Benchmarking to establish manufacturing process technique is viewed as a good concept, but by definition, in a competitive environment such as the automobile industry, it is already too late. Someone else is already doing it. By the time emulation could occur, the aggressive competitor may have implemented the next generation. The objective must be to implement processes that are generations ahead of the benchmark.
In a similar situation, American auto companies with numerous engine plants in the U.S. and in other countries are adopting a philosophy to standardize on “world class” process and hardware for all who produce the same part families. On the surface, this sounds like the right thing to do. It is not, for several important reasons:
The lowest common denominator to achieve consensus on the approach to be selected is likely to prevail; probably a safe, conservative approach.
Local manufacturing cultures and related pride are typically grounded in some logical local factors. Arbitrary change can create resentment, no matter which country or location is being asked to change their ways. An example of this kind of cultural paradigm is the preference for rear-wheel drive cars in Europe versus front wheel drive in the U.S. Is either wrong? Local organizations must feel part of the process and be able to succeed or fail. The method of dictating based on a non-local concept removes local ownership and does not show appreciation or reward. Spirit and passion will be negatively affected.
The dictatorial, centralized approach trains to not innovate locally and discourages local original thought and ownership.
The “standard” approach freezes in time the entire corporate process, whether extremely effective or a failure, or anywhere in between. Any change, even fine-tuning, is a massive undertaking and will be discouraged.
Different local processes encourage innovation with many points of entry for new ideas - friendly competition. Failure or less performance than expected is localized. A culture of Yankee ingenuity!
It’s possible to move to newly developed methods quickly in a limited way, one location at a time, each better than the last. Exposure to risk is limited, while staying ahead of fast on their feet competition who will be pushing the productivity boundaries. Solid communications between locations will leverage the different experiences.
Each new local retooling will be the next generation rather than the entire battleship. In the “standardized” process, competitors can be several generations ahead before enough momentum can be built to scrap the old and build a new battleship.
Worst, the world wide imaginative and creative resources of the special machine tool industry will be used infrequently and ineffectively. Remember also the effect of the single huge population on progress discussed in Chapter one.
Standardization and innovation clash. They are mutually exclusive by definition, and must be intelligently balanced and managed.