There’s a semester’s worth of MBA case studies in the recent WSJ article about Stanley Black & Decker’s closure of a Texas manufacturing plant. It’s worth the long read:

I bought my first Craftsman screwdriver in 1981. At a Sears store. In the mall. With cash money. Anachronism Bingo! The Craftsman brand was legendary for durable quality at a median price point and prized for its lifetime guaranty. A triumph of substance over style. Which makes the failure of their wrench-making plant after only 3 years all the more disappointing.

The plant, designed to be highly automated and competitive with off-shore labor costs, was announced with great fanfare in 2019. The original press release name-checked sustainability, resource consumption, Industry 4.0 smart factory, and US production. Unfortunately, no one tested the equipment, sourced from Belarus, or involved experienced tool designers, or studied the manufacturing process in detail. This was a plant designed not for products or employees or customers, but for PowerPoint and press releases.

Contrast with Craftsman competitor Snap-On, which is cited in the article as reducing the ratio of workers-to-robots (a really interesting KPI!) from 100:1 in 2010 down to 8:1 in 2023. Efficiency hard-earned by quiet, successive improvements to optimize processes.

Those who wish to seem…and those who wish to be.

To be fair, Stanley deserves credit for at least trying. Advanced automation is table-stakes, and the bar keeps going up in manufacturing, services, logistics and just about every other commercial endeavor. But Subject Matter matters. Technology without expertise is a broken arrow.

Three questions come to mind:
1. Are your business people and technical experts also systems thinkers who understand enough about technology to conceive and guide smart applications?
2. Do your technologists understand your business and its inherent constraints?
3. Are your projects planned for public relations or for specific, measurable, incremental gains in core competency which accumulate with the Agile cycles?

BTW, I never had to invoke that lifetime guaranty. I still use that screwdriver today. Impact drivers are fine for deck screws and lug nuts, but there is no substitute for feeling the threads tighten with your fingertips.