Program Management

Your relationship with your electronic manufacturing services (EMS) provider will ideally be a long one. It’s an investment in time, resources, and trust to develop the relationship, and the longer it lasts, the more value can be derived from it. So, choosing an EMS provider is a major decision.

Perhaps the best means of evaluating the health of a contract manufacturing (CM) organization is to take the temperature of its program management. This article explains what the program management role is about, why it’s so critical, and why it may be the best indicator of a CM’s overall health.

What is Program Management?

Program managers in EMS organizations must be exceptionally well rounded in terms of skills and understanding of the manufacturing process. They are responsible for ushering projects through the manufacturing cycle, from initial project start-up through to delivery. That includes managing aspects of operations, finance, procurement, design review, production, cost management, quality management, risk management, and more.

In addition to this broad skill set, they must also be adept at problem-solving and leadership as the projects under their purview pass through all facets of the manufacturing organization with the goal of being on time and on budget.

During the scope of a given project, the assigned Program Manager will:

  • Act as the customer’s first and single point of contact throughout the project
    • Identify the customer’s goals, needs, and key issues
    • Liaise between the customer and the manufacturing organization as the design is reviewed for manufacturability, assembled, tested, and shipped
    • Work with the customer and the manufacturing organization to understand potential risks
  • Manage the budget and project schedule
  • Provide logistical support
    • Ensure the product’s documentation is complete
    • Manage the quoting process through final pricing
    • Create and execute necessary contracts with the customer, and with suppliers
    • See the project transition to the manufacturing organization
    • Liaise on technical issues between the customer and the manufacturing organization
  • Trouble-shoot issues that may arise during manufacturing/test/quality assurance, and work to create solutions to meet delivery and budgetary goals
  • Foster continuous improvement
    • Conduct periodic program status reviews and post-mortems for continuous improvement
    • Work with customers on an ongoing basis on business planning, volume forecasting, inventory management, and more
    • Coordinating and overseeing after-market services, such as repairs, returns, and warranties.

How to Evaluate Effective Program Management

Program management is a combination of technical, business, and soft skills – but it’s the “soft” skills that carry the greatest weight in terms of the success of a manufacturing project and its overall management. You may think that soft skills are tricky to evaluate, but not if you know what to look for. Consider these four things when evaluating the success of a contract manufacturer’s program management:

  1. Tenure/attrition: what is the organization’s track record for retaining project managers over the long term? Because the role is people-focused and leadership-oriented, this is an indicator of the health of the organization overall, as well as the effectiveness of the program managers on board.
  2. Organizational health: a CM needs effective program management to be successful, and program managers need a high-functioning organization to be successful in their roles. Can the organization demonstrate long-term stability? Manufacturing is a notoriously cyclical industry, with regular highs and lows every 5-7 years (and more frequently over the past decade). Has the organization been able to stay above water, continue to provide high quality, and retain customers for at least a decade? Will they provide you with proof of that?
  3. Customer satisfaction: what is the organization’s customer satisfaction rating? Does the CM make satisfaction evaluations and/or regular customer business reviews part of its business process? Does it document and follow up on satisfaction surveys?
  4. Relationships: does the CM have strong internal and external relationships? Beware if you are never able to witness the organization’s manufacturing operations or supply relationships. When evaluating a CM – and at any point during a project – you should expect to be toured through the manufacturing facility. How does the program manager interact with those on the shop floor? How does the manufacturing staff relate to the program manager? In an open-book organization, it is also normal to expect that you may have meetings with the chosen suppliers. What is the mood and quality of communication between the manufacturer and supplier in those meetings? Is the supplier willing to go out of its way to meet your needs because there is trust and respect between them and your CM?

Value-Add Qualities

As mentioned earlier, a low turn-over rate in program management staff is an indication of the quality of the overall management and of the organization. It provides continuity to customers and demonstrates an organization that functions well.

Certification and/or experience are also indicators of the quality of program management you will receive.

  • A program manager may have previous experience in engineering, design, operations, procurement, or any other facet of the manufacturing ecosystem. They themselves may have owned or run organizations within the manufacturing ecosystem.
  • Certification in program management indicates a commitment by both the organization and the individual to the importance of the role. For example, OCM Manufacturing has program managers qualified by the IPC as Certified Electronics Program Managers (CEMP).

In a high-mix environment like OCM Manufacturing, program managers and manufacturing staff also offer the benefit of experience across diverse product lines and industries. Through cross-pollination, they can often be very creative in finding cost-effective solutions to challenges that may arise in product design, labour requirements, supply challenges, and inventory management.

Take Our Temperature

At OCM Manufacturing, we are proud of our track record of program management and quality over a quarter century. We invite you – whether you are currently a customer or are shopping for a CM – to take our temperature in person, by meeting with us touring our facility. Please contact us >>