Mold manufacturers typically see themselves as “job shops” or “machine shops” that do one-off mold builds, when in actuality they should they should be viewing themselves as project-oriented organizations. That’s the conclusion of Jason Williams, a lecturer and head of the Medical Plastics Center of Excellence at Penn State Erie’s The Behrend College.
The fact that no two molds are alike and every job is different means that project management at some level is almost always required for a program to be successful. However, most mold manufacturers would be categorized as small- and medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). Quantifying this, Williams defines these categories a bit differently than they are defined by typical industry standards.
Shops with fewer than 10 people Williams categorizes as “micro;” 10-50 people he defines as a “small” shop; and a medium-sized company has more than 50 but fewer than 250 employees. However, a shop with 250 or even 150 employees would be considered quite large by comparison to the average mold shop.
Williams determines organization size by the number of tools built annually. “There are small organizations that build lots of molds each year and large organizations that build very large, complex tools,” he explained. “Typical projects in this industry involve multiple participants that are both inside and outside the organization with a project duration that is typically between 10 and 20 weeks.”
Williams conducted a survey of 44 mold manufacturers answering eight questions to estimate the level of project management maturity (PMM) as it correlates to organization size. The survey was designed to produce a basic overview of the level of project management maturity and organizational size within the mold building industry.
Williams presented his findings at the recent ANTEC conference in Cincinnati. What he discovered was that larger mold building companies exhibit a higher level of project management maturity. In other words, they’ve gone from no planned project management to a “learning” level of project management as in “let’s look at this project now that it’s completed and see what we’ve learned from it.”
The five characteristic levels of project management are:
Ad hoc – this level is the most basic. “It’s leaning over the moldmaker’s shoulder and asking, “How’s it going?”
Planned is the level when an organization begins to actively plan for some projects – maybe larger ones – but not all of them.
Managed at the project level is when an organization begins to expand project planning and management into a firm process with established protocols. Typically, someone will be appointed a “project manager” whose actual job is integrating the project throughout the organization. “Risk management processes begin to show up in organizations at this level,” Williams noted, adding that this level is often termed “Institutional Project Management.”
Managed at the corporate level is strategic project management with corporate support. At this level the organization moves toward overall program management where projects are not just managed using a process, but are also actively evaluated against corporate strategy and metrics.
Learning is the highest level as the organization further refines its process through the development of a continuous improvement process. “It is important for an organization to continuous evaluate not just project performance, but also process performance,” said Williams. “This allows the company to adjust and refine their program and project management methods. It enables continuous quality improvement by doing a post-mortem upon the project’s completion.”
Williams noted that other research has shown that project management use scales with organization size, and that larger companies implement more tools of project management. In this survey, there were 16 responses from small (25 molds/year) mold companies; 14 responses from medium (26-50 molds/year) companies; and 14 from large (51+ molds/year) companies.
One survey question asked who the project lead is on most projects, and the possible answers consisted of machinists, lead moldmaker, engineer, management or project manager. “Using a machinist or lead moldmaker is more indicative of an ad-hoc type of process that would be associated with a PMM level of 1,” Williams said. “Using a dedicated project manager would be associated with a PMM level of 5. This method was used to establish levels for each of the questions and answers.”
Williams’ survey results showed that in the area of project leadership, there was a trend toward higher maturity as the number of molds per year increased, however, the results did show a slight difference between the small and large builders. “The larger organizations were using more dedicated project managers while the smaller organizations tended to use project leaders that were serving a dual role between project management and a secondary job function such as engineering or machining,” he adds.
With respect to tracking projects, this category showed the largest change in maturity between organizations. “Tracking methods showed a significant difference in PMM level between small to medium and medium to large-sized builders,” said Williams. “Smaller builders were much more likely to use very informal systems and basic weekly updates to track mold builds while large builders were moving to much more mature systems such as tracking mold build using Gantt Charts and Earned Value.”
Overall, Williams noted that project planning, leading, and tracking showed the largest variation in maturity level, most likely “driven by the needs and resource availability of these organizations,” he added.
Williams did point out that the survey wasn’t a gauge of success. “Large mold makers move to a high level of formal project management, but at more than 50 molds per year, these builders have reached a scale in which resources can be dedicated to project management,” he said. “Projects are no longer managed by an employee functioning in multiple roles such as an engineer or lead moldmaker spending a portion of their time managing a project and participating directly in the mold building process.”
Smaller mold manufacturing organizations are not less successful, Williams noted. “In some cases they’re actually more successful,” he added. “It comes to mold complexity versus organization size. It’s been shown that these smaller organizations also have a very similar success rate on projects, in spite of the fact they use more informal project management methods.”
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