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Configuration Management: Sometimes Change Is A Bad Thing

By Amanda Earing, News Editor, Manufacturing.netIn “Configuration Management: Implementation, Principals and Applications for Manufacturing Industries” Joseph Sorrentino reveals how companies can successfully improve safety and decrease the need for expensive changes, while ensuring the quality of the end product.

Joseph Sorrentino, president and CEO of Lean Quality Systems Inc., a management consulting firm to manufacturing industries, reveals in a new book, "Configuration Management: Implementation, Principals and Applications for Manufacturing Industries,” how companies can successfully improve safety and decrease the need for expensive changes, while ensuring the quality of the end product. discusses the new book with Sorrentino and why configuration management is essential to a company’s success.

Mnet: What inspired you to write this book?

Sorrentino: Through my own consulting, I have found many companies are suffering from a loss of configuration management. As more companies outsource, the original designs, specifications and standards have fallen to the wayside because the degree of control is lost or compromised in minor ways to save nickels and dimes on products. The end result is major failure. So I put this book together to emphasize the pure basics, or the tribal knowledge, of defining and controlling the entire design of a product and its process from perception to reality.

If a product idea and production plan is strong, the path to market should always be straight with side-street revisions the exception, not the rule. That is the fundamental principle behind configuration management.

The book focuses on recognizing key characteristics in all designs that have to be maintained and other characteristics that can be more lenient as long as it doesn’t result in product failure. Configuration management is all about recognizing what is critical and what is not in design and development, and maintaining that throughout the life of the product.

Mnet: Why is Configuration Management important? 

Sorrentino: The loss of configuration management is crucial because it becomes both a safety and financial issue for a company. Safety can become compromised through financial savings. Top management begins to think ‘We can save if we get rid of our operations dept.’ Outsourcing does the same thing -- the outsourcing company will take a look at the product and find a way to make it cheaper when it’s mass produced in China. It’s not just a safety issue; it ends up being a liability.

There have recently been a lot of deaths, recalls and damage caused by losing control of the product. As more companies outsource and lose control of the production of products not in-house, it is more and more evident that configuration management has to be tightened up.

In addition, when we start outsourcing, we lose the in-house tribal knowledge. As a result, the new generation lacks someone to train them and pass on information because the older generation is put out sooner with forced retirements due to outsourced work.

Mnet: Who should read this book?

Sorrentino: I always believed that engineers and designers are the ones that actually manage the manufacturing, but executives higher up certainly make the biggest impact when it comes to changes in the manufacturing process. Top management sometimes promises short–term gains or profit margins and to do this they have to cut down on the amount of overhead, so they outsource. Before they do that, executives need to expand their financial analysis one step further with a risk analysis that will look at operations, engineering and the potential for failure and what that will cost.

Mnet: What one lesson do you hope readers gain from this book?

Sorrentino: The lesson would be to pay attention to configuration management of the product and hold it as dear to your heart as you can. The loss of that will cause heavy financial problems, liability and safety issues.

Mnet: What skill sets should a configuration manager have?

Sorrentino: Ideally, it should be someone that has the latitude and organizational freedom to go up to the CEO or present to the board and give an overview of assessments that have been made during the life of the product. It would be someone who can assess and perform analysis of a product and report it to those involved.

Mnet: How can manufacturers decide if outsourcing -- or discontinuing outsourcing -- is right for them?

Sorrentino: You have to weigh the criticality of the product, but I would say 30 to 40 percent of the companies I work with now have brought manufacturing back under their own roof. The most successful organizations have better control over their product in-house.

You have to do a risk analysis to determine the criticality or what the key characteristics of the product are and that will determine whether to bring it in-house or not. Or you may just bring the key characteristics in-house and outsource other things. There is a lot of variation to what you can do, but the main thing is to do a real thorough risk analysis to find out the potential consequences to outsourcing. You need to also be sure of your supplier because they will also find a way to shave a nickel or dime off a product.

Mnet: How can manufacturers who want to keep their operations outsourced, regain or maintain quality control?

Sorrentino: Manufacturers should set up a reliable extension of themselves where the outsourcing is taking place, or they can set up inspection before it is shipped out or when they receive it on the dock. However, a lot of companies don’t inspect the product when they receive it because the fastest way to make money and invoice the customer is to get it off the dock quickly. This means the sampling and review of documentation and product inspection is usually minimal.

Mnet: How does configuration management affect lean strategies?

Sorrentino: Most companies need to be aware of becoming too lean to the point of anorexic. When companies go too far to the lean side, they become anorexic to the point that they don’t have the capabilities to provide the service and it disrupts their business as they cut resources, and resources usually mean people. The result is cutting out tribal knowledge.

It is good to be lean, but the intent of financial savings with no consideration for safety affects both lean strategies and configuration management. You have to be careful not to be so lean that it takes away from your design, specifications or standards, and not follow them to the key just to become leaner.

Mnet: What advice can you give manufacturers wishing to introduce configuration management to their operations?

Sorrentino: I recommend performing a really thorough analysis by an independent organization that doesn’t have any ties to the executive managers. It is good for the highest person in the company to hire someone independent to do the analysis. To get a good snapshot of the organization, you need someone with eyes that have no alliance or connections with the company so you can get a real independent view with no tainted information coming in.

Many companies have lost the common sense and the key to configuring their products, structure and how to control it. Configuration management means product, but also management style and structure are important, so it is a combination of both the product design and also the structure that managers have.