Sue MuchaWays to resolve management variances across multisite operations.

One of the trends I’m continuing to see grow across the electronics manufacturing services industry is greater OEM focus on strategic use of multisite EMS facilities to maintain proximity with their facility structure or end-markets. Higher volume industries such as automotive and appliance have long dictated where their products would be built and sought EMS providers with facilities in the locations near their operations or distribution points. However, companies with much smaller volumes are also now looking at EMS facility site proximity to their operations. This can create an interesting challenge with smaller EMS providers.

Tier 1 EMS providers have done an excellent job of integrating their operations globally from a systems and process perspective. However, that is not necessarily true of multinational EMS providers in the lower tiers. Many in that category have grown by acquisition and have not standardized equipment and processes among facilities. Program management structures and processes may also differ.

When customers aren’t utilizing multiple facilities, variances among facilities aren’t obvious, and correcting the issue may not seem a priority. That said, customers wishing to apply the synergy of managing one supplier to support multiple geographic regions will be disappointed if they are doing business in that type of an EMS provider.  

The two areas that make this disconnect most obvious are systems and program management. Systems are often the first to align because in a world of Industry 4.0 it is difficult to run an efficient operation without standardized systems providing visibility into material and production status across all facilities. Program management can be a different story. There are several aspects to consider:

Program management skill set/role. Program managers can be strategic or tactical. While a strategic program manager functions more like a business unit manager in terms of assessing project needs and lobbying for resources, a tactical program manager typically just works to established schedules and resources.

Remote locations and/or international locations often have tactical program managers because of a lack of candidates with the skills to operate more strategically. When a company has a mix of these program managers by facility, a multisite customer may be surprised by the difference in the way requests and requirements are managed.

Facility internal procedures. Even when there is an effort to standardize program management activities and roles globally, differences in the way new product introduction, engineering change orders or quoting is handled may create confusion for multisite customers.

Often quality management system registration is a factor in what can and cannot be easily changed.

Number of multisite business opportunities. Ultimately the decision about whether focus needs to be placed on standardizing program management and procedures needs to be balanced against the likely business opportunities this standardization will support. If there is little likelihood, focus may be better placed elsewhere.

The Path to Standardization

What can EMS companies do to better standardize program management structures across all their facilities? There are typically two approaches: The first approach creates a class of program managers focused on managing multi-facility programs. Their titles can vary, but the concept is the customer has a single point of contact who in turn coordinates with program management teams at all relevant facilities. Customers see a standardized approach via this “global program manager,” even when there are variances in style among facilities.

The next option is to truly standardize program management across all facilities. While there still may be some variance in manufacturing procedures in each facility, if the overall program management approach is consistent, this may not be apparent to customers. Key elements in this approach include:

  • Have a standardized onboarding/training process for program managers that includes a program management handbook defining communications practices, roles and responsibilities; best practices in negotiating common areas of disagreements; best practices in forecasting; account growth planning; and common program management tools (dashboards, quarterly review templates, etc.).
  • Consider creating a council of program management representatives from all facilities who meet annually to review program management processes and incorporate any new ideas from individual facilities.
  • If skill levels vary among facilities, identify two tiers of program management, where Tier 1 represents a strategic program manager, and Tier 2 is the tactical program manager. Then attempt to develop at least one Tier 1 program manager at each facility who can handle multi-facility accounts.

Taking the time to see your company through your customers’ eyes and then modifying key service delivery processes to achieve consistency among facilities ensures those customers see your company as a cohesive team. More important, it also helps eliminate the wasted activity and miscalculations that can occur when every facility has a different approach to managing customers.

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (, a consulting firm providing strategic planning, training and market positioning support to EMS companies, and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services;

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