Jump-Start Your Productivity in Two Weeks

You can do things better; you know it. Every shop can.

When you take a step back and analyze the workflow and processes in your shop, what stands out?

• Do you have trouble checking in blank inventory in a timely manner after it hits your loading dock?
•Does your screenroom struggle to keep up with the demands of production?
•Is your job queue lacking? Perhaps production isn’t busy enough because you suffered a flat sales quarter and things aren’t as rosy as they used to be.
•What about your job downtime? Do you struggle with getting ink mixed, staging the screens and blanks, or getting a job registered on press, instead of quickly setting up and printing?

These four challenges and thousands of others lurk in shops every day. Think about which monsters are lurking in your company. I’ll bet you can name 10 right off the bat.

In this month’s column, I’m going to outline an easy-to-implement process that can eliminate these challenges in your shop once and for all. Read on…

The IDS Process
The first idea I want you to learn is to Identify, Discuss, and then Solve your challenges. This is simply shortened to IDS, a concept made famous in Gino Wickman’s fantastic book Traction. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. Wickman outlines a process for running any business that he calls the “Entrepreneurial Operating System,” or EOS. It helps owners and leadership teams create a healthier, stronger business by establishing alignment throughout the company and focusing on the most important issues. EOS will help you think differently about how to run your business.

But, let’s get back to solving your problems. Here’s what I want you to do: Instead of you determining the action and shooting Zeus-like thunderbolts down from Mt. Olympus, start by gathering your managers and team leaders in one room. Make sure it has a whiteboard, and that your team is ready to have a candid discussion about solving problems. If that’s not your usual culture, then take the time to explain what you’ll be doing in this meeting and why.

Spend a good hour or so brainstorming about all of the top challenges affecting your shop that need to be resolved. I can’t list them here because these are your issues, not mine, but trust me: your group will have a bunch. Let the conversation flow; nothing is sacred and guts should be spilled.

This is the Identify stage in the process. Write the issues down on the whiteboard so everyone can see them. Then, simply prioritize them.

Are any of them similar? Combine them. It’s possible that a few ideas can be merged as one problem solves another.

Maybe a couple are a little goofy, or things you just can’t do at the moment. Strike those off or postpone them to address at a later date.

What’s left will be the true speed bumps that are slowing you down and stopping you from becoming the “rock star” shop you’ve been dreaming about. Does the list resonate with your leadership group? Talk through the issues and choose the ones that seem the most important or impactful.

Once you’ve ranked everything, the real fun begins: the Discussion time. Start with the item that your team identified as the top priority. Spend some time brainstorming ideas that could Solve the issue. List what needs to be changed, who could help, and all of the other “what ifs.”

From there, I want you to delegate the problem solving task for this issue to members of the team (ideally a few people, but not more than four). Break this out so that a manager will be in charge, but everyday workers are part of the team helping to resolve this problem, too.

You want your front-line people involved in making the change, as they usually not only have the best ideas, but will be the ones that will have to live with the outcome. It’s vital that they get a say in what happens.

Ultimately, the team’s job is going to be to take this challenge on and conquer the problem. Their deadline? Two weeks.

In the software designing world, they call these initiatives “sprints,” based on the agile principle of working. Yes, I know your shop isn’t developing software; however, this problem-solving cycle has merit for production and manufacturing operations, too. It might seem daunting at first, but what’s great about having small teams of people solving problems in two-week sprints is that you are constantly churning out solutions.

This is a good pace for most shops. I know there are nagging issues in your company that you’ve wanted to solve for years. More often than not, the challenge isn’t understanding the issue or knowing what to do about it – it’s simply getting started. The sprint approach provides a solid architecture for getting the work done.

A sprint happens in three stages. First, you develop a plan that outlines who is working on the project, what they hope to accomplish, and what needs to be set up for the plan to succeed. Then the team does the actual work. Finally, the team gathers for a sprint retrospective called a “scrum.”

Think of the scrum as the after-action meeting to discuss what happened. Did you learn anything during the process? Was the team missing some tools? Could they have used an extra hand or some training?

Keep careful notes about this process so you can review them and learn how your team can work more efficiently on future sprints.

Staying on Track
Don’t ever let a sprint go on longer than four weeks; strive to complete it in just two. I know it seems crazy, but shortening the timeline puts pressure on getting things accomplished. Once you get the hang of solving challenges this way, you will be amazed to find that you can get more than one team working on different components of the action plan at the same time. They’ll be eliminating your biggest production headaches – issues that have probably plagued you for years.

Initially, just form your team and give them instructions on what to do. You’re only concerned about the results; they are in charge of the process and how things develop. It’s called true delegation, and it’s something a lot of owners and production managers struggle to do.

So let’s say the priority you have decided to address is how to push more jobs out daily. First, identify what you’re doing now that isn’t working and is causing you to complete fewer orders than you want. Backtrack it. Are the issues that come up shopwide, or are they limited to a few work groups?

Test your ideas. Know that not everything you try will be 100 percent successful. You are going to hit roadblocks, and that’s okay. Just fail quickly, and regroup. What did you learn? Often, that failure will be a key step in making something better. Take the time to investigate. Bring in some big guns from your supply chain if necessary.

Taking the Time
One barrier to success you will have is creating time for your team to work on the project. The stance you have to take is that this process has to happen, so everyone must block off the appropriate amount of time on their daily schedules. Discuss this with the team and find out if they can spend 30 minutes per day or longer. It may mean that someone needs to fill in for each team member for a bit while they are working on the sprint project. Make sure you don’t hamstring your effort by not allowing the designated team members enough time to complete the project in the two-week window.

Pay attention to how the team begins. If you feel that a team starts off at a leisurely pace and then tries to cram everything in when the deadline approaches, then next time shorten the cycle from two weeks to one. I know it seems counterintuitive, but additional pressure on the deadline will prevent people from procrastinating until the last minute.

Know that things might also take longer than you expected if the project turns out to be bigger than what you planned for initially. That’s okay, too. Maybe you have an extremely daunting task, such as redoing the layout of the shop floor and repositioning older machines so that new equipment can be installed. If your project won’t easily fit into the two-week cycle due to the amount of work involved, then don’t be afraid to “chunkify” and break it up into smaller sprints. One huge sprint can become three smaller ones.

Keep the process moving and don’t lengthen your sprints. Just keep splitting them into two or more subcomponents. Solve the thing that will enable the next steps to succeed, and then address them. If you find that the reason you’re completing too few orders in a day is that your changeovers are too long, and part of the reason for that is that screens aren’t ready when jobs go to press, then solve that problem before you look into what’s happening on the press.

The Importance of Scrums
The scrums should be brief meetings after the project is over, and they can be great learning experiences for your staff. Bring in everyone from the leadership group, not just the people from that specific team. Have everyone chime in and discuss what went right and where the team took missteps.

You want to ferret out the challenges that must be avoided in the next sprint. Understanding how to complete tasks, identify the resources that are available, and work the effort into your already busy schedule will only happen once you actually do it. You can talk about it all day, but until you get your hands dirty, you just won’t know. Solve what you can and move on.

Getting Started
I’m going to throw out a challenge to you and your shop: Get started – today. Just do it. Follow the IDS approach, and adjust and tweak the process as you go. Right now, certain problems in your shop are probably hitting you in the face like a skillet. It hurts, especially when there is a better way out there. It takes work and pain to discover the solution and then implement it.

Think about how much better your shop will be a year or so from now. Sometimes, that’s all the motivation you need.

Read more from Marshall Atkinson or check out the rest of Screen Printing's August/September 2017 issue.

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