To really know if you do have a cluster point, you need to do some data collection. You can get really advanced with an excel sheet or as simple as a piece of paper. Chart information you think is important to help analyze the cluster point. For instance, how long before a quote is sent to a customer? Whatís the percentage of bids won? Track things for a few weeks. Your findings may surprise you. What you might find is your quoting process is old and needs to be updated or perhaps you need more estimators. The information you will discover about your operations makes it worth the effort.
Recently, we did a data collection on how long our lead times were running. There is nothing more helpful than concrete information. We found we are pretty consistent; however, we also noticed some peaks and valleys: A few jobs were way overtime, and a few had extremely short lead times. What was the cause for these extremes? It came down to the process. The jobs that had gone too long were because engineering didnít process the tops on time. On the flip side, jobs with a quick turnaround showed us that when our process is working, we have the ability to perform very well. Once we identified the cluster point, we needed to review each department to see how the process could be improved.
Another interesting thing about reviewing your companyís processes is that you might see a trend showing you have too many different processes to accomplish the same thing. This happens a lot when shops try to use lean manufacturing as a philosophy. With lean manufacturing each task has a process. The danger is that having many processes sometimes can confuse the employees assigned to work with them. This can be the case especially if they need to multitask different jobs.
Hereís a suggestion you might want to try to see how well the processes you currently use are working for your company. It can also show you if you have too many. Take your key employees and together write down how you see the process to be now. Donít try to fix it at this point. Just work together and have everyone agree on the process. Later, try to brainstorm and see if thereís a way to consolidate different processes. This wonít happen overnight. It may take a few meetings, and a ton of cooperation on everyoneís part. Also, donít use this time as a finger-pointing session. Donít try to fix the people but really try to improve the process.
If you spend some time improving and streamlining your processes, you will be able to function at maximum efficiency ... and see your customer wait times greatly decrease.
Jon Olson is the production and operations manager for Sterling Surfaces in Sterling, Mass. He has been a solid surface fabricator since 1982 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.