decision.
2. Define a clear target and purpose with measureable results
Set clear goals and reasons before you make a decision, to ensure the choices you make align with the end objective or goal. Going back to Martin’s driving force of measureable business value, ask yourself: what are the measureable results that you can report as a result of this decision? What are your key performance indicators? More and more companies require a concrete return on investment or cost-avoidance analysis for an automation system investment. Measureable business value will be a vital necessity in the years ahead.
3. Allocate proper resources and involve stakeholders
If you want to invest in a continuing education course and need management’s approval, be prepared to justify the investment (measureable business value again). Be sure you are able to communicate the value it will bring for both you and the company. Get feedback from stakeholders in the decision-making process, and those who will be affected by the knowledge you gain. When prepared, if possible, ask the person who has the authority to make the final approval, so you can handle objections directly, should they arise.
4. Do not forget: It is the “song” that never ends
You make all types of decisions every day for yourself and your company and that will never end. Smart, strategic decisions involve a more thoughtful process focused on the long term. You can learn something from the decisions you make and apply those lessons the next time an opportunity to make a smarter decision arises. The bottom line is do not forget to take the time to reflect and analyze the results.
Making smart, strategic decisions is linked to the ability to define the needs of the business or application, your goals, and the purpose, and finally to execute based on those criteria. Training yourself and your staff to do so is vital to successful workforce development.