Tactical or strategic

Whether plant engineering and maintenance are considered tactical or strategic in your plant or company can make a world of difference in how you fit into the big picture. Tactical goals and decisions are based on carrying out strategic goals and decisions. Thus, your participation at the strategic level determines much of what you can do at the tactical level.
By Richard L. Dunn Editor November 15, 2002

Whether plant engineering and maintenance are considered tactical or strategic in your plant or company can make a world of difference in how you fit into the big picture.

Tactical goals and decisions are based on carrying out strategic goals and decisions. Thus, your participation at the strategic level determines much of what you can do at the tactical level.

Many business managers are now beginning to understand the critical role that plant engineering and maintenance play in the ability to produce product profitably. As a result, we’re seeing an elevation of that role from tactical to strategic.

One area in which this evolution is exemplified is the incorporation of maintenance modules into enterprise resources planning (ERP) software or the integration of CMMS programs with such software. (See “Information Engineering” by Tom Singer on p 34 in this issue.) To be sure, the ERP developers have their own commercial reasons for doing this. But it is also testimony that ERP is incomplete without taking the necessity of well-managed plant engineering and maintenance into account.

Of course, no one is going to come to the plant engineer, tap him with a magic wand and say, “Presto! You are now strategic.” But that’s the direction in which things are headed. It’s also up to plant engineers to meet the challenge by learning to manage a strategic business unit and relating their goals to the enterprise business goals.

Tom Williams, manager, North America plant engineering, 3M Company, speaks of five strategic areas that plant engineers should track:

  • Environmental, safety, health, and energy — rightfully belongs as the top priority in every plant’s operations

  • Financial indicators — how you’re doing against departmental and enterprise financial objectives

  • Equipment performance — typically the area receiving the most attention, but not necessarily the most strategic

  • Work management — often the most difficult area to bring under control, but essential for long-range improvement

  • Resource management (workforce and materials) — critical to the success of any strategic plan.

    • Constant attention to these categories of performance will help make you a strategic member of management, someone who is helping shape the future of the plant or company and not just a tactical reactionary to the strategic plans of others.