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4 Steps to Effective Communication in Manufacturing

“Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.” – Paul J. Meyer

Communication is essential in our lives, both personally and professionally. In order to be successful, good communication is necessary. This applies to manufacturing environments, too.

Whether you’re simply acknowledging a job well done or working on a new project, communication is the key to success. The journey to becoming a world-class manufacturer is no exception.

1. Starting with “Why?”

If you’re going to work towards a new goal or project that will take you one step closer to becoming a lean manufacturer, you have to communicate why. This needs to happen at the very beginning of the process. Not during. Not after. But, before starting a project or initiative, communication with your employees or team is necessary.

This communication should include the answers to the following questions:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • What does it mean to the employee?
  • What’s in it for the employee?
  • What’s the goal?
  • How will the employee be involved?

These are the type of questions that Allison Greco, Founder of Continuous Improvement International, works through with people before beginning any project, especially a software implementation. She calls these the ‘W’ questions, or explaining, “What’s in it for me?”

The importance of communication cannot be understated. It may sound old school and overdone, but communication is simply the most important thing you can do as a leader.

2. Communicating to the Team

You know communication is important. You realize there’s a need for it. And as you start to think about the upcoming projects you want to begin, you may also be wondering how to communicate those projects to your employees. Who needs to be included? What do they need to know?

This all depends on what you’re doing. If you want to start with a small group in a small area with a particular team, that whole group needs to be involved and have discussions about the scope of work so they all know where they fit. This could be everyone from operators to supervisors to managers to executives, even to maintenance, engineering, or quality, whoever is needed on that particular team and will be affected by the initiative.

On the other hand, if you’re going to go big and roll out new initiatives or goals company-wide, you need to communicate with everyone in the plant what is going on and why.

Whether a big or small group project, the style of communication remains the same. This is a reference back to Allison Greco’s “3 W’s” or basically explaining, “What’s in it for me?” to your employees.

3. Taking Advantage of Visual Communication

Once things get going, you have to communicate the wins along the way. Daily production meetings are the best method for communicating those wins, though there are other outlets as well. If you have overhead displays that show slideshows, you should put the wins up there. If you have communication boards in the plant or in the break room, show those. Regardless of the method, albeit daily production meetings, newsletters, overhead TVs, or displays showcasing plant floor status, you should celebrate and show the wins there.

You cannot overdue the recognition of small, quick wins. You want to make it very visual so people know what’s going on, and you want to make it very frequent so momentum is never lost.

Tony Spielberg references this in an interview about workforce development on Zen and the Art of Manufacturing podcast. He talks about starting small and using those quick wins to create a good culture and employee engagement.

Visual communication is vital. It’s one of the reasons manufacturers long to create a visual factory. The benefits are unmatched.

One of the things that Tony mentions is that at Cambridge Engineering, they record videos of their small wins and show them in daily meetings. By doing this, they’re building confidence in the team that’s working on this project. They’re building interest among other employees who are going to have to do this work in the future, building the employee experience.

There’s no reason other manufacturers can’t do the same and use visual communication to encourage engagement.

4. Communicating to the Entire Plant

Eventually, you’ll get to the point that you’re expanding your lean manufacturing projects throughout the entire plant. You’ll have to frame all of this to the rest of the company in a way that makes people understand the benefits of your project.

  • Why?
  • What are the next steps?
  • What’s the employee’s involvement in it?
  • When is it going to come to permeate throughout the rest of the company?
  • How is it going to affect each person’s job?

But, there is a caveat. Communicating beyond just the team you start with is really important. If you’re starting with one cell, one line, or one department, that’s fine, but the entire plant really needs to understand and know what’s going on, even if they’re not directly involved. They’re going to wonder, and in the absence of information, they’re going to make it up. Which can lead to potentially disastrous results down the road when you try to implement those same initiatives in other areas of the plant.

Generally, people fill the void with something, whether wrong or right. It’s often their own ideas that are worse than you leading the conversation from the start.

So, sure, you may not start rolling out initiatives to the entire plant, but communication is what is going to prove vital to your success, whether everyone is directly involved or not.

Communicating is Key: A Recap

To recap, communication is essential. It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting small or going big. Communication is necessary to accomplish your goals. So, remember to communicate:

  • What’s in it for your employees
  • The goals of the project
  • Why now?
  • Who’s involved
  • What this looks like for the entire company

When you do these things, you’ll find success.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

Picture of Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.