Take control of your production processes and become a sales-driven company.
By Marty McGhie
As your production begins to be burdened by the increase of sales, your first reaction will be to merely add more people. You can certainly do that, but typically throwing more personnel at a problem won’t solve it-it merely camouflages the issues in a particular area of production. Instead, step back and analyze why your system is inefficient. Is it really because of a shortage of personnel? Probably not.
The philosophy shift we are talking about here is really a change from the belief that you are a job shop where each order is unique, to a manufacturing mentality where each job has the same process applied to it as the previous one.
I've heard colleagues in our industry express frustration about the difficulties of dealing with different jobs every day, wishing that they could just produce "widgets.' But, realistically, are you really producing anything today that you didn’t produce yesterday? It may be a different file and it will probably be a different color, but it runs through the same processes in your shop. Once your production team makes that mental transition you will begin to think like a manufacturing company and not a job shop.
A couple of years ago, our company hired a new production manager who had Six Sigma training. One of the first things he did was to arrange for lean-manufacturing training for our entire production management team. Interestingly, he refused to actually sign up for the training until all senior management and owners had agreed to also attend. He knew he needed that kind of commitment.
As the training began, the majority of us involved questioned whether this really applied to our company. After all, could we really create batches and process workflow that way? As the morning wore on, it became apparent that the answer was yes, we could! As a group, we began to think about the areas in our shop where we could apply the principles we learned-from the way our jobs were entered and the way they were handled in the prepress department, to how they moved through printing, and finally to how the jobs were fabricated and shipped. It was an enlightening experience and, since then, we continually strive to apply these types of principles and others we have learned to our production processes.
The value of persistence
While lean-manufacturing training was the avenue we chose at the time, you may opt to go a different way. Several choices are available. For instance, shortly after our lean training our management team read the book, The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox. That particular title helped us identify different bottlenecks in our production processes. Whatever training or methods you implement, the change in your shop’s approach to the way you produce work will begin to shift and your employees will see the effectiveness by which they approach their job.
A word of warning, however: As our instructors cautioned us, efficient and effective production systems will take anywhere from three to five years to fully develop. At the time, we scoffed at the notion that it might take that long. Now, after two years, we believe it.
It's a difficult task to develop effective standard operating procedures. It will try your patience and make you believe that perhaps these types of systems really don’t apply to your shop. Don’t believe it. Hang in there and be persistent. Don’t allow your leadership to think otherwise. Your commitment to the process will be critical. Once your team begins to see the fruits of good systems, the energy will be there and they will become committed to processes that will enable your company to not only grow sales, but to successfully produce them.
Marty McGhie (firstname.lastname@example.org) is VP finance/operations of Ferrari Color, a digital-imaging center with Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento locations.