Software System Evaluation

by James P. Tate on March 1, 2017

As manufacturing managers and executives we are focused on the machinery, manpower and materials that go into our products. We want to have the best quality of each of these components.  We spend a great deal of our time evaluating and upgrading our machinery, labor force, and materials to manufacture the highest quality products and produce these products in a timely and cost effective manner.

But there is another component of our production process that we often overlook: our Software Systems. It is the software system that coordinates and directs each factor in our process to perform the right task at the right time.  The software system accumulates and disseminates information about the production process to allow us to make adjustments or implement changes in an efficient manner.  If something happens to upset the production flow, it is often the software system that tells us or identifies the cause of the problem.  So, how often do you evaluate our software system to make sure it is operating properly?  When was the last time you looked at this component and asked yourself if it is being productive for you?

Most manufacturing managers forget to look at their systems because they have a subconscious fear of having to deal with this system. Who knows the difference between a bite and a byte?

Assuming you want to evaluate your software system, where do you start? The best place to start is at the beginning.  Ask yourself, why did you buy the system in the first place?   What were you looking for when you decided to implement this system?  You had a set of specifications and goals that this software system was supposed to achieve for you.  What were they?  If you were lucky you kept these system criteria notes from the implementation program.  If not, then take a few minutes and recreate them on paper.

With these criteria in hand, review the system’s performance just the way you would look at a piece of machinery. Is it doing the job you required?  Is it giving you the output you expected; and is this output what you need to achieve your manufacturing goals?

There are clues in your operations that will tell you if your software is performing as desired. Did your work-in-process inventory decrease the way you expected?  Did your production lead time decrease?  Are your operating centers working on the right jobs; and are they in sequence with each other?  How is your on-time delivery performance? Are your supervisors and production control personnel using home-made spreadsheets to accomplish their jobs?  In short, is your software system giving you the results you expected and needed to be productive?

Let’s assume you are getting some disappointing answers as a result of this evaluation. The next task is to determine the cause of these problems.  The best approach to this deeper investigative task is to ask questions in a manner that doesn’t imply blame or poor workmanship.  Your employees are trying their best.  Either the software system isn’t helping them, or they don’t know what it can do for them.  Either way, you need to find the base cause of the problem and take remedial action.

In my experience, this evaluation process will rarely cause you to throw out the software. It normally tells you that retraining may be necessary personnel to enable utilize the system to its full potential.  You may also find that an upgrade is necessary to the system.  Your production process has changed from the time you first implemented the software system and you have new criteria that you didn’t have before.

Regardless of the evaluation results, if it is done thoroughly and honestly, you will have improvements that will easily justify the time spent. You will be more efficient.

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