Firefighter or Manufacturing Leader, Which Are You?

on February 1, 2023

Firefighter or Manufacturing Leader.  Which Are You?

You’re not a firefighter.  You're a manufacturing leader. 

So why are you fighting so many "fires"?  It keeps you from focusing on growing your company. 

Many manufacturing leaders often feel as if they are in a vicious cycle of knowing they need to improve, but don’t have the ability to stop the smoldering problems before they burst back into flames that need to be extinguished.  

In the short term, putting out a fire can feel satisfying, making it feel as if work is being completed.  However, not much is actually being accomplished.

In the long term, the constant battle is tiring, demotivating, and negatively impacts culture, productivity, and profitability. 

Here are four things you can start to do to stop problem flare ups that prevent you from focusing on more important things.  (Sliding down the firepole is not one of the important things, although it is fun.)

1. Have a strategic plan 

This is one of the most undervalued assets for most manufacturers.  Without a strategic roadmap, leaders pay attention to the firefighting tasks and not what drives business results.  A strategic roadmap is not a list of goals.  “We will get products out on time!” is not a strategy.  A strategic roadmap is ultimately a set of decisions about what to do, why to do it, and how to do it with a focus on the future. This asset creates a prioritized focus on the things that matter most to a company’s growth.  What gets measured gets worked on.  KMS has a strategic roadmap solution called Agile.  It is a strategic planning methodology that creates a flexible plan, providing you opportunities to react to change in your company or uncontrollable external elements, such as the economy.  Look for a webinar in late February/early March that addresses this topic!  Or you can contact our Director of Business Optimization, Monica Stewart, who is an expert in strategic planning, right now.    

2. Determine a Problem-Solving Process

Once you have a strategic plan, it is important to have a process in place that allows you to solve fires as they pop up. Fires can be one-time occurrences or repetitive issues. Identifying these issues can come from multiple sources including production reports, maintenance reports, and/or downtime logs. Once identified, it is important to get to the root cause of the issue so that the true problem can be eliminated or mitigated at the least. The problem-solving process should include basic project management tools that allow individuals to identify the root cause, create a plan to solve the problem, and report the solution. The Action Item process is a complete process that gives individuals the tools necessary to prioritize and solve issues permanently.

3. Create a Robust Maintenance program

Most companies associate fires with equipment issues. That is because most companies have not moved from reactive maintenance to predictive maintenance. The Total Predictive Maintenance (TPM) program is one that strives to solve issues before they become problematic. When Preventive Maintenance (PM) procedures are implemented properly, they do what they are intended to and prevent the issues from becoming fires. Using TPM tools, a company can focus on developing solutions to problems before they become issues. The goal of any maintenance program should include zero defects, and zero breakdowns.

4. Standardized Work Instruction (SWI)

SWI maps out the precise process to make products in the safest, easiest, and most effective way.  This allows for less errors, quality defects and rework, and provides the ability for new employees to ramp up more quickly.  And SWI can reduce fires.  Our Continuous Improvement expert, Nic Lydon, can offer SWI recommendations.  Actually, KMS is offering free lunch and learns in March focused on SWI.  Join us for insight and a working session, along with a free lunch, to get your SWI started or back on track in your organization. 

To find out more about problem-solving processes, TPM, or SWI,  please contact

This is not a comprehensive list of solutions that can help you put down the heavy helmet and fire protective gear.  However, it is a start to processes you should consider.  We have seen many firefighters, weary from their constant battles, with little growth to show for the effort. Just start somewhere.  

Another method to put out fires in your organization is to bring in experts, with the equipment and resources, to help you ensure that you are spending your valuable, limited time on the right things to grow your business.  Here is an article on why you should consider using a consultant.