5 Steps to Process Improvement
I was involved in logistics and transportation for more than 25 years and spent the last 16 of those years with a large apparel corporation’s private fleet. During that time, I cannot remember a single year when the private fleet did not have to defend its existence. Each year the argument seemed to escalate until the cost reductions started.
I had been studying Six Sigma for several years and had quietly earned my certification. At that time, the corporate answer to cutting costs fell to cutting head count, but I have always felt that cutting headcount may impact the customer experience.
In my mind, saving money meant saving my co-workers’ jobs. I could see my supervisor struggling with the prospect of cutting jobs, so I voluntarily became involved to save the fleet by using process improvement.
A Light in the Dark
The world is changing, and process improvement has become more important than ever. As many companies close their doors and others struggle to stay afloat, it has become imperative to find ways to save money. Attaining greater efficiency may shine some light on a seemingly dark business operating environment.
It can be an overwhelming feeling of helplessness as you watch your department or company fail. Many transportation professionals share this feeling, especially now. For many business owners, the situation has turned from operating to merely surviving, and everyone is scrambling for solutions.
The key is reducing variation for a more consistent process. Our small department did not have the assets to spend on trained process improvement people, but we did have a handful of employees with many years of industry experience, and it was up to us to fight to keep our department going.
As demands from corporate to cut costs escalated, I looked at improvement using a five-step process:
1. Look for opportunities that may achieve the desired savings results.
2. Gather the necessary data to confirm the savings potential.
3. Establish a timeline to implement the project and fill key roles.
4. Implement the improvements.
5. Set up a program to constantly monitor and improve on the idea.
Vince Lombardi said, "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence." It is not about mastering a complex methodology, but rather about taking the simplest aspects of basic business process improvement and combining it with today’s high-powered products.
By doing this, any business, large or small, can benefit from process improvement. It is imperative that you be a creative thinker. Force yourself to look at problems from every angle and play the childhood game of "what does not belong?" as it relates to your operations. Then eliminate or reduce those items.
CONTINUOUSLY EVALUATE PROGRESS
When you improve a process, you must continually improve and monitor it to make sure that it meets or exceeds the analyzed outcome. Allowing people in our organization to see that the projects were having an impact on operational savings was at the heart of our success.
You must know where you are and where you want to go, and then find a way to get there. If you understand your business and use creativity, you will always find ways to improve supply chain processes and save money.
During these difficult times, we can all benefit from becoming students of process improvement systems. Too many people give up and say it cannot be done. But as my father used to say, "When someone says something can’t be done, there is already somebody out there doing it."