Are You Nimble? Are You Quick? The Imperative of Responding Quickly to Change

In our November 2012 article, Navigating Uncertainty: Planning for Growth and Success in 2013, we provided seven tips for making plans in turbulent times. Now that the New Year is in full force, we’re going to examine one critical aspect of achieving success once annual plans are developed and adopted. Specifically, responding to change.

Manufacturers are certainly no strangers to the need for agility, flexibility and speed. Since the onset of mass customization, industries have had to find ways to address the demand for variety along with the assumption of timely fulfillment – no matter what. This pressure-cooker equation requires business processes, such as planning and scheduling, to be capable of extremely short lead times. In fact, the goal is an almost real-time response.

Adding to all this is the reality that manufacturers can’t let even the most unpredictable event halt business if they want to remain competitive. While strategizing best responses to unexpected crises may not seem as imperative when the environment is relatively stable (during which “band-aid” solutions, such carrying extra inventory or padding schedules, may suffice), today’s more consistently volatile landscape requires serious pre-planning.

It’s not a stretch to say that profitability lives or dies with the manufacturer’s ability to react speedily and strategically.

So, what do manufacturers need to consider when working toward an improved change response?

Because the goal is rapid response to day-to-day changes in any variable of the manufacturing cycle – whether it’s change in demand, supply or product – the entire system needs to be examined. This means that working to assess and improve change response presents the opportunity to also scrutinize operations and performance overall and make needed improvements. Although this can be a significant undertaking, the result is often priceless in terms of the competitive advantage that comes from having deeper insight and making even small adjustments. Much simplified, here’s what the typical process generally looks like:

EXAMINE: External and Product Factors (and continue to monitor data)

  • Gauge customer demand
  • Ascertain supply chain conditions
  • Measure overall product quality

ANALYZE: Processes and & Systems (and create greater efficiency)

  • Analyze process efficiency (updating as needed)
  • Analyze systems seamlessness (updating as needed)
  • Determine level of collaboration between key team members and facilitate greater communication and joint problem solving
  • Assess enterprise resources and make needed changes
  • Address supply chain issues and brainstorm ways of increasing vendor Supplier reliability

IMAGINE: THE FUTURE (and conduct formal scenario planning)

  • Analyze multiple “what if” scenarios
  • Predict financial and logistical impact of each possible response to each “what if” scenario
  • Weigh alternative solutions based on pre-determined criteria
  • Create a “Future State” vision of your productivity and profitability improvements

While 2013 promises many speed bumps, manufacturers who are prepared for change will be able to take them at full speed, and will likely outperform the competition and perhaps earn the loyalty of new customers. However, being prepared necessitates making change response analysis a priority.

As always, we’d enjoy hearing your thoughts on improving change response (just use the comment form below). Specifically:

What is your company doing to improve agility, flexibility
and responsiveness given the current competitive landscape?

What do you think are the most effective
ways to manage changes in demand, supply and/or product?

We hired EFI Group to help us figure out a project and scope it, and I felt confident they would keep a keen eye on it. They had to deliver quickly and they did it well. They are especially good at project management when you don’t have the resources to do it internally. Reliability is the word I would use to describe EFI Group.
— Coatings Industry Professional
EFI Group is timely. We’ve had a lot of situations when we’ve been in a time crunch and they’ve responded very quickly. They are detail oriented and efficient. They’re a good group of people who also have a lot of strength in pre-engineering — the thought process to get to preliminary design and making sure we’ve investigated all the potential asks of a project to ensure we didn’t miss anything. They have great attention to detail up front which is very important to any project because having that detail-oriented deep dive into the pre-engineering phase sets the stage for the success of the rest of the project, making the process smoother and making it much easier to keep the project on schedule and on budget.
— Mike Quigley, Engineering & Maintenance Manager, Food Industry
I’ve worked with EFI Group for a while, so I know they have a good, knowledgeable staff. We know we’re going to get the results from them we expect. From my interactions with all the different EFI team members I’ve worked with, I know they have knowledge across many industries. Equally, I never have to follow up with EFI Group and, in some cases, they keep me on track.
— Ryan Fredsall, General Manager, Pacer Minerals LLC
We view EFI Group as a team that can dimensionalize our capability to execute projects. We can articulate what it is we want to do and they can take that input and run with it without much intervention from us. They’re able to move a project along independently and only engage us when it’s time to bring us up to speed or get more input to drive a project to conclusion. That’s one of the reasons I view them as an excellent contractor.
— Environmental Engineering Industry Professional
EFI Group has good engineers and good customer service. We know when we get an EFI engineer on a project, we’re going to a get a good job from them and it’s been a productive relationship for both of us — I genuinely like the people.
— Corporate Director, Project Management in Food & Flavors Industry
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