Audience Opinion Piece

Four Questions Leaders Should Ask to Accelerate the Adoption of Industry 4.0

By Mike Ungar, Business Coach & Executive Coach, FocalPoint

In my early days as a Manager, I would go to my boss to ask questions about what he would like to see done about the various challenges we were facing in the factory.  One day he stopped me.  “Instead of you always asking me the questions and expecting me to give you the answers, I should be the one asking you the questions and you giving me the answers.”

As a middle manager, I had fallen into the trap of expecting others to give me the answers.  As a leader and teacher, my manager was correct.  To develop and empower individuals and teams, the leader should be asking questions and looking for others to provide the answers.  Leaders empower and develop their subordinates by asking questions and then appropriately challenging their subordinate’s thought processes to enhance their skills.  This same questioning approach should be used to drive the adoption of Industry 4.0.

Many manufacturing leaders have established Industry 4.0 labs to expose their teams to the emerging Industry 4.0 tools.  Most often, the exploration in these labs proves that these new tools create better results than the old tried and true approaches.  Yet, Industry 4.0 tools are slow to make it into the production environment.  To develop an Industry 4.0 mindset and accelerate the use of Industry 4.0 tools, leaders should be asking four basic questions.

1. What is the problem or opportunity that needs to be solved?

Regardless of the types of tools used to solve problems (e.g., Industry 4.0 tools, Lean tools, Six Sigma tools), leaders must develop within their factories the skills to define problems or opportunities with a focus on identifying the root cause.  Often, especially in high-speed operations, individuals are quick to do something to address an issue without being intentional about identifying the root cause.  The result in these situations is that the problem is not solved and must be addressed again.  Deploying an Industry 4.0 tool to a problem that is incorrectly defined increases the likelihood that the solution will fail, and the Industry 4.0 tool will be discredited as ineffective.  Learning how to define the root cause of a problem is essential to successful deployment of Industry 4.0 tools.

2. What are the alternatives that have been considered to solve this problem?

People are creatures of habit.  They tend to rely on things they know will work.  If it worked before, they assume it will work now and for the sake of speed quickly adopt the old approach.  New approaches and tools must be considered.  A leader must challenge the team to consider alternative approaches to solve their problems or address their opportunities.  This question should drive subordinates to explore new approaches and create a culture where several alternatives, including Industry 4.0 tools, are considered.

3. What was learned that should be shared with others?

Due to time constraints and the many challenges on the factory floor, things that are learned by solving one problem are not shared with others.  Leaders must create a learning environment, one that not only solves root cause issues efficiently and effectively, but that also shares what was learned with others.  This will accelerate the adoption of new technologies and tools.  Seeing someone else’s success with a new approach makes it easier for an individual to use this new approach for the first time.

4. What are you doing to develop yourself?

Everyone in an organization, whether on the front line of an operation or in the C-suite, should be driven to improve and add to their skills.  The skills required to create success in a factory today will not be sufficient in the future.  A leader should ask each person in the organization to have a personal development plan. Encouraging individuals to learn more about Industry 4.0 tools is appropriate, and for some factories might even become a significant part of each person’s development plan.

Adopting new Industry 4.0 tools can be challenging.  Despite lower costs for these tools as technology has evolved, their adoption is slow or non-existent.  Leaders are asking themselves what they should be doing to accelerate the adoption of Industry 4.0 tools.  First, expose teams to the technology through internal labs, external visits, or conferences.  While this is a necessary step, it is not sufficient.  Leaders must also be asking individuals and teams four key questions to help accelerate the use and adoption of Industry 4.0 tools.  It is through these questions that leaders will develop in their subordinates effective problem-solving skills and create a strong learning environment that embraces new Industry 4.0 tools to help achieve business goals.

Mike Ungar, Business Coach & Executive Coach, FocalPoint

With a range of experience in government, manufacturing, engineering and IT, David has developed a strong operational skillset in highly matrixed, cross-functional teams with a sharp focus on “how we work”. He is a proven leader well-known for making transformational changes across broad teams, individual's work experience and product competitiveness. David's latest role was Interim CIO for Engineering within GE Vernova's Gas Power. He is currently an IT product manager driving partnership and outcomes for the business through Data, Analytics and Optimization ranging from Business Intelligence to custom software and ML. Through these experiences he has developed a deep passion for marrying process change with data to drive business value.