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Is there anything worse than waiting? Whether it’s the spinning wheel on your laptop or sitting at your house waiting for the cable guy to show up sometime between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.—it’s not fun. A few weeks ago, my wife and I went out to eat. I found myself scanning the crowd, looking for evidence of what was taking so long. I even thought about leaving. At one point, I said, “They just got their food…didn’t they sit down after us!?” which of course got me a punch in the leg under the table.
Whatever It Takes
At College Park, we’ve made on-time delivery one of our main goals. That focus has resulted in a 99% on-time delivery record, year after year. Because we deal with prosthetic medical devices, each delivery must be top-quality as well. I always say, “If it’s not done right, it’s not done at all.” We ship 80% of our orders the same day too. When you add in the fact that it takes approximately 30,000 different components to build all our product line, that's no mean feat. And, just like a restaurant, you never know exactly what someone is going to order. So, we forecast and do our best to be ready for anything. You build ahead, train your people to be flexible, and try to work on the highest need. What do you do when you’re wrong though, and UPS is driving away from your daily pick-up? There are a few solutions. Finish that last order and drive it to the routing center. Ship the next day and upgrade terms on your dollar (the customer will never know!). These are just band-aids though, considering they add to your cost of goods. Once you’ve exhausted those tricks, all that’s left is to ask for forgiveness. What can we do to avoid all this though? The most frequent answer I’ve gotten is simply to “be efficient,” but what does that really mean?
Efficiency Is Critical
The manufacturing world is very diverse, so it’s hard to make any generalizations. However, there’s one thing we can all agree upon: efficiency is critical. It’s also an often misunderstood topic. What does efficiency mean? Many would say it’s about getting things done faster, which is important. But really, it’s about expectations. When you have a large variety of tasks needed to accomplish your end goal, it is vital that everyone on your team knows what to expect. When you’re a member of an orchestra, you have to play your part right, or the whole thing sounds discordant. Every other musician is waiting on cues. When it all comes together as expected, you get a beautiful symphony. It’s no different on the shop floor. If the parts aren’t there when operation is ready to start, somebody has to wait. And waiting is the enemy.
In my view, wait time is the worst type of scrap. As the team sits there poised to execute the highest need, you can almost see your margins shrinking as they wait for parts. Once you realize that wait time is the devil, you’ll see it everywhere. Have you ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? It’s when you buy a new car, and you start to see it everywhere. That’s what it’s like, and it’ll drive you crazy.
How to Attack Wait Time
As I’m sure you’ve heard, it all starts with awareness. Once you can identify an issue, you can see its impact. So, track it. If you treat wait time the same as any other scrap, the steps become simple.
- See how often people are waiting on things.
- Take note of how long they wait and why.
- Chart it.
- Look for trends over time.
- Discuss it with your team, highlighting the impact it has upstream.
- Practice One Piece Flow; as best you can, minimize things left as Work In Progress.
- Throughout the process, train your team to drop what they’re doing to work on part requests instead of saying, “I’ll get to that once this is done.”
I’ll admit that last one is a bit controversial. In my opinion, process efficiency be damned if someone is waiting on me and I’m not already working on what they need. It’s about seeing the bigger picture and top priorities for your team, not just your role within it.
Here at College Park, we accomplish all this using something called ICC tracking, or Internal Customer Complaints. This helps with accountability, expectations, and maximizing efficiency. We define different standard types of ICC’s and assign severity levels to each type, along with the required information when they are sent. Once any repeat issue crosses a threshold (determined by the severity level), action must be taken. Most of all though, at all levels, you must foster an environment where people are praised for highlighting their mistakes. Awareness is the only path to efficiency and profit. When mistakes are brought to light, so are solutions.
Awareness is the only path to efficiency and profit. When mistakes are brought to light, so are solutions.
Who’s Got the Time Anyway?
In today’s day and age, we’ve all been conditioned to expect instant gratification. You need groceries? Simply order them from an app on your phone, and they’ll be delivered to your doorstep. Oh no! Your computer is acting weird—search the problem on Google. With all this convenience at our fingertips, who has the time to wait?