#10 Manufacturing Digital Transformation, Done Light

Chris Luecke Manufacturing Digital Transformation, Done Light

Welcome to the Design to Product Podcast!
In this interview episode, we talked to Chris Luecke.

Chris Luecke is a podcaster and founder at Manufacturing Happy Hour and Business Leader at Fiix software. We talked about driving digital transformation in the manufacturing industry and overcoming challenges in making it happen, how can companies lnow what to focus on, and more.

Today we talked about:

  • Topics that Manufacturing Happy Hour discusses
  • Digital transformation in manufacturing
  • Things to focus into when transforming digitization
  • Technologies to consider
  • What leadership is all about


Adar: Our guest today is Chris Luecke. Chris is a podcaster and founder of Manufacturing Happy Hour, and he’s a business leader at Fiix Software. Hello, Chris. 

Chris: Hey, Dar. I’m glad to be here.

Adar: Yeah, I’m glad to have you and we wanted to have this conversation for a long time now, and I think maybe the best question to start with is just what is Manufacturing Happy Hour? What do you do? 

Chris: So Manufacturing Happy Hour is a podcast where each week I interview leaders in the manufacturing industry or leaders that have lessons for manufacturing leaders, and we take on the biggest trends and technologies that impact manufacturers. So sometimes that’s digital transformation, like we’re going to talk about today, other times that, hey, how do we improve diversity in the manufacturing space? Or even new ideas like, hey, is a four day work week versus a five day work week in manufacturing possible? So we cover a lot of topics that might be on the mind of, let’s say, a manufacturing executive or an operations leader, but also the people that are new to the manufacturing space, young go getters that are just starting their careers but are open to new ideas and want to make an impact at their organization. So the way my audience has described the show before is it’s like a combination of TEDx meets how it’s made. It’s as much a leadership podcast as it is a manufacturing podcast. 

Adar: That’s nice. So a very good concept. I think that it’s a good way to bring new ideas to the audience and the manufacturing industry and just talk about things that might affect the industry.

Chris: Absolutely.

Adar: So what’s your mission and passion in Manufacturing Happy Hour? 

Chris: So if I were to summarize it in one sentence, and there’s obviously deeper, there’s more to this. But my one sentence answer to that is I help manufacturers tell their story to their ideal customer audience. That’s really to give you an idea of where Manufacturing Happy Hour started, I had worked as a salesperson for Rockwell Automation in Houston, Texas for a number of years, and that’s, let’s say, more of an old school selling market. Face to face meetings, handshakes, relationships. I moved to the Bay Area, where it’s flipped on its head. We all have our Silicon Valley stereotypes, and a lot of those are based on truth. You’re working with a young audience of decision makers in their late 20s, early 30s, and they’re probably not going to stay at their company their whole career. They’ll probably jump jobs every two to three years. So I needed a new way to reach that audience. So I created a video series where the video series, that was the foundation of the podcast, Manufacturing Happy Hour, where we talk about a tech topic over a beer in a short video, because I knew that was a way to reach that audience, because, quite frankly, I was part of that audience. I was a late 20s, early 30s person out there, and that’s how I consumed content. So really, that evolved into, hey, how can I help more people tell their story. It evolved into an interview podcast, and we talked a lot about technology in the manufacturing space, and it’s an important topic. We have to talk about that. But I think sometimes we forget about the human element in all of that. The timeless leadership lessons, the things that manufacturing leaders that have been in the industry for maybe 5, 10, 20 years, or maybe leaders that have come from different industries can teach us. So it’s really meant to, as I like to say, we’re trying to have a candid conversation on Manufacturing Happy Hour. The way we would do it is if we were having a drink at a bar. We simplify it. We get real with one another. And the idea is that, hey, in doing that, people not only get to know the companies that appear on the show, but the people that are behind those businesses as well.

Adar: Yeah, fascinating. Sometimes we forget that we speak to people, that everything is just people and the faces and the stories, and we all love stories. That’s how our brains are wired. And I think that’s very interesting that you came from, you’re a young person yourself. You understood that we need another way to market, to talk to your audience, to deliver the content, and that’s a good way to start it. So speaking of which, we wanted to talk about digital transformation, and probably a lot of it is driven by younger generations. So maybe we can start with what is digital transformation for you in manufacturing, specifically?

Chris: Yeah, and this may end up being a theme of the way I answer some of your questions, but I guess my one sentence answer to what is digital transformation? It’s leveraging digital technologies to achieve an outcome. And that last word in that sentence is most important. It should be outcome based, I think with a lot of digital transformations, or let’s say digital transformations that never get off the ground at manufacturers, the overwhelm of all the options and technologies that are out there can get people stuck. They may never start, they may find themselves in what we call pilot purgatory, where you do a pilot, but you never really scale it. Where I think it’s important is to go into it knowing what outcome you want to achieve. And I think the term digital transformation usually implies something big.  An enterprise wide true transformation where the goal is something achievable, but it’s going to take a lot of work across the organization, like increasing profitability, reducing lead times, improving quality. You might need to do some significant technology infrastructure upgrades. You might need to do some physical infrastructure upgrades and build a new plant to leverage some of that new technology. So that’s on the big end. That’s a big digital transformation. But a new term that you actually got me thinking about yesterday when we were recording our episode of Manufacturing Happy Hour was Digital Transformation light. Like a light beer, for example. I’m sticking with my personal brand here, and that could be something simple like digitizing a maintenance strategy. Just taking your maintenance team off of organizing their preventative maintenance tasks and spreadsheets and moving that into a cloud based platform. Very similar to what you do at Jiga. You’re helping purchasing departments that might be managing their applications on spreadsheets, and you’re giving them tools that allow them to do their jobs most effectively. So to summarize, hey, digital transformations can be big and small. It could be enterprise wide, it could be just in a single department. But the reality is you got to focus on the outcomes, and the technologies are just things that get you there.

Adar: Digital light. Well, I really like this term and am happy to have a small part in this inspiration to it. Yeah, definitely. Leveraging technologies to achieve an outcome is a very interesting way to describe it. And I wonder, like, how do I know what outcome I need to focus on? How do I know what opportunity should I focus on? Whether it would be cost reduction or profitability or efficiency? We all know that we want to save costs and increase revenue, but how do I know? Where should I put the emphasis? 

Chris: Yeah, this might be a pretty basic answer, but as a salesperson, I’m always looking for, hey, what’s the biggest pain point. Maybe we want to increase profitability, improve quality, and reduce lead times. Maybe we want to do all these things, but let’s focus on the one that maybe is the biggest opportunity for us right now, or one that’s a really low hanging fruit opportunity. Something that, hey, if we did these couple of things, we could make a dent in our quality in a six month period. Or, hey, maybe an increasing profitability project is going to take two to three years. Probably still worth doing. In fact, maybe even that six month quality improvement project is part of that. But look at the areas. I think the biggest thing is every big digital transformation is going to have a lot of those little digital light transformations in there as well. So I would say Business Leadership 101, prioritize. look at where the biggest pain points are, look at where the lowest hanging fruit is and prioritize from there. I think the biggest thing is you don’t want to get stopped by looking at the overwhelming problem and say, well, we’re just not going to do anything. Take the little bits and pieces and work from there. 

Adar: So don’t get the analysis paralysis, start by in small bites and go from there. I really like this because as you mentioned, I feel that transformation is sometimes really scary and there are all sorts of opportunities, all sorts of things to do. And possibly it’s better to start with small bites, small things that you know, that can be better and start researching around that, make that small change, and then it would get you hungry for more and start making maybe get more buying from other people who would want to make other changes. So that’s the way to start it instead of trying to make this huge change at the start. I think that’s a great tip for other aspects in life as well. 

Chris: I agree. And I think what you said where it’s about getting by and along the way. If you take in little bits and pieces, you’re not going to have an entire workforce, an entire manufacturing plant that’s like, worried or concerned about this transformation, changing their way of life or changing the way they do things. Those individuals are going to get to see it in process as it goes through. And by the way, this answer is all assuming that digital transformation is a top down approach, which we can get into that more later, but you’re right, it absolutely gains the buy-in of the other people that are within this organization that might not be the ones initially driving the transformation. 

Adar: What kind of technologies do companies need to consider? What kind of aspects in their manufacturing business are usually places where they can find inefficiencies or find ways that they can digitize? 


Chris: Yeah, I’m going to address the technology part in just a second. I’m going to back up a couple of steps. One of the lessons that I learned early from some of the leaders that have embarked on their digital transformation journey as vice presidents of operations across their companies. It’s about people, processes and technology. And getting those first two is key before you start trying to figure out, okay, what technology is going to do this for us. So my first answer to that is like hey, start figuring out what are going to be the incremental changes for the people that are on the plant floor talking about digital transformation manufacturing. And start working with them to help them understand how their lives are going to be better, how they’re going to be easier. Whatever it might be. By leveraging this new type of technology. And then you got to have the process in place. Like, if you don’t have the right culture in a company where people are going to leverage the new tools that are put out there I use this term all the time a new whiz bang technology just ends up being a digital paperweight. It ends up being a system that you have, you’re subscribed to, you’re paying the monthly fee, you pay the upfront installation cost, but you’re not using it. So I’ll use the maintenance example. I tell maintenance leaders that when they’re digitizing their maintenance, they need to make sure, hey, hopefully you have some processes in place where your team is already logging what they do for maintenance. Maybe it’s in a spreadsheet, maybe it’s on a whiteboard but obviously it’s not the newest way to do it. But at least they have that habit in there where all you’re giving them at that point is a new tool to do that. So, you know, if we want to get into the tools that are helping people with their digital transformation, there’s a lot of augmented reality technology out there that allows people at a manufacturing workstation to really have all the instructions right in front of their eyes when they’re doing their job. We’ve talked about tools for purchasing. We’ve talked about tools for maintenance, those basic solutions that are there. I think the biggest thing I would say when you get to that point and this is important. Think about the people. Think about the processes first. But when you get to technology, what you want to think about is scalability. If I’m a manufacturer in this day and age, as the world consolidates, I’m probably thinking of what can I apply to this next facility easily? What can I apply to our partner facility down the road really easily? I’m going to be thinking scalability. I’m going to be looking very closely at that in terms of whatever solutions I’m looking at, whether it’s a big enterprise wide manufacturing execution system or whether it’s a small system for the plant that I’m in today. 

Adar: So, think about scalability. And I really like what you say about that first. It’s a cultural thing. It’s about the people. You can have the best technology, but if no one uses it, then no one adopts it. So it just stays there and you bought something for nothing. So you really have to get that adoption and make sure that it scales across the organization. 

Chris: Absolutely. If I were to summarize the technology answer, scalability is the key thing to look at. Like, you need something that won’t just work in our one department or in our one facility. You got to look at, hey, this is something that’s going to be easy to expand if it works out really well for us. 

Adar: Yeah, ease of use. We talked about buy-in a little bit and stakeholder buying. So do you have any ideas about how do you drive change in the company, how to navigate different stakeholders and get their buy-in to apply digital technologies in the manufacturing organization? 

Chris: Yeah, this is a really good question because I think the answer is changing. I feel like when we’ve talked about the manufacturing industry for a long time and we talk about digital transformation, I even said it at the start of this conversation, a lot of these are top down driven. There’s a leader that wants to make a change throughout the organization for all the right reasons and needs to get buy-in from other people throughout the organization. What I think is changing is now I can say this is a podcaster, about 25% of my listeners are entry level folks, people just starting their career that are taking time out of their day to listen to a manufacturing podcast. What that means is there is the next generation coming into the manufacturing workforce where in the past, I feel like we always talked about it’s, okay, there’s this executive, and she’s got a great idea for this new transformation, this new technology that’s going to change the organization. Now she needs to get buy-in from all these people on the plant floor that have been working there for 20-30 years. I think what we’re seeing change is that there are probably some people on the plant. In fact, I know there are people on the plant floor that are younger, that their expectation is, hey, I want it to work just like this iPhone or just like this tablet that I use at home. And they’re looking at maybe some of the antiquated technologies that are out there, and they’re like, gosh, there’s got to be a better way to do this, right? Like, if I can order a taxi from my phone or if I can order food from my phone or watch whatever I want whenever I want on my phone, surely I should be able to access data that’s relevant to my job from anywhere as well. So where I’m going with this is how do you get buy-in? Well, hey, I think it goes back to one of the things I said earlier where: start showing the micro improvements, how it makes life easier, better for the people that are working on the plant floor manufacturing. But don’t discount the fact that they’re probably going to be some folks out on your plant floor that are saying, yeah, I’m ready for a change. Like, look at what we’re using today. This is going to allow us to do it so much better. I’m already used to doing stuff like this in my personal life. I will help you champion that change as well. So I think we’re early in this paradigm shift, but I don’t want it to sound like this is always going to be a top down thing. As the workforce gets younger, as baby boomers retire, you’re going to have a lot of fresh ideas coming from all angles within your manufacturing facilities. 

Adar: What you said is very interesting. I think that’s a very big shift in how organizations buy in general. Not only manufacturing there’s this big shift of people not driving change, only top down. There’s not this executive who is just saying, yeah, buy this software. This is what you’re going to use, and that’s it. Executives are now looking at driving these consensus from their employees, from the people beneath them. And I think that’s one thing that’s very important for a person who makes the decision to change, whether he’ll have the adoption from his team, from the people that work with him or her. And I think that many times I see it in my company that many times the change comes from the bottom, from the people who understand the process, who do it, and then they suggest to do things differently. And this allows the manager to understand, hey, I’m not touching this. But now I got the opportunity to see, here is something that can be improved. And I didn’t even think about it because I’m not doing it in my day to day, but the employee, the person who works with me, asked to make that change and this is a great piece of information. So maybe a practical tip here, if you’re a manager, you can talk to your employees and get them to tell you about inefficiencies or opportunities to get better. This could be a very practical way for you to understand, here is how you can change.

Chris: I 100% agree with that and Adar, I’m glad you brought that up because I kind of glossed over that a little bit. I’ve been talking about, hey, there’s a lot of topdown drivers to digital transformation, but a good leader, that leader isn’t going to go in thinking that he or she knows how to do everything. A leader that is good at what they do, is humble, they’re going to go out, they’re going to listen to the people that they work with to figure out, okay, what is causing everyone here pain right now? What are the things that could be better? So really a good leader is first going to do all that research to say, hey, from what I understand, from what you’ve told me, all you people that are part of our work family here, you brought up some great points. Here are ways where I think we can work together to improve this. So I love bringing up the feedback from the whole team as you’re also doing it at Jiga right now. 

Adar: Yeah. And I think that good leadership is about empowering the people that you work with and have them make the decisions sometimes and have them call the shots sometimes. That’s a good way to enable things to happen. You don’t want to just be the only one who talks and don’t listen to the people who work with you.

Chris: Absolutely. 

Adar:I think that it’s interesting for me to also learn from your experience. You interview a lot of people about how they drive change and how they drive innovation, efficiency, what examples did you see? What did you learn from your guests? 

Chris: It goes back to a couple of things we’ve talked about today. Getting feedback from the team. Going in, doing your research, knowing that you as a leader don’t necessarily have all the answers. You got to get the team together. I think one thing that jumps out is because our topics about digital transformation today, it’s getting the right people in the same room that might not always be in the same room. I think that I just heard it from someone I was interviewing earlier this week about the way they lead their sales team. I’ve heard about it from the way people embark on digital transformations. Let’s just talk in terms of digital transformation. If you’re doing a digital transformation, you’re going to need people from IT, and you’re going to need people from operations technology on the plant floor working together. I think one area where I see digital transformations of all shapes and sizes, even if it’s just one piece of new technology, my goodness, there’s always this finger pointing where operations want one thing, but they’re like, oh, well, it is saying no. Get that out of the way. Get those people in the same room talking to one another. I think that’s one of the biggest takeaways I’ve gotten from the podcast. Because if I look at that from recent interviews, from old interviews, whether someone’s leading a sales team or leading operations. I think that’s a common thread I’ve seen from the leaders that are pulling people together that might not always be talking to one another on a regular basis but should as technology and companies evolve. 

Adar: This is so key. Different departments, they don’t always talk together, they don’t always collaborate. It’s cross functional. There are processes that run across people that don’t communicate and collaborate regularly, even if they’re in the same function. And I also see that with Jiga. We touch engineering, we touch procurement, and we touch IT sometimes. And these people don’t always work and collaborate and you have to get them sometimes in the same room to drive that efficiency. And that’s so important for organizations to change, to be able to have these people who sometimes have different incentives or different KPIs and make them speak in the same language. And I think that’s a great tip to wrap up our episode. Chris, how can people access Manufacturing Happy Hour and see more of your content?

Chris: Yeah, so if you just search Manufacturing Happy Hour on whatever podcast platform you listen to, Itunes, Spotify, we’re on all the niche ones as well. It’ll pop up. Also, manufacturing happy hour.com is a great spot. It’s got links to all the different spots you can listen to, show notes from all our past episodes. We just passed the 100 episode mark. So if you’re just tuning in today, we got plenty for you to listen to, to catch up on, but also I would say, hey, connect with me on LinkedIn as well. Name is Chris Luecke. Last name six letters. It’s L-u-e-c-k-e. You can follow the show there. I’d love to connect with anyone that listened to this episode and hear your feedback and hear your experiences on your own digital transformation journey. So those are a few ways to connect with me. 

Adar: And I can share from experience. This is how we initially connected via LinkedIn. So definitely a great connection. Chris Luecke, thank you so much for being with us today. It was fun.

Chris: Thank you, Adar. This has been a really good interview. Cheers.