Focus on Business

Teams are overworked and on the edge. How to combat the slide.

One of my favorite bosses pointed out that a contract is only as good as the intent of the parties who sign it. Yes, you can haul a party in breach of contract into court or arbitration, but the resolution rarely completely fixes the issue, and in many cases parties breach agreements with no consequences. Nowhere is that more evident than in today’s semiconductor industry. You’ll get parts when they arrive even when there was a commitment for an earlier date; they may cost more than the agreed-upon price; and the order is noncancellable regardless of how many previously agreed-upon terms change. In short, one party has no intent to adhere to the terms of its agreements, and market conditions will likely enable that behavior to continue indefinitely with no consequences.

This type of environment can be as contagious as the most recent Covid variant. Customer service and honoring commitments are sliding across the board. Last month, I listened to a gate agent lecture a 6 a.m. flyer who foolishly thought she could get to her destination in a single day, saying the airline wasn’t obligated to put her on a different airline until she had been stuck in transit for 48 hours. Separately, three contractors I called for glass cutting informed me that they couldn’t commit to a time for quoting or delivery but would a call an hour before they arrived. One finally did call back a week later and got the job. The other two still haven’t called back. When all competitors in a market are getting away with behaving badly, mediocrity thrives.

Read more: Stopping the Spread of Customer Service Mediocrity

Susan Mucha

Strategic conversations are key to sustaining existing business.

The current business environment is creating two significant challenges for mid-tier electronics manufacturing services companies at a strategic planning level. The first is program management workload. Material exceptions have become the norm, and program teams have become highly reactive to respond to changing program variables. Second, material constraints are causing OEMs to keep projects at their current suppliers and push out launch plans on new products. Taken together, planning for account growth beyond what is automatically going in the pipeline based on spikes in existing demand may not be a great use of program management time.

While it is unlikely a significant number of projects will be awarded in the short term, a lot of dynamics in the background make strategically assessing larger accounts an important activity right now. These include:

Read more: Handling Program Management Workload and Material Constraints

Sue Mucha

Tips to avoid burnout while applying resources to mitigate the impact of two years of Covid.

By the time this is published, we will have been working in “Covid new normal mode” for nearly two years, which means EMS program teams have been working under extreme stress for longer than most physical bodies can handle. This is creating two big dangers: physical damage caused by exposure to long-term stress and disappointing customers becoming acceptable because so many variables are outside of the program team’s control.

In the ’80s, one of the management associations I belonged to had a stress management seminar built around the movie Twelve O’Clock High. The movie is set in England in WWII and follows a new squadron commander from his optimistic arrival through his total burnout. The seminar focused on behavior changes related to command stress in situations where the odds were against most crews surviving, including a rise in irritability, an increase in alcohol consumption, insomnia and a breakdown in decision-making. The commander in the movie experienced a physical and mental breakdown.

Read more: Alleviating Stress and Avoiding the Cult of Mediocrity

Susan Mucha

Be quick with customer forecast review meetings when orders slow.

I believe 2022 will be a pivotal year for most electronics manufacturing services (EMS) providers. Material lead-time and availability issues are slightly improving, and supply-chain executives are cautiously optimistic about a return to normal in mid-year as demand levels out and additional chip manufacturing capacity comes online. That said, a return to normal brings its own set of challenges, if past cycles of this nature are considered. It is particularly important for EMS program managers to start considering the issues likely to come with a mid-year pivot:

  • Forecasts on some products may drop substantially. While component manufacturers, distributors and EMS companies typically have checks and balances to identify situations where customers have increased forecasts as a hedge against allocation, uncharacteristic demand spikes make those controls iffy at best. Most EMS companies have orders into 2022 and exceptionally high levels of inventory in-house. Any downward trend in forecasts should trigger a forecast review meeting with the customer to determine how rapidly orders and inventory levels need to be adjusted.

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