3 tips for making big improvements in productivity

Richard Shipperbottom, founder of industry specialists Applied Acumen draws upon vast experience of improving productivity in the food and drink sector over the last twenty years to give us 3 tips for improving productivity. How many will you implement?

1. Challenge your standards – independently!

Quite obvious, and every good factory manager does this, but very, very few welcome any kind of independent review. Sure, the finance department might take a look, but let’s not kid dc numbersourselves; in most factories it is a challenge to get the numbers to stack up at all! New products, new machinery, marginal costings based upon imaginary runaway successes…and poor data capture, such as the always challenging question: ”how many did you actually make?” all contribute to what is often described as ‘the black box”. This is even before one considers the adherence (or most usually not) to whatever standards are in play, giving rise to self-fulfilling planning assumptions and the fog of under achievement.

So far, so ‘ho-hum’, but here’s the bit most companies haven’t understood: unpicking this takes uncommon skill, and also involves the value stream beyond just operations. This is why you will hear operational leadership bemoaning their commercial counterparts for poor forecasting, why you will see retreat into capital proposals as the only way to uplift productivity, why you will hear clamour for simplification and reduction in SKUs, and why in most cases you cannot see either the margin each of your products make in practice, or indeed what they could make, and how.

2. Don’t ignore your support functions

In every factory there are those that operate the machinery, or handle product on the lines or tables, and then there is everyone else. In many cases, ‘everyone else’ adds up to a very significant number. Moreover, because these people do not generally undertake activity to the beat of a depositor, and the quality and volume of their output is less immediate, and frankly not as easy to assess to a non-specialist, how such resources are managed – productively or not – often becomes less of a focus of attention.

customer-churnThe technical, or quality resource, the hygiene team, the engineering support team, the warehouse team, the stackers, the pickers, the mixers, the movers, the handlers, the planners, all those people without whom the lines would quickly grind to a halt, all make a significant dent in the overall productivity of the business, no matter which cost centre they have been allocated to.

There is no reason to treat these areas with any less science than we do the manufacturing processes themselves.


3. Adopt productive behaviours

Behaviour – what people say and do – has by far the biggest influence on productivity performance, yet never do we see a plan for the development of behaviours in the way that we might see plans for the installation of a new piece of equipment, the introduction of a new product, or some other important, profit-critical activity.

No doubt there will be those tempted here to insert their own initiative here, heralding a great drive to change the culture of their operation, with ‘lean’ being the current ‘en vogue’. However, this is where once more we find a near universal misconception of what good looks like. Take, but for one example, the requirement to establish a baseline in behaviours, and the environmental and contextual basis for those behaviours; time and again we have had to dismantle a so-called ‘lean’ operating framework and rebuild it properly, based upon the right operating behaviours. To do this one cannot rely on merely implementing a bodged version of an inappropriately applied Production System and then bully or bore everyone into compliance, although this still appears extremely popular at the moment.

As a hint, start by taking a moment to define what behaviours you think are productive, then see if these are mirrored in your next meeting, and work from there. If you want help to speed up the process, give us a call or visit our operational excellence page for more information on our services.

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