Productivity

Do you want to see simple solutions at work?

Earlier this week, I posted about using common sense, low-cost solutions to create improvements in the business operation. In this post, I want to present to you one example.

The manager of a chemical laboratory that provides service for a food manufacturing company had problems to released test results as per the customer demand. The samples waiting for analysis were piling up on the refrigerator, and the staff was working overtime to process the backlog. My friend was getting ready to hire an additional lab technician when I suggest to let me help him. He agreed to walk the lab with me at the time he was explaining what he thought was wrong.

I noticed various boxes on the floor, which is a safety hazard. The working tables looked cluttered. I watched one technician searching for the right sample for almost five minutes. They don’t have an efficient method to store them. Also, I observed another technician walking around the room to work on different workstations to complete his test. While I was watching him, somebody came to drop more samples. She just put them right on top of the piled the other guy did while searching a while ago. Within the first ten minutes, I identified two causes for inefficiency, disorganization, and ineffective layout. Everything I pointed out was waste from the customer’s point of view. All those things contribute to increasing the testing time per sample without adding value to the process.

We have a short meeting with the staff to explain the situation and invited them to be part of the solution by participating in an improvement activity called Kaizen. They were happy to do something because although they like money, they wanted to spend more time with the family.

The laboratory performs on a daily seven major types of tests. One of them accounts for almost 70% of the daily demand. We focused our analysis on that test type. The staff draws a process map with the steps to complete that test. They also measured the time to complete the test and watched the process to identify waste.

We used 5S, a housekeeping and organization program to clean and organize the entire laboratory. The staff used a drawing of the facility layout to draw all the walking between steps of the process. They also measured the distance walked. Based on their observations and suggestions, we moved some equipment and tools to have them closer to where they need them. Just by doing that, they reduced the walking time by more than 50%, which reduced the test process time as well. Other benefits of this event were: 27% reduction in over-time, 52% reduction in total process time, and 30% more on-time test results released to the customer.

They need some help to move the equipment, but the investment was peanuts compared with the benefits. After the event, the customer noticed the improvement in the quality of service, and the team was able to rest better and spend more time with their family. I will keep using this example on future posts to explain in detail how we achieved the improvements.

You can have similar results by using continuous improvement as your strategy to increase customer satisfaction. Let’s have a good old conversation about how you can do it!

CI 101

How do you reduce operating expenses?

There are two ways to increase profits, to increase revenue or reduce costs. Operating expense is a common headache for business owners, are you one of them?

These days consumers have more choices and more information than ever. They know that with so many competitors, they have multiple options for the needed product or service. To survive and be successful in this environment, cost reduction is critical. How do you reduce operating expenses?

Unfortunately, when it comes to cost reduction, the first thought is to reduce team members. Another common idea is to cut materials cost by buying inferior quality. You can not afford to do anything that affects the quality of the service or product. The best solution to cost expenses is to identify and reduce waste.

Waste reduction has to be an everyday activity, it is not a one-time event. With the help of your employees, you can improve your business working with continuous improvement basics. The basic activities of CI are housekeeping and organization, waste reduction, and standardization. You know already what waste is, in the next weeks I will talk about the other two.

Assessment of your business processes to identify waste reduction, standardization and organization opportunities is the best way to improve. Do not start this process as an excuse to cut manpower. Reducing team members is not, and never will be a continuous improvement goal.

CI 101

How can you create changes in your business?

Often business owners see something that tells them that something different needs to be done. Perhaps it is a recurring problem or realizes that the business is not reaching financial goals. What is the solution? You need to identify what areas need change and prioritize. How can you create changes? There are two major ways to create change: innovation and continuous improvement.

More often than not, innovation is a high-cost solution. While it is necessary to keep yourself ahead of the game, I like to start somewhere else. My first stop in creating improvements is to use common sense, low-cost solutions.

What are common-sense solutions? It is to approach a problem using good judgment. For example, let’s use one of my favorite low-cost tools: housekeeping and organization. Will you agree that keeping a clean and organized workplace is common-sense? Why do you think it is? Perhaps because you know some of the following facts:

  • Clutter and disorganization are against productivity, reduces the ability to concentrate.
  • A messy workplace causes anxiety, stress, and has the potential to foster a negative state of mind, like feeling overwhelmed.

Your good judgment tells you that an efficient workplace is cleaned and organized. A lack of cleaning and organization is a visual indicator of inefficiency. You know that this condition has to change.

To improve housekeeping, you can buy a fancy computerized program or use a simple low-cost solution. Your new high-cost application will help you to create checklists, assign responsibilities and follow up on the cleaning activities. But it will not help you to ensure the workplace is clean and organized.

An alternative is to use 5S, a housekeeping and organization program. This program along with waste elimination and standardization are the basics of practicing continuous improvement. CI is about creating small changes using common-sense solutions that are easy to implement and follow. When you add up all those changes you will see a huge improvement in the overall performance of your business.