There is so much talk now about the newness of a distributed workforce model; in reality, it's been in the news for a while.  There is a challenge there that many industries have not dealt with before.  Manufacturing is a bit different in this regard.  This industry was built for a distributed workforce in some ways.  In others, it’s equally as different. 

Production requires manufacturing teams to break up into sub-teams that all coordinate together to complete the work.  Unlike many other types of work, one team is deeply dependent on those that precede and follow it.  You simply can’t make something without the prior step being done.  And if you want to build it right, each step in the process also has to be done correctly.  The work is distributed across the model. 

In today’s post-crisis times, distributed refers more to the location of people and the timing of having those people in the same place or not.  Categorizing team members into essential and non-essential puts them in one area or another (distributed at-home or on-premise).  I’m reminded of Greg Crabtree’s model of labor

Greg’s book Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits has you divide your workforce into people who directly contribute to production of what you sell and, well, everyone else.  These groups are divided on the company’s financial statements so you can calculate the efficiency of each group. 

Isn’t that what manufacturers, dealing with the newly distributed workforce, are being asked to do in real time?  Move your indirect workforce to a different location (remote) and keep your direct workforce in front of the resources they need to do the work. 

Now that you’ve done that, one might ask what kind of tools or resources they require.  I’m not going to talk about safety and protective equipment here.  While that is the first thing that everyone should and does think about, it differs greatly depending on the location of the business, the workers to each other and the type of work you do.  Rather, I’m going to focus on common things across multiple industries that we see. 

Production teams need to know three critical things every day, all the time, no matter what you build: what am I supposed to be doing right now, where are the things I need to do that work and how exactly do you want it to be done?  Three simple questions, right? 

Wrong.  Most manufacturers can’t even get the first one accomplished, let alone all 3.  What am I supposed to be doing is often answered in a stand-up morning huddle.  Whether everyone attends, or just the supervisor or lead in each area, you find out your marching orders for the day.  That was at 8:03.  Now, it’s 10:15 and a customer just asked the sales team where their order was and if it would be ready on time.

An aside here – your sales team is likely not to know the answer to that question.  They sit in front of an order system, probably in your ERP and they know nothing about where the work is or when it will be finished.  Even if the ERP has some connection on the shop floor, it can’t possible give them an accurate status of the work or a projection of completion.  ERPs weren’t built to do that.   

So they answer the question the best way they know how.  They tell the customer that they will find out the answer and get right on it.  And they rush down to put pressure on production to get it done.  “It has to be out by (this date). Is it going to happen?” 

Another aside here – whoever’s answering that is stuck with the same issues that the system doesn’t answer what they need.  So they guess.  Or, simply, they say “yeah, sure.”  It gets sales out of the way and they can move forward with what they have to do.  But they will probably lean on production to get it done.  Maybe they escalate the importance of it, which in the real world, sounds and looks like them walking around to stations and telling people to place urgency on the work.  Perhaps they use a magnet board to pull that order to the top of the list.  Whatever they do, it is meant to address the problem they think they have.  In reality, they have little to no information and they’re costing you money that you may not need to spend.

What if that order was actually on time?  Would they have known?  How could they?  So at 10:15, you have a flurry of activity meant to be responsive that everyone’s feeling really good about because you seemed to be really able to deliver what sales was asking. 

What we’re asking is: did you know if that was necessary?  Or if it will help?  If you don’t feel 100% secure in answering a fast and furious yes to both of those, then we will argue that you can’t possibly answer the question “what do I need to be doing right now” for your production crew at any point in the day except when the work day is new. 

We can help.  Ask us how.  And look for our blog next week on where are the things I need to do that work?  Seems obvious?  Well, so was this question about 20 minutes ago. 


In 2020, we are rolling out meaningful tools for manufacturers that are affordable, on-target and competitive.  We are also expanding our educational offerings.      

We believe in the critical importance of manufacturing right here in North America and we work hard to keep you working.  Ask us questions; you will find that we are far more reachable than other software providers you may partner with.  We are here to help you find the right tools and use them, whether it's a Google doc, an Excel sheet or a Production Control system.  To learn more about meeting your targets for 2020 or just getting a question answered, visit us at