PLANT

Wasteful processes: Add value by weeding out the poor performers

Tolerating them sets a bad example for staff.

October 15, 2020   by Hugh Alley

Inefficient processes create costly waste. PHOTO: BILLIONPHOTOS.COM–STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Do you want our other fax number?” she asked helpfully. The number was accepted and duly noted in the CRM. But why was another fax number needed? How will I know which one to use and when?

In the health care sector, where this happened, they still use fax machines to ensure confidentiality. Although fax machines have mostly disappeared from the supply chain, you can often find them in plant sales offices. But even if you don’t have a fax machine, there is still a lesson here.

The situation tells us a lot. This company’s internal processes can’t guarantee the fax number would work reliably to convey important diagnostic information from the users of the product. To address that problem, some enterprising person, who knew how important it was to gather the information, added a separate fax number with a different area code.

Now the customer has to deal with the company’s inability to fix the fax line issue.

“How big a deal can that be?” you ask. Let’s track this through the process.

1. The sender must make a decision – in the absence of information – about where to direct the data. Add 30 seconds to the process.

2. The person needs to check the fax log at some point to ensure it went through. Add two minutes to walk to the machine, check the log, and return to his/her desk. If it didn’t go through, add one to two minutes to resend the fax and another two minutes to check later.

3. At the recipient’s end, someone has to gather information from two fax machines. Who knows what the travel time between them is, but suppose they’re on two adjacent floors. Adding six minutes to walk down the stairs to the fax machine, sift through the faxes, pick up what’s in the mailbox, and return to his/her desk.

Bad processes

In total, each customer bears the cost of an extra five minutes for each report sent. And the manufacturer faces how many unnecessary minutes per day to get the data? That’s just one process. If the company is tolerating that kind of issue on one process, there are probably more that add to the drip-drip-drip of waste.

As important, tolerating a bad process like the fax line communicates an ominous message. Poor performance is tolerated. Eliminating waste isn’t seen as important. A lack of response to a process that doesn’t perform states “it doesn’t matter.”

Improving performance requires everyone’s involvement and the rooting out of these impediments, even the small ones. It lacks the glamour of a fancy new machine on the plant floor, but the effect is longer lasting and more profound. All those small improvements add up.

Yes, you will need a mechanism for setting priorities. Create two lists – one for the ugly improvements that will take a lot of effort and maybe money, and one for things you can knock off in a couple of hours. The net effect will be significant performance gains.

Hugh Alley is an industrial engineer based in the Vancouver area who helps organizations achieve significant performance gains in delivery, quality and cost in a short time frame. Call (604) 866-1502 or e-mail hughralley@gmail.com.

This article first appeared in the July-August 2020 print edition.

 


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