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.
Part of the reason I’ve been a little lax on my posting is that I’ve had a heavy travel schedule that included teaching segments of the IPC EMS Program Management Certification course as well as co-organizing a session at SMTAI on conflict minerals with Mike Buetow from Circuits Assembly.
My October Circuits Assembly column looks at ways to build a unified program management team and ensure that all program managers understand how best to do their jobs. Program management is truly the most difficult job in EMS and anything that reduces the learning curves of new program managers will generally save your company money.
No one goes to college and majors in Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) program management. They are typically either hired for the position as a business major or migrate there from a technical position. In short, they typically learn the basics of their job on the job. Prior experience, cultural differences, degree to which processes are documented and robustness of initial training can all impact a program manager’s performance.
A good program manager grows business while preserving profitability. He or she is also trusted by customers to be a champion for their business within the EMS provider. Developing that skills set often takes time. What are the signs that a program manager needs some coaching to reach that level? Here are two of the most common issues:
- The Program Manager is reluctant to negotiate with customers – Customer requests are either completely ignored or agreed to, even when the program manager knows they aren’t achievable.
- Preferred Behavior – Evaluate the request and offer the customer a range of choices if the exact request cannot be fulfilled. For example, while a schedule pull-in for all product might not be possible, it might be possible to pull in the most critical assemblies. Or, the new date could be achieved if the customer was willing to pay expedited freight charges. Let the customer choose the preferred option.
- The Program Manager is reluctant to give bad news – The customer finds out about a missed delivery, the day it doesn’t show up.
- Preferred Behavior – Let the customer know as early as possible if a problem has occurred. Provide a range of alternatives for minimizing the issue.
IPC’s EMS Program Manager Certification Program is one way to help coach and grow new program managers. Learn more: http://www.ipc.org/ContentPage.aspx?pageid=EMS-Program-Manager-Certification.
PMCI also offers training and support resources in this area including:
- EMS Concentric Selling™ – a one-day course focused on the EMS account acquisition and growth process
- Program Team Assessment Audits and Recommendations
- Custom Program Management tool development such as Program Management Handbooks and custom training material
Visit www.powell-muchaconsulting.com to learn more.
IPC has announced dates for the Essential of EMS Program Management course in 2014. I teach the first day of this course. The course is tentatively scheduled for March 27-29, 2014 at IPC Apex Expo and then again Sept. 17-19 in Bannockburn, IL.
This two-day session along with online learning, a Leadership course and an exam are part of IPC’s EMS Program Management Certification program. Last year, IPC also began scheduling on-site courses for companies who preferred to hold it on a specific date in their facility.
For more information, visit IPC’s EMS Program Management Certification program overview page.
In the February issue of Circuits Assembly, my column looks at trends in process efficiency in the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry. If I were to point out a single trend in EMS, it would be that range of software solutions that help EMS companies better manage their processes in real-time continues to grow and have dropped enough in price that even smaller, regionally-focused companies are adopting them. View the article for a discussion of the four areas that companies are choosing to improve via these tools.
I’d like to say the lazy days of summer were catching up with me, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Business has been very good and when that happens discretionary activities like my blog take a backseat.
That said I’ve been publishing articles and working on fall events.
Here is my latest article on dealing with program management challenges.
Also, there are two upcoming events in October that you may want to add to your calendar.
I’ll be teaching an IPC EMS Program Management Certification class in Tampa on Oct. 4th. If you’ve been thinking about this program, that is a great place and time to take a class.
And, I’m headed back to Florida a couple of weeks later for SMTAI, where I co-organize a Contract Manufacturing Symposium with Mike Buetow and Circuits Assembly Magazine.
Here’s a preview:
Strategies for a Changing Market
Chair: Susan Mucha, Powell-Mucha Consulting, Inc. Co-Chair: Mike Buetow, CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Magazine Tuesday, October 16 | 10:30am – 1:00pm | Asia 3 FREE with VIP or Technical Conference Registration! As global economies continue to evolve, so do EMS and OEM relationships. Onshore or offshore? Can regional providers really offer a comprehensive full service solution? What aftermarket services make sense in the EMS model? This session looks at these topics and more. Session format includes: four presentations and a panel discussion on the evolving EMS business model.
- The Evolving Nature of Offshore/Onshore Options Curtis Campbell, SigmaTron International
- Force Multiplication-Supporting Complex Customer Requirements at a Regional Level Rick Herndon, Firstronic, LLC
- Aftermarket Services: An EMS and OEM Perspective Bryce “Skip” Boothby Jr., Celestica Inc.
- Re-shoring: Total Cost of Ownership, a Contract Manufacturing Guide Alexander Zeitler, BTW, Inc.
Yesterday I did a chat on EMS Program Management at Printed Circuit University. We had four people asking questions. But, afterwards I learned that we actually had 377 unique visitors during the hour-long chat. I found that data interesting . While the chat was free, viewers had to register to get access. In short, asking a question didn’t reveal more about the user than the act of registering to view the chat had already done.
I thought this might be a good topic to drive a little discussion in my blog because it seems to me that the advantages of chat aren’t being exploited. The disadvantage of chat is obvious. Typing questions and waiting for answers is about as exciting as watching grass grow. But asking questions and checking back later to see the answer, is actually quite productive. PCU has created an environment where subject matter experts are available at specific times to answer questions on set topics. The chat logs from the conversations are available 24/7 after the chat. Basically, each chat is opportunity to tap free knowledge on subjects that interest you. However, the overall value of the chat is dependent on quantity/quality of the questions, as well as the quality of the answers. I can understand why someone would choose not to visit a topic that was not of interest. But, it is harder for me to understand why someone would visit a topic that interested him/her but not ask questions (particularly given that questions can be asked anonymously in that forum).
So, my discussion driving question of the day is: are you exploiting the benefits of chat sessions by asking questions? And, if not, why aren’t you asking questions? These answers don’t just need to apply to my chat session–I’m interested in learning more about what people like and don’t like about this type of forum. Inquiring minds want to know.
One of my clients and I were talking about effective and ineffective email use in EMS program management and it seemed like a good column for my blog. So, here are some thoughts.
From an EMS program management standpoint, email has several advantages including:
- Provides written documentation of customer conversations related to a project
- Provides a timely and convenient way to communicate with customers, the project team and other relevant stakeholders, particularly when distribution lists are set up
- Provides a fast way to look up past history on account decisions.
But email also has some potential negatives:
- Can create information overload when distribution lists aren’t appropriately tailored to topics or when list members continuously hit “reply all”
- Doesn’t provide tone and may appear insulting or abrasive to some readers
- Allows for creation of endless feedback loops that might have been better resolved with a quick phone call
- Can “enable” avoidance behavior on tough issues
- May create archives that are out-of-sync with internal records retention policies
- Disorganized message storage may make critical information hard to find
- Poor backup discipline combined with too much reliance on email as documentation may result in permanent loss of critical information
So what can make email a more effective tool?
- Think about distribution lists and create lists that are tailored specifically to relevant subgroups of the project or customer teams vs. the entire team.
- Consider use of collaborative computing software with shared folders for recurring meeting information such as agendas or pre-meeting information distribution, rather than sharing via email. Use of “pull” systems for this type of information can cut down on overall email volume and ensure the team has a central point for keeping up to date on each customer.
- Make sure project team members understand records retention policy and have an organized method for storing email related to each project. Work with IT to ensure adequate backup is in place. If a collaborative computing strategy is in place, make sure new team members learn how to use it as part of orientation.
- Before starting an email consider whether or not a phone call with email backup would be more efficient.
- If you find yourself emailing to avoid a difficult conversation, make the phone call.
- If you find some customers are overly sensitive to abrupt emails either change your writing style, or interface via phone with email backup.
- Be sensitive to communication misunderstandings when emailing to people who may have limited comprehension skills in your preferred language. Also, recognize that sometimes people who speak a different language actually prefer emails because a written document may be easier for them understand than a phone conversation.
Properly managed, email is a huge timesaver. However, while some people are intuitively brilliant at using email efficiently, others use it without developing good organization strategies. That latter group creates information overload. If you fit in that latter group, start thinking about how you can improve. Your email recipients will thank you and you just might find you have a little more free time on your hands.
By the way, if you have thoughts to add on this topic feel free to comment. Email organization is something that many people have good thoughts on.