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Paul T Kidd's Agility Pages

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Agile Manufacturing Enterprise Strategy


Paul T. Kidd
Cheshire Henbury

It has been evident since the 1970s that mass production economies have been in crisis. Since 1970 observers and thinkers have been describing the emergence of a post-mass production economy and the associated characteristics of a post-mass production enterprise. With the collapse of mass/lean production oriented competitive conditions a need has arisen to develop new types of enterprises capable of dealing with and thriving in a complex and ever changing business environment ? enterprises that can continually reinvent themselves. The strategic vision is therefore the development of enterprises totally committed to embracing the emerging business environment. This involves creating a strategy that moves enterprises forward in three interrelated areas:

1. The niche enterprise - develop and exploit capabilities to thrive and prosper in the face of increasing diversity arising from individual customers, markets and to deal with wider issues of a fragmenting and diverse world;

2. The knowledge-based enterprise - develop and exploit capabilities to use knowledge and information for sustainable competitive advantage (in effect acknowledging information and knowledge as a source of wealth);

3. The agile (or adaptive) enterprise - develop and exploit capabilities to thrive and prosper in a changing, nonlinear, uncertain and unpredictable business environment.

Agile manufacturing takes its name from the last of these three interrelated areas. However, agility is just one component of a 21st century manufacturing enterprise strategy - the issues of knowledge-based and niche enterprise need also to be considered and most importantly, the interrelationships between the three elements addressed.

The key points to understand are:

1. Agile manufacturing is a strategy aimed at developing capabilities (the enterprise platform) to prosper in the next century. In this respect it is similar to a manufacturing strategy in that it should support business and marketing strategies. However, these strategies also need to be modified to take advantage of agile manufacturing capabilities.

2. As a strategy, agile manufacturing is concerned with objectives, structures, processes and resources and not with individual point solutions, particular technologies, methods, etc. considered in isolation.

3. The emphasis is on designing the enterprise as a whole so that certain characteristics are achieved and not on the piecemeal adoption of quick fixes, prescriptions and panaceas.

4. Agile manufacturing may require some current best practices, lean production concepts, technologies and taken-for-granted assumptions to be re-evaluated, modified or even abandoned.

5. In the same way that mass-production marginalised many craft-based firms, agile manufacturing is likely to marginalise many mass production firms, even those with lean production enhancements.

6. One of the biggest problems to overcome is the misunderstandings that lean and agile are synonymous. They are not, although most of what is portrayed as agile is in fact lean.


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