They're good at everything, great at something. They have a specialty that sets them apart from other shops but have no weaknesses in the operations or processes that support that specialty. In fact, one of the chief things that makes them strong in their specialty is their ability to leverage excellence in the supporting technologies to achieve outstanding results in the process or technique that they are best known for.
They push the technology envelope for themselves. They learn to do things that no one else can do. They are not afraid to modify equipment or design their own machines or processes. They experiment. They invent. They re-invent by going back and rethinking conventional or traditional methods in light of what they learn from implementing new technology.
They find what's new and do something new with it. Great shops get in early before everybody else figures it out and when mistakes are cheap and easy to learn from. They cross-pollinate, borrowing advances from other fields and applying them to their own. Sometimes they take advances in their own field and apply them in others.
They focus on getting the job done right. Striving for excellent results is what governs the organization and management of shop activities -- not fads or trendy ideas. Having a clear and common goal for every project is what brings the shop's workforce together, makes it a team, and fosters good communication. Nothing is done just for show.
They choose their customers with care, then care for those customers. They don't try to be all things to all people, yet they know how to add value by offering something extra to their customers (finishing, assembly, inspection, packing, and so on).
They have good equipment. Appropriate equipment. Some of the machines are the latest and greatest, some of them are old but serviceable. All are well maintained. They only computerize where it improves the process and empowers the operator.
Above all, highly effective shops respect their employees and nurture their skills. They invest in equipment but also in people. They know that the tool is only as good as the tool user.