QUESTION: I’m looking for ways to get my company to do things faster, less expensively, with higher quality. How can I achieve all of these goals at once?
ANSWER: Making improvements in cost, quality, and timeliness all at once is like hitting the trifecta in business. It may seem improbable that you could accomplish them all, but you can. We suggest starting with a cycle time reduction program. Below are the steps to follow:
- The first step in cycle time reduction is to document your processes. It isn’t sexy and many entrepreneurs resist this step, but without writing down how you currently do things, it is difficult to identify opportunities to improve. Documenting your processes gives you a starting point, a base from which to improve.
Eliminate unnecessary steps:
- After documenting processes, companies often find that they can rework or eliminate portions of their process. One company had a quality control step in the middle of a process. However, inspectors almost never found instances of poor quality at that point in the process. Eliminating this QC step saved time, and reduced cost without hurting quality.
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- The largest contributor to speeding up processes comes from greatly reducing waiting time. Whether it is product working its way through a factory, paperwork moving through a back office or an email sitting unopened in an inbox, things being processed tend to spend a lot of time waiting. Wait time adds no value and should be squeezed out.
- Companies often find that processes which have historically been done one after the other (in series) can be done at the same time (in parallel). This saves time. For example, pit crews have found that instead of changing tires in series, they can change multiple tires at once.
- Automating selected steps in a process can reduce time and cost while improving quality. In some cases, you can design special tools to make the process quicker. Alternatively, dedicated tools can make the job faster. For example, a company that operates injection-molding machines found that they could change the molds more quickly if the needed wrenches were stored on the same pallet with the molds. This saved the mechanic from having to rummage through his/her toolbox to find the right wrench, which a coworker had all too often borrowed. Of course, they had to buy a few new wrenches, but that cost was small compared to the savings.
There are many benefits of reducing cycle time. The most obvious benefit is quicker turnaround and shorter lead times. Perhaps more importantly, you can also improve quality. Cycle time reduction almost always results in simplified processes with fewer steps. In most cases, a process that has fewer steps will yield fewer mistakes. Simpler processes produce fewer errors.
In the same way, you can reduce cost. Simpler processes with fewer steps cost less. You can also reduce waste. Better quality means less scrap and rework. Further, shorter lead times also result in the need to hold less inventory (both work-in-process and finished goods). This means that obsolescence is reduced.
Cycle time reduction can enable your company to hit the trifecta: improve quality, lower cost, and reduce time. Further, it creates a virtuous cycle, each improvement is likely to spawn multiple benefits. The good news is that almost every company is a good candidate for cycle time reduction.
Doug and Polly White have a large ownership stake in Gather, a company that designs, builds and operates collaborative workspaces. Polly’s focus is on human resources, people management and human systems. Doug’s areas of expertise are business strategy, operations and finance.