What if every process was engineered to perfection and the term “inefficiency” didn’t exist? If that were the case, it would mean that an Industrial Engineer like myself would have A LOT of free time. But this isn’t the case for many organizations, so much of my time is spent finding small operational improvement opportunities that end up saving companies a lot of time and money in the long run. A needle in a haystack, if you will!
I was recently a part of a team of consultants who were tasked with identifying and implementing improvement opportunities within a food service distribution center. This organization already had sound selection and loading processes in place, so our team really needed to think outside of the box to find our needle in the haystack. Our mission was to find an improvement that would save three seconds of time, but deliver major value in the long run. But how do you identify that opportunity and put it into action?
As the saying goes, two heads are better than one. To kick off our project, we formed a steering committee consisting of our West Monroe team and client subject matter experts. Forming a steering committee is a key first step in identifying opportunities that both reduce non-valued-added activities and improve operational efficiency. It’s also an important factor in developing workforce buy in. No idea is too big or small!
In our case, we came up with a range of ideas, from reducing walk travel to changing how order assignments were generated. We documented and quantified each idea to understand its bottom-line impact and periodically reevaluated for prioritization based on the associated benefits and cost to implement. This left us with an actionable list to move forward with.
Finding improvement opportunities that require little to no capital investment or training means that results can be realized almost immediately. These can be deemed as ‘quick wins’ and placed first in line for implementation. Larger scale improvements should be trialed prior to implementation to ensure the future state processes work as they were designed to and that the estimated savings can be realized. It’s important to remain nimble throughout the trial phase. During our project, improvements were never tossed out. Instead of dismissing ideas that don’t seem immediately usable, work to continuously refine them and you might just discover an opportunity down the line.
Don’t let all your hard work go unused! Once all the opportunities have been implemented, it’s time to develop method documentation, such as Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) or Visual Method Sheets (VMS’s), and post them near the point of use. This way, employees and supervisors alike can quickly reference these steps for process-related questions without losing much productive time.
When you’re looking at your processes, remember that even the smallest improvements can go a long way. Let’s consider the following outcome:
Focusing on process improvements can lead to a 10-15% increase in productivity, which can transform the way your company operates long term. Continue to stay vigilant about your next “needle in the haystack” and you could be saving seconds now and giving your company hours back in the future.