fabtime book reviews

Below are some book reviews on business and management in general and cycle time management in particular.

This book without question changed the way we run our business. Although many of the ideas in the book run counter to common intuition, nearly everything we read resonated with us. Ries’ essential message is that the marketplace is very crowded. Therefore, the best way for a company to succeed in the long term is to focus on one area, and become the leader in that area.

According to Ries, two trends in particular suggest the benefits of focus. One is that the bigger the market is, the more specialization is required for a company or product to stand out. For example, in a small town, a single general store might be sufficient. A large city, however, can support a variety of different kinds of stores. This suggests that as a company gets bigger, and goes after more global markets, they should actually offer fewer products, not more products. The second trend is that categories tend to sub-divide as products mature (e.g. there used to just be cars, now there are 12 categories of cars). The leader of the main category is rarely the leader of the later categories (especially not all of them). People tend to be more comfortable buying from the market leader in a particular area, and will attribute certain benefits to that leader. However, if the leader blurs the issue, by also claiming to be the leader in the some other area, people will often switch to using a different product. People trust specialists.

Focus! boils down to common sense. If a company is very good at one thing, and concentrates its efforts around that one thing, the company will be more successful than if it tried to do many different things. Ries fills the book with real-world examples that prove this point again and again. So convincing is this book that within a few months of reading Focus! we had changed our company name and mission to reflect a singular focus on wafer fab cycle time reduction. We recommend that you read it too. It could change the way you look at the world.

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This book has been widely read by semiconductor manufacturing personnel since it was first published in 1984. It accurately describes the behavior of manufacturing facilities, including such fundamental concepts as bottlenecks, constraints, and the impact of variability. One reason why it has been so broadly read is that it frames these concepts in the guise of a novel. This makes the ideas easy to read and digest.

The premise is that Alex, a factory manager, is given an ultimatum -- dramatically improve the performance of his factory in three months, or the facility will be shut down. Believing that traditional improvement strategies will never make enough difference in such a short time, Alex must resort to more desperate measures. He tracks down an old professor, now working as a consultant, and begs for advice. The advice of this consultant, Jonah, sets Alex and his team, on a journey. Instead of just giving them the answers, Jonah asks them questions, and refuses to give more help until each question has been answered. As Alex learns through this process, so does the reader.

Some of the lessons of the book include the following.

  • When you are productive you are accomplishing something in terms of your goals. Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. The goal of a manufacturing organization is to make money.
  • Because of variability, a factory cannot be run at 100% of capacity. Or, as Jonah says, “the closer you come to a balanced plant, the closer you come to bankruptcy.”
  • One of the biggest problems in improving your factory is collecting the right data. Alex eventually concludes that “we're going to have to accept the fact that we're not going to have perfect data to work with.”
  • “An hour lost at the bottleneck is an hour lost for the entire system … The actual cost of a bottleneck is the total expense of the system, divided by the number of hours the bottleneck produces.” This suggests managing bottlenecks very closely. This idea has spawned numerous consulting and software firms since the book was published.
  • Non-bottlenecks do not need to be regulated so closely, and should not be operated to maximize utilization. Jonah says that “activating a non-bottleneck to its maximum is an act of maximum stupidity.”

We think that everyone who works in a manufacturing facility should read this book at least once. We re-read it at regular intervals, and always find it insightful

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Factory Physics is the kind of textbook that people actually refer to while doing jobs out in the real world. It places a mathematical framework around the behavior of factories, describing the underlying relationships with clear, easy-to-read examples and summing them up into straightforward Factory Physics Laws.

The book is targeted toward factory operations. The first section is a review of the traditional production management curriculum, including inventory models, MRP and JIT. The second section contains what we find the most useful material in the book, with chapters on basic factory dynamics, variability, and pull production systems. The third section puts the principles from the second section to use, and includes chapters on total quality management, production planning, shop floor control, scheduling, capacity planning and inventory management.

This book is filled with simple numeric examples and charts, but does not shrink from including queueing formulas where they are necessary. The Factory Physics Laws are easy to remember, but also important. For example, Law 11 states: “Pay me now or pay me later: If you cannot pay for variability reduction, you will pay in one or more of the following ways:

  1. Long cycle times and high WIP levels.
  2. Wasted capacity (low utilization of resources)
  3. Lost throughput

We recommend this book for those who have some engineering background, but want to better understand factory operations and planning systems. It’ the text that we would use if we were teaching a course on the subject.

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Moore’s thesis is that when a new type of high-tech product is introduced, it follows a predictable path of marketplace adoption. First, a small group of visionaries buys the product. The visionaries look for products that have high strategic value. They are willing to live with software that is not quite polished. They like new things, and are looking for breakthroughs. They are soon followed by early adopters, who are willing to take on high risk products in return for expected high rewards. Visionaries and early adopters, however, make up only a small portion of the market. The bulk of the market consists of the early majority and the late majority (also called pragmatists). A product cannot be successful in the long-term without being adopted by this mainstream market.

The problem is that pragmatists are only comfortable buying products that require significant change if they know that other pragmatists are already using them. Pragmatists are more cautious, and only want to use products that are well-established and well-supported. They tend to distrust the opinions of visionaries, and want to wait until their pragmatist counterparts begin using a product. This creates a chasm in the marketplace. Sales drop after the early market is saturated, while the pragmatists all wait for someone else to make a move.

Fortunately, Moore offers a number of concrete suggestions for crossing the chasm. Chief among these is the notion of targeting a niche market in which people are able to communicate more easily. Also important is the idea that to reach the mainstream market, vendors must provide the “whole product,” including supporting services. For more details, we suggest that you read the book.

This book was recommended to us by Marc O’Brien, President and CEO of WebProject, a software company that markets a Java application for enterprise project management and collaboration. He suggested that it was essential to the marketing of sophisticated software products. After reading the book, we definitely agree.

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This book review was written by Ken Beller

With today’s rapid pace of change, customers demand and expect nothing less than great service. As we move from a manufacturing-based society to one that is more focused on service, companies need to address the fundamental ways in which they conduct business.

According to the1990 US census, more than 70% of Americans were in service work, both within and outside of manufacturing organizations. Within the past ten years, the Information Age has exploded and this figure is probably already greater than 80%. Unfortunately, many of the skills that helped Americans to become winners in the industrial revolution will not meet our needs today.

In this book, Mr. Lawton shows us how to move our business and management philosophy from “producer” centered to “customer” centered. Throughout most of this book, the focus of discussion continually returns to 4 main themes:

  • Defining our customer expectations
  • Measuring our performance to these expectations
  • Managing our processes to obtain the desired results
  • Checking for success

A key point that Mr. Lawton makes is that what we measure reveals our values and priorities. Measurement is management’s way of saying, “we care.” As the age old adage goes, it matters not if you do things right, if you’re not doing the right things. This book is aimed at helping you succeed at this and is reflected in understanding the answers to these five key questions:

  1. What do we do?
  2. Who do we do it for?
  3. What do they want and why?
  4. How can we better improve their satisfaction and our performance?
  5. What is the strategy and process for creating a customer-centered culture?

In short, nothing in this book is rocket science, however, most of it is applicable to today’s fast paced environment and is aimed at focusing one’s efforts on the definition and measurement of success. This book is well written and easy to read. It is laid out in a logical and concise format and can be used as a reference guide as well as a learning/teaching aid. Although this book is not new (it was published in 1993), in our opinion most of its views will stand the test of time. It is worth reading for anyone interested in succeeding in today’s quickly changing environment.

We believe that focus on customer desires will guarantee success in the future. We hope you do too!

Buy this book on Amazon. (FabTime is an Amazon affiliate.)