The production line approach to meeting design

I have always used the metaphor of a production line to explain the need for meeting design. I’ve always thought this was the perfect metaphor. Throughout my articles and presentations on meeting design I have used the production line metaphor to demonstrate that, without a “design” element, a standard product just rolls off the line, often with not much thought, love or specialisation.

Well, after a visit to two modern production lines in Germany (as part of a fantastic familiarisation trip to Dresden and Leipzig – you can read reviews of both of those fantastic cities) I have to find a new metaphor.

Unlike most of our events (which have scarcely changed in 20 years) a production line looks VERY different from the one I worked on during the long, painful, boring summers of the mid 1990s. I made laser printers (in case anyone was wondering…….)

The production line approach to Meeting Design

So, following those two trips to the VW Transparent Factory in Dresden and the Porsche Factory in Leipzig I have to redefine my view of the production process. Not only that, but event planners can actually learn from the modern day production line to run better events. So here’s what #EventProfs can learn from production lines!

1. Just In Time

The modern production facility is run on a “just in time” production process. Things arrive just before they are needed and don’t hang around for long. How the average event department needs a JIT approach! This would see an end to brochures, delegate bags, badges, lanyards and handouts littering the office.

2. A slow but deliberate process

What most surprised me on my visit to the production lines was the pace of the lines. I expected to see cars progressing speedily along the lines, with staff struggling to keep up (that’s how I remember production lines!) But no, it can best be described as a comfortable, even, leisurely pace. It is all about producing the quality of the product, not the numbers. One of the main issues event organisers have is keeping up with the number of events they have to manage. A similar quality first approach would really benefit our events.

A much slower pace than I imagined

3. Able to deal wth different models using the same systems

One of the strengths of a modern production line, is that it is able to deal with several different models on the same production line. All of the processes and procedures work, no matter the car that is being built.

One of the issues that I see while consulting for other event companies is the difficulty in managing a different type of event from the norm. Most departments are set up to deal with an exhibition or a conference. But throw in a gala dinner, or a golf day and the systems really struggle to cope. We have to ensure that our processes and procedures, our technology and our skills are adaptable to other demands.

4. Even specialised staff have different roles within the whole process

Staff were able to move from one task to the next and then on to another. The idea of one person doing the same thing all day long has gone from the world of manufacturing. Has is gone from the world of events?

5. Using technology alongside people

The production lines were hybrid lines; using both people and technology. Technology was brought in to support those workers on the line. It was a seamless process. Can we say the same about technology within our events?

I sometimes see technology used at an event that adds little value. And conversely, I often see technology that could make everyone’s life easier, just not being used. In terms of the integration of technology our industry could learn a lot from the modern production line.

6. Tailoring and a strong focus on the client

During our tour of the Porsche factory we saw a lot of cars being tailored for their buyer. Perhaps it was something as small as a different coloured badge or as big as the steering wheel on the other side of the vehicle. The team were able to tailor the product, very easily, for each client. I loved this aspect, and wonder how easy we find it to tailor our events for our clients?

7. Anyone can stop the production line

At any point of the production process any person on the line can call a halt. This is a very empowering approach. If you see an event company with a similar approach you can be assured that the quality of the product will be high. Conversely, how often have we put a programme together knowing that no-one is genuinely interested in the content? Or perhaps we’ve tried to sell a sponsorship package, that we know just isn’t going to work. Too often events press ahead when the “halt” button should have been pressed long ago. And not just by the Event Director!

8. Turn the boring into an experience

At the VW factory they have turned the boring old process of buying a car in to an experience. I remember accompanying my Dad to buy a car. The car was driven round the corner by a bloke in a dirty uniform. Keys thrown across the bonnet and my Dad patted on the back, before we drove off. That’s what many of our events are like. Here’s your event. Get on with it. How about we change our approach to “enjoy the experience”?

VW make a weekend of buying your car. VW will arrange everything for you and your family on a trip to Dresden. You can tour the factory, to see similar cars being made and then have lunch. After wetting your appetite your car is revealed in what looks like a gallery, not some mucky old forecourt. Your beautiful car appears before you, with lights flashing. It turns round 360 degrees on a revolving stage. To the music you have chosen! You are able to drive it out of the gallery straight to the electricity charging point, just outside the factory, before zooming off into the sunset.

Where the big reveal happens.

Of course the factory environment will never be the same as the office environment in which most of us produce our events. However there is clearly much to learn from ANY environment when we look at how other industries create their products and services.

I learned a lot from VW and Porsche. And I now need to find a new metaphor. Production lines just aren’t what they used to be. And neither will my events.

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