An Accelerated Master’s Degree: Manufacturing in One Book


Photo by Stuck in Customs

There have been plenty of books recently published on the concept of Deliberate Practice, which essentially says that it takes 10,000 hours of a certain kind of practice (called ‘deliberate’) to gain expertise in something.   It makes sense that the majority of what you want to learn in any discipline is going to be experiential (or gained through practice).  But in order to better understand your experiences, you want to have some kind of framework of what to expect.  You want to develop a Theory Structure.

Books are what give you this theory structure, and certainly the quality of the theory structure you begin with impacts the amount of deliberate practice you need to become an ‘expert.’  So it’s important to choose the right books, as they will provide the base infrastructure upon which you will layer your experiences.  You’re looking for books that concisely capture the overriding concepts of a particular discipline.

And in any discipline, at least one fairly well defined, there doesn’t need to be that many books to accomplish this.  I would generally say that 3 books or fewer, for each discipline, will give you a proper theory structure.

With that in mind, let’s look at Manufacturing (or really, Production)… 

The reason it’s interesting to explore Manufacturing is that it may have a slight comeback in the U.S. in the near future.  Demographics is one of the few areas that we can reasonably project into the future, and Americans are both having more babies and living longer.  That means there could simply be more people than desirable jobs, which could mean a greater likelihood of entrepreneurial activity.  And what to entrepreneurs do?  They make stuff.

If I had to succinctly describe manufacturing, I would borrow the words from Harvey Firestone.  He was operating at a time when manufacturing had a much more significant U.S. presence, and he was pretty good at it.  He used to always say, “In any operation, there are two questions you must constantly ask yourself.  Always ask first ‘Is it necessary?’  If it is necessary, then ask ‘Can it be simplified?’”  Well, that’s pretty much the essence of making things.  I can’t say it better, so I won’t try.

So if you ask yourself these questions, what will happen?  Inevitably, you will find a better way at some point in the future.  There must always be a better way of doing everything than the way in which it is currently done.  And asking these questions will shed light on those potentially better ways.  The Red Queen Paradox, which states that what worked yesterday is unlikely to work today, is absolutely at work here.  Success always obsoletes the very behavior that achieved it.

Another company that can provide insight into the inner-workings of manufacturing is Intel.  In 1985, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove recommended that Intel leave the DRAM memory business to focus solely on microprocessors. And since that point, Intel has been pumping them out of the factory.  In his book High Output Management, Andy Grove introduces the basics of production as follows: “The basic requirements of production are to build and deliver products in response to the demands of the customer at a scheduled delivery time, at an acceptable quality level, at the lowest possible cost.”  Grove goes on to use a breakfast factory as an example of how to make things while meeting these basic requirements.  He also discusses how to manage a factory, including some interesting insights into organizational behavior.  It’s an easy read, and I think this one book is sufficient to give you a working theory structure of Manufacturing.

In putting together a mental framework of Manufacturing, you’ll also want to be familiar with the following mental models:

  • Checklisting: In order to minimize errors, create checklists.  Operations manuals can be as simple as a series of checklists, color-coded by section, itemizing specific steps and creating accountability by requiring signatory agreement.
  • Redundancy / Back-up Systems: To make something regular that was once irregular is a fundamental production principle.  This is hard to do if you don’t create a production process with redundancy in mind.  Redundancy allows regularity, since it factors in and accounts for potential setbacks.
  • Breakpoints: Producing anything is a process, and there are natural stopping points during a process.  These stopping points (or Breakpoints) are usually at the end of a certain work cycle, so that an assessment can be taken.  This is a quality control measure that reduces the likelihood of defective products.  Logically, you want to fix any problems at the lowest-value stage of production.  This will impact the work cycle, and ultimately where breakpoints are placed.
  • Specialization: Be cognizant of the advantages you can gain through specialization.  In a human production process, there are generally two approaches: have someone specialize in one step of the production process, or have someone become “cross-functional” and perform all the steps.  I’ve seen both approaches, and specialization is almost always more desirable.

So now you’ve got a pretty good framework for dealing with the discipline of Manufacturing.  Have a read of High Output Management, and add the aforementioned Mental Models to your framework.  Together, they will enhance cognition as you work through manufacturing issues.