Four steps to boosting productivity in your supply chain in 2018

written by IFCO SYSTEMS, 1st February 2018, in Stories

Like the inevitable passing of the seasons, each new year is sure to bring daunting new "stretch" productivity goals or additional hurdles to achieving existing ones. The good news is that there are some easy ways to help meet and exceed your production targets, according to Khaled Mabrouk, the founder of Sustainable Productivity Solutions.

Mabrouk stresses the importance of including people and not just processes trying to improve productivity. When employees are actively engaged in developing solutions and take ownership of them, they are more likely to stick.

He identifies four fundamental principles for achieving success including seeing the process, determining the root cause, engaging employees in solving problems, and finally, being lean and focusing on zero waste.

See the process

Mabrouk encourages managers to watch the work being performed, rather than make assumptions based on the result. "Some workers are going to figure out a trick to make it go faster," he says. "You see that, and you say, ‘okay, is that something I can teach to my other people?’ –maybe it was one less movement that speeds up the task." He talks about building up the "process-seeing muscle" by observing everyday processes such as the check-out line at a supermarket or a fast-food restaurant and thinking about how they might be improved.

Determine the root cause

Don’t shoot from the hip. When managers come together to resolve issues, their first step is typically to offer solutions, which, Mabrouk notes, is what they are trained to do. "Most people start with solutions and just go and apply them," he says, "the reality is you should take time to understand the problem and collect a little bit of data, try to get at what is the root cause of the problem."

Engage employees in problem-solving

When things go wrong, Mabrouk observes that the first question too often is about who caused the problem, or in other words, ‘who are we going to blame?’ Mabrouk notes, "When you start with a blame and shame culture…you’re telling everybody: cover your butt, be careful what you tell me…you wind up not getting sufficient information from your team to make good decisions." On the other hand, a process that is focused on problem-solving rather than blame will help unit employees. They will be more comfortable sharing information, and problems will be corrected more quickly.

Practice Lean principles

Lean pertains to eliminating waste. Examples of waste include excessive motions, stoppages in production, or products requiring rehandling or rework. Mabrouk recommends three Lean principles which can be implemented quickly to help provide easy productivity gains. The first is 5S, a method of organizing workspace for higher efficiency. Organized materials and supplies are easier and quicker to find. The second principle is visual management. Signage and other visual cues can help prompt employees to make the best decision. He tells the story of a radicchio grower who improved recovery of a premium export grade by placing instructional signage directly above the sorting area. The third principle pertains to data collection and analysis. He notes that while it is not easy, the results of data analysis can be impactful.

When exercising your "process-seeing muscle" in search of productivity gains, don’t forget the potential for RPCs to improve your process. They have been shown to provide a range of improvements ranging from faster cooling to 50% more efficient order building and stacking, enhanced ease of stocking, and the elimination of time-consuming single-use packaging handling and baling. Boosting productivity in 2018 might not be a stretch at all.

Khaled Mabrouk was a speaker at the 2018 WPA Annual Meeting.

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