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What can you accomplish for your company if you decide to succeed? Read on, and start the process today. I’m borrowing the headline from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland because it’s always a great question. What road are you on and where is it taking you? Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in Wonderland, or maybe Oz?

Michael K. Noggle

March 31, 2010

9 Min Read
If you don’t know where you are 
going, any road will get you there (Part 1)

What can you accomplish for your company if you decide to succeed? Read on, and start the process today.

I’m borrowing the headline from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland because it’s always a great question. What road are you on and where is it taking you? Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in Wonderland, or maybe Oz?

While growing a plastics molding/moldmaking company from less than $500,000 to more than $200 million, I managed to learn a few things along the way. The information that follows is useful for business owners but also for supervisors, managers, or spouses. You may have to sand the corners to get it to fit your particular situation, but that’s your challenge. It’s about strategic and tactical planning (sort of), but with a heaping helping of how to implement it. Success is all about execution.


Michael K. Noggle

I now consult for manufacturing companies around the world, mostly strategic planning, but a fair amount of process improvement work as well. I wrote this on a plane returning from China. Mostly I work with injection molding companies or end users of plastic products, but I have worked with battery makers and even a commercial window manufacturer for large buildings.

Manufacturing is manufacturing. It continues to amaze me how nearly 15 years after my retirement, there are so many companies well behind where we were when I left. Small wonder so many are struggling. Some suffer from lack of planning. Others plan their tails off but can’t execute a lick. Some would say planning is the easy part and, largely, they would be correct. However, our military, which is best-in-class, knows that even a poor plan well executed is better than a great plan poorly executed. Still, you need a plan!

First step, “The Vision.” Yeah, I know—the old Vision thing again. No, really. Where do you see your company/department/self in one or maybe three years? My “aha” moment was when someone asked me if our company was a small company that would always be a small company or a large company that had not (yet) grown up. Wow! I could actually see the light bulb turn on as my mind kicked into high gear.

We had this acorn of a business that really could become a sturdy oak tree if we cared for it properly. With that question in your mind, I ask again, where do you see yourself/your company in the years to come? A corollary to the title of this piece would be, “If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?” If you are doing the same things over and over, maybe you are already there. If that’s good by you, read no further.
Leadership and 
If you do the same things day in and day out, you must accept the same results forever—unless something moves you to reach for a new and specific goal. Two points to make here. First, if you feel like you are coasting along, I have some news: You can only coast in one direction. (Think about it.) Second, if you do not have a vision of a better place, there will never be a better place for you. Without a vision, any road really will do, especially the one you are on. If you want to change, I am about to reveal my biggest secret about how to make that happen. You’ll have to wait just a bit.

So what’s your vision? Dream big! It can, and probably should, be a stretch. It does need to be something tangible, measurable, and achievable. Walk along with me and I’ll tell you about how we grew our company, SPM. When our sales were around $25 million per year, we set a goal of $100 million in five years. Here was a company that had grown organically for 20-plus years to reach $25 million and we planned on quadrupling that in five years. Well, we exceeded $150 million in less than four years. How did that happen? Hang on for the secret.

We took several days with our key executives every year on a planning retreat. Using the future vision as a target, we established four primary goals each year and each goal had a myriad of associated objectives and tasks. Each task had a champion (if you don’t have a champion for each task, they will linger forever). Trust me, these were not golf holidays; we worked from morning to evening.

Our first goal was, “Differentiate the group from our competitors and provide turnkey manufacturing solutions to our customers by excelling in service, technology, quality, time-to-market, scope of services, and value.” Now, that’s both a mouthful and a lot to bite off. Anyone who knew us in the early to mid-‘90s knows we made this goal a reality. We were tough to compete with. We worked hard to differentiate ourselves.

How? We were among the first in California to install and become proficient in CAD/CAM. Back then a CAD system cost our little company more than $300,000. It was no easy decision. The payoff? Our first seven-figure contract came shortly (surprisingly shortly) after investing in this technology. The customer wanted to work with vendors capable of exchanging all data electronically. It was between us and . . . well, I guess it was just us in our region. Several similar contracts followed within the first six months. We were also among the first to automate our molding machines and reduce setup time to less than 30 minutes, last part to first part.

Our second goal was somewhat related: “Be a leader in the industry with above-average margins and return on assets.” As part of our “be a leader in the industry” goal, we helped create guidelines for tooling and cosmetic specifications that were adopted by the SPI (Society of the Plastics Industry). We put our money where our mouth was. None of our goals was related to size. We never really wanted to be the biggest; we wanted to be the best and just trusted that growth would be the natural result of being the best.

Maintaining solid margins was important to the health of our company. We really understood our cost structure and how low we could go if needed. We walked away from business that was just too cheap. If we found out we were bidding against 10 other companies, we pulled out. Who wants to be the lowest of 10 bidders? If you get the job, you either have some supercompetitive advantage or you made a mistake.

Throw out top-down thinking
It’s now time to reveal the biggest secret I ever shared about how to accomplish those difficult tasks that stand between you and your vision. Keep this to yourself and you’ll have a huge advantage over your competitors (especially those who don’t read IMM). Here it is: S-DRAW + KCAB + KNIGHT without the G. All together it’s SDRAWKCABKNIHT. Focus on this a bit. Tick-tock, tick-tock . . . got it yet? Right! Think backwards! Really, this is huge, and here’s how it works.

Part of our first goal was to excel in many areas. Realistically, we had to step up and be an initiator. Not too many molding companies had ever gone through ISO, as an example, when we started the process. There was no one to learn from. Nor did we really know how valuable ISO would be for our company. But we could see far enough ahead to know our customers would require this within a few years. Better to get there ahead of the competition.

Very few molders had full-blown MRP systems in place then and no one in the world, except us, had their own Windows-based, real-time manufacturing/quality system. We had Win-Control, which was far superior to anything on the market, including Mattec and other real-time systems. We could see which machines were running and exactly how much material was in the hopper. We could track molding cycles and see quality control information at a glance. All of these things happened thanks to SDRAWKCABKNIHT.

How did we make ISO happen in a fairly orderly fashion using this important tool? The smaller your company is when you take on a task like ISO, the easier it is. Unfortunately for us, by the time we decided to implement ISO, we had several hundred employees and multiple locations. We were well entrenched in our ways, but committed to getting better. That meant no more coasting. What “think backwards” is all about is setting an inviolable delivery date for your task. We set nine months to accomplish being ready for registration. It took every minute of it!

How did we set the date? Not arbitrarily, that’s for sure. We brought in consultants to explain what needed to be done and shared this with all our functional managers (department heads, for those of you who might think we left out the dysfunctional managers). We got everyone’s buy-in to nine months. We pounded our stake in the ground, and then we worked backwards from that stake to where we were. In between, we wedged in each thing we needed to do in order to be finished on time.

There were just about a bazillion things we needed to do. We established critical path tasks and intermediate completion dates. I’m sure you know the answer to the old question, “How do you eat an elephant?” (One bite at a time.) Our director of quality broke everything into small, bite-sized tasks so we could chew them up one by one. Every manager promised to do his/her part. Gosh, what could possibly go wrong? You might have also figured out that it helps if a lot of people try to consume an elephant. Get everyone involved! Yet, we almost choked on the first bite.

How did SPM accomplish ISO certification so quickly? Read the rest of the story, including the company’s final two goals.

Michael K. Noggle is a consultant with Engineered Solutions (Irvine, CA), a manufacturing consulting company specializing in plastics industry issues with emphasis on strategic planning and M&A coaching. From 1964 he worked for plastic manufacturer SPM (later sold to Dynacast and now known as UPG). Starting as an apprentice moldmaker at this small family business, he helped SPM grow to a multinational company with 2500 employees and sales exceeding $250 million. He retired as president in 1997.

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