Strategic Planning. Training. Market Positioning.

My article in the August issue of Circuits Assembly magazine looks at the question: Can market research help investment decisions?

Electronics manufacturing services (EMS) providers vary widely in the effort put into strategic planning. Some have dedicated strategic planning functions that develop internal reports and presentations on changing market dynamics and purchase market research for specific industries as part of the company’s overall strategic planning efforts. Others buy packaged market research studies or outsource specific research needs prior to developing strategic plans. Some companies center on trends within their internal customer and prospect base, focusing planning on the likely needs of the market they know best. And a few just go with the flow, reacting to customer requests but otherwise not engaging in any form of strategic planning.

Based on my experience, the right answer is somewhere in the middle. I’ve worked in companies so fixated on studying the market they grew more slowly than they would have had those resources been allocated to sales and marketing activities. In some cases, “studying things” actually became a way to avoid making hard decisions. I’ve also seen companies that failed to do any strategic planning surprised by market or technology shifts.

One thing to remember:

If you are not positioning your company, the market trends or your closest competitor will be.

You can read the full article here.

We’ll also be exploring strategic planning and EMS trends in much greater detail in PMCI’s half day workshop at SMTAI:

Identifying EMS Market Trends: Learn to Predict the Future and Help Your Company Lead the Pack

SMTA International, Rosemont, IL
Sunday, September 25 | 1:30pm — 5:00pm

Topics Covered Include:

  • Typical cycles which repeat in the EMS industry
  • Key events likely to trigger changes in demand
  • Useful strategic planning tools
  • Creating business models which can readily adapt to changing markets.

The early bird deadline for registration is Aug. 26. Register here.



My June Circuits Assembly article looks at EMS systems strategy.

One of the most positive trends I’ve seen in the electronics manufacturing services industry over the past five years is the permeation of ERP, shop-floor control and related systems that truly do let businesses work smarter, even in small, one-site companies. I see this as a huge positive because the complexity of information that must be managed on a day-to-day basis continues to grow. Read more here.

PMCI will be conducting a workshop at this year’s SMTA International:

Identifying EMS Market Trends: Learn to Predict the Future and Help Your Company Lead the Pack

SMTA International, Rosemont, IL
Sunday, September 25 | 1:30pm — 5:00pm

Course Objectives
What Participants Will Learn: Do you ever wish your company could be offering services just as the market starts to recognize a need for them? The electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry is still very young, yet demand patterns are established. This course will teach participants ways to identify external factors that may signal market change and suggest strategies for adapting to changing demand patterns. It will also teach participants to apply common sense and industry knowledge in ways which help their companies lead the pack instead of struggling to keep up with changing market dynamics.

Topics Covered

  • Typical cycles which repeat in the EMS industry
  • Key events likely to trigger changes in demand
  • Useful strategic planning tools
  • Creating business models which can readily adapt to changing markets.

Register here.

One of the interesting dynamics I’ve observed during my career in electronics manufacturing services is the evolution of sourcing strategy. In the ’80s, outsourcing was a risky decision that involved the highest level of the OEM organization. Final decisions looked not only at the immediate need, but at the ability of an EMS provider to support the business needs longer term. Today, outsourcing is more of a commodity decision, and sourcing teams are often staffed by people with far less knowledge of the manufacturing process or the softer issues in the total cost equation. My April 2016 Circuits Assembly article focuses on way to achieve lowest total cost.

Over the years I’ve noticed those new to program management often find negotiating with customers challenging. So, in my February 2016 Circuits Assembly article, I highlighted strategies for improving negotiation outcomes.

It is important to understand the role of the program manager has two parts: First, a program manager is the face of the company to their customers. Second, the program manager is charged with keeping the program on track within the contractor’s business model. In some cases, this role may include managing profitability. In other cases, it is simply keeping program metrics in line with the contractor’s model.

The reality is that if the program doesn’t make a profit or becomes a nightmare that causes chaos in materials or the production area, that customer most likely will be disappointed. Addressing project issues early ultimately contributes to increased customer satisfaction, smoother production flow and greater program profitability. The article lists seven strategies to improve negotiations.

Strategic vs. tactical: which makes more sense?

EMS program management models can vary by provider or even by facility or program team. No one model is ideal for all account types. However, typically program managers can be divided into two groups: tactical and strategic. Tactical PMs focus more on day-to-day activities, while strategic PMs tend to take more of a leadership role relative to their accounts. While many organizations consciously make the decision as to whether their PMs should be tactical or strategic, in some cases it just evolves one way or the other. The downside to lack of defined program management focus is the lines of authority and responsibility can become blurred. In my December 2015 Circuits Assembly article, I looked at both models and discuss the drivers that make one or the other appropriate.

Several months ago, I attended a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) event in El Paso, TX. Two of my electronics manufacturing services clients provided me with video, photos and sample printed circuit boards to use in a display about manufacturing. IPC and SMTA also provided materials. My October 2015 article in Circuits Assembly asks the question: Are manufacturers engaged enough?

This is an area I continue to question. With the cost of college, I honestly believe that it is very important for students to walk into to college with a good idea of the job options related to their chosen degree program and a roadmap for internships and/or co-op programs that can help them build a network  during college that leads to job offers once they get a degree. Not everyone agrees with me. The educators I’ve discussed this with tend to feel that students should not be this focused. One even went so far as to say that it isn’t the university’s role to train students for private industry. To me, that shows the magnitude of the disconnect. My thoughts on focus and employer engagement weren’t that a university should be training people to the whims of employers, but that students paying $40-$60K for a degree should have a reasonable expectation that they were leaving college with marketable job skills and hopefully a path to a job that doesn’t involve a hairnet and French fries.

What do you think? Feel free to leave comments.

One Good Idea

Years ago when I was part of what was then called the IPC EMSI Council, we used to end every meeting by going around the room sharing one good idea from each company. I still include time for that in the IPC EMS Program Management certification courses I teach because it always opens the door to new thoughts among the students. And, occasionally when I come across something I find interesting I do it in my blog.

The one good idea I’m sharing today comes from Concept2. They are an exercise equipment company that makes rowing and ski machines. I bought one of their rowing machines because they were top rated, had almost zero customer bad reviews and actually manufacture their equipment in the US (we can’t keep manufacturing in the US if we don’t make an effort buy US-made products). I discovered after I bought my machine that I wasn’t just getting a product, I was actually buying into a community of rowers. They sponsor global competitions and individual or team “challenges” several times a year. They have even partnered with a third-party software vendor to make it possible for rowers to virtually race each other.

The one good idea comes from their challenge schedule. Their end-of-year holiday challenge is for rowers to either row 100,000 meters or 200,000 meters between black Friday and Christmas Eve. Unlike their other challenges, where the reward is simply a certificate and a listing on an online Honor Roll, they donate money for each of rowers meeting one of the two challenge levels (the amount doubles if you hit the higher goal). So, in addition to motivating exercise during the holidays, folks that hit that goal are helping raise money for three charities. It is impossible to cheat because the rower “reports” your meters to an online log via a phone app or computer link.

I’ve noticed that several of my client companies have wellness programs and do company-sponsored food drives around the holidays for their local food banks–it is a pretty common practice in manufacturing firms. So, the one good idea I’m proposing is that if your company has both a wellness program and a food drive, consider finding a way to link the two by including a company donation tied to wellness program participants meeting set exercise goals. Its a win-win for both efforts. A few tips to make the program count:

  • Make sure the goal achievement payment promises will align with any budgetary constraints (it is demotivating to hear that goal achievement levels exceeded the amount the company is willing to donate)
  • Define the exercises that will qualify for the goal so there is no issue with what participants define as exercise and make it a broad enough list that people without access to exercise machines or a gym can still participate
  • Make sure the metric is easy for everyone to measure (time is a great measurement, since it is easy to check your watch)
  • Make it easy for people to log their hours as they happen in a central place (ideally an online spreadsheet)
  • Celebrate the accomplishment (a lunch, certificates, maybe an honor board).

Done right, employees have motivation to engage in healthy habits during a time when everyone typically overindulges, a local charity gets a little extra support and good “social responsibility” PR is had by all. It doesn’t get much better than that.

What is Your Brand?

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve started blogging for the Institute of Certified Professional Managers (ICPM) at James Madison University. My latest post there relates to Establishing Your Brand as a professional. ICPM has a Certified Manager program aligned with the National Management Association (NMA). Their blog is composed of contributions from CMs on a range of management topics and is definitely a good read.

In my latest column in Circuits Assembly, I look at the challenges associated with establishing an operation in Mexico. The increased cost competitiveness of Mexico’s manufacturing, migration of automotive and aerospace clusters, and a lessening of the violence that has plagued the country for much of the last decade have incentivized a new wave of US-based regional manufacturers to look at the benefits of opening operations there as a the next step in their expansion plans.

That said, Mexico remains a country full of complexity when it comes to establishing a viable operation. There isn’t one right answer for best location or business structure. This month we look at some of the tradeoffs to consider when establishing a small operation in Mexico. Read more here.

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