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production flexibility

Boost Production Flexibility with Frontline Skills

Production flexibility is the ability to react to change in your manufacturing operations. As a leader, here's how you can improve it with a highly skilled frontline and better skills management.

4 minutes read
Published on 24 January 2024 Updated on 23 May 2024

1. What is production flexibility?

2. What's the link between flexibility and skills?

3. Why is cross-training amazing for the frontline?

4. How does skills management improve shift planning?

5. What does a flexible production workflow look like?

6. How does flexibility boost manufacturing resilience?

What is production flexibility?

Production flexibility describes the ability of manufacturing operations to adapt to change.

From the ever-changing needs of the customer, to increased seasonal demand, to economic downturn, to increased turnover - flexible production is directly tied to resilience and better results in manufacturing. 

So how does frontline skills management play an integral role?

A competent frontline is a flexible frontline.

It’s been proven that a highly skilled frontline improves production flexibility.


Easy. Highly skilled people are better at dealing with new and changing circumstances.

The more skills your frontline teams develop, the better they can:

  • Solve new and complex problems in the production environment.

  • Adapt to changes in production reflecting (for example) a customer’s evolving needs and changing product specifications.

  • Respond and adapt to changing market conditions.

  • Integrate with new and better technologies - from new machines on the factory floor, to new productivity and connected worker tools.


frontline skills

But as a leader,  there’s also a direct impact on your daily operations when skills management is improved:

  • The ability to predict and close skills gaps. 

  • Flexing team members to a new role as needed.

  • Closely monitoring competencies across lines, teams, and sites.

  • Working with confidence - knowing errors and downtime will be reduced.

  • Manage training and upskilling in real-time.
As more powerful digital skills management tools arrive, these benefits are amplified.

Here’s how embracing digital skills management can increase production flexibility through a multi-faceted approach.


Frontline flexibility is amplified by cross-training.

What is cross-training or “multi-skilling?”

Simply put, it’s the idea that training and developing a wide range of skills will allow frontline teams to work flexibly across multiple roles and production lines.


When you upskill employees in their existing roles - meaning that you grow and expand their skillset for the job at hand - they can better react to new challenges in their daily flow. This growth also means that they can take on more responsibility in your operations. 

Example: Maintenance training. Teaching a machine operator to also perform routine maintenance tasks enables them to improve uptime, without relying on external technicians.


Similarly, reskilling your workforce into new roles is a great way to retain your talent and promote expert employees from within. But you’ll have the added benefit of a frontline workforce who can perform multiple functions and flex shifts in a pinch.

Example: Leadership training - you’ll have leaders who are deeply familiar with each and every one of your processes on a practical level. 

The end-result is frontline teams who can effectively switch between a multitude of tasks and roles, while understanding the “bigger picture” of your production operations. 

And when they’re inevitably flexed to meet demand during a busy period, their improved competency means that they’ll produce consistent results with high product quality.

Flexible production means spending less. 


Understanding frontline capabilities = better shift planning.

Imagine that you can see exactly which skills are possessed by each member of your team.

Now imagine that these capabilities were updated in real time with levels and certificates, giving you a holistic overview of your frontline capabilities.

Modern skills management tools do exactly this - and they’re at the core of effectively managing a modern manufacturing team.

Resources like a digital skills matrix - paired with employee skills portfolios - allow leaders to pinpoint and understand the capabilities of their teams at a glance.

This transparency maximizes the effectiveness of resource allocation and shift planning, while giving leaders the ability to double check that the right people are doing the right job.

  • This data is regularly validated by performing skills assessments, which can be connected directly to the skills management platform.

  • A digital skills matrix is a dynamic tool that eliminates the need for paper and complex matrices in Excel.

  • With cross-trained employees, manufacturers can adjust work hours and shift patterns to accommodate fluctuating production needs without compromising efficiency.

  • This overview is particularly important for seasonal and temporary employees, who spend a short time with an organization during a high-demand period. 


Zoom-in: Adaptable Production Workflows.

The shop floor changes constantly. This change can happen over years as customer demand and products evolve, or as new automated systems are integrated into the production environment.

But it can also occur several times per day on a given line, as production is adjusted to create different product variations.



Skilled teams and flexible production mean manufacturing resilience.

This can be as simple as upskilling or reskilling employees to adapt to new processes because of a new or changing product, as we covered above.

But leveraging these skills resources also means that manufacturers are able to respond more effectively to catastrophic global events like pandemics or periods of recession.

If demand changes or drops due to an economic crisis or global catastrophe, highly competent teams will be able to adjust more quickly and adapt to the new circumstances.

Example: It’s been repeatedly demonstrated that manufacturers who embraced flexibility during COVID-19 were more resilient and managed to mitigate many of the negative impacts.


Want more skills content?

👉 Here are the benefits of a dynamic digital skills matrix.

👉 Here's a great free template to help coordinate employee development.

👉 Here's a breakdown of reskilling vs. upskilling (and the importance of each) at the frontline.


Picture of Chris

Chris loves to share his expertise on future-proof work instruction software for frontline teams in manufacturing. Particularly, how digital, visual work instructions can make a lasting impact on motivation, productivity, and operational excellence culture.

Published on 24 January 2024