Focusing Your Sights on Opportunity

by Juan Garcia
Industrial Engineer, Logile, Inc.

Logile offers a wide range of services focusing on workforce management and software applications that help our customers achieve more efficient operations, better customer service and greater overall profitability. In the scope of workforce management and best practices consulting, there is a crucial step in the process that fosters much of the efficiency gains.

Efficient Work Methods are achieved when work, defined by desired results, can be accomplished with the least amount of effort and waste, in the appropriate time, producing consistently high-quality results and is safe and desirable to perform. Implementing Efficient Work Methods can be broken down into three stages:

Stage 1 – Opportunity Identification

Logile’s approach starts with performing a Pareto analysis, where we document the most frequent and time-consuming operations within the area of interest. The key is to follow the Pareto principle to determine the roughly 20 percent of all tasks which will represent 80 percent of the hours to complete.

It is important that we narrow down and focus on the most important processes, as improving them will facilitate a more rapid impact in the company’s productivity. Once these processes are identified, we study the current methods to understand the baseline, objectives of the process and areas for opportunity. In this stage, we may notice many areas of opportunity like bad safety practices, unnecessary steps and general inconsistency of the process outputs.

At this stage, we are attempting to analyze and measure each process to define the issues. Measuring the processes with predefined time and motions systems or time study is critical to understand the cycle time for each process. Utilizing tools like value-added analysis, business process flowcharting, activity charting and ergonomic assessment among others help us ultimately identify and define the critical issue(s) with the current process.

Once we define the critical issue(s), we communicate with employees and leadership to document known issues. We also deploy strategies like problem definition, cause and effect diagramming, root cause analysis, defect mapping and others to identify the potential cause(s) of these issues in this stage. Only when we have identified the opportunity through exploring issues and potential causes of a process that we want to improve can we act to improve it, which leads us to the second stage.

Stage 2 – Method Assessment and Quantification

The term ‘best’ is subjective to be sure, and many factors need to be considered including efficiency, safety, customer service and any other that each client deems as critical to operating their business. Before we generate new Efficient Work Methods, we need to know what distinguishes a good method from a bad method, as well as the objectives of the process being studied. Knowing this changes the way we view the work.

Depending on the nature of the process, the issues and potential causes, we may utilize a variety of applicable principles to explore how to develop a new Efficient Work Method. These principles include, but are not limited to:

  • Motion Economy
    • Improve Manual Motions – By changing the motions used to do work, you can accomplish more and save time and energy. Eliminate extra work like double- handling, walking and other non-value-added motions. Make the work less tiring and easier to perform
    • Organize Work Layout – By carefully planning where things go and how they are stored, you can eliminate wasted motions like bending, reaching, opening, searching, etc., used to retrieve needed items
    • Minimize Material Handling – Eliminate or minimize the work involved in moving things. Use fewer movements, shorter distances and less lifting
  • Operation Design
    • Streamline Method Steps – Create an efficient method that contains only the steps necessary to accomplish the desired result
    • Use Correct Tools and Equipment – Select the right tools and equipment to make work easier and to provide a better-quality result. Tools provide a mechanical advantage, so you can get more work done for the energy expended
  • Service Design
    • Simplify Process and Remove Barriers – Design a product or a service with the needs of the customer in mind, but also consider the amount of work involved in producing or delivering it. A simpler design can help you be more productive. For example, create a design that uses fewer parts or service components. Or, use pieces that fit together easily and with fewer tools
  • Human Elements
    • Ergonomics – Find ways to accomplish work without overextending or overusing the human body. Use healthy postures and safe lifting practices. Design adjustable workstations with adequate clearances. Eliminate or control situations requiring stressful motions like a pinch grip or repetitive use of unnatural hand and wrist positions
    • Safety – Analyze and eliminate hazards from the work area and the work method. Provide protection where hazards cannot be eliminated
  • Quality
    • Mistake-Proof – Where there are opportunities for mistakes to occur, find ways to make it impossible for them to happen or go unnoticed if they do occur
    • Build Quality In – Define how each step in a method should be done, including what the inputs or incoming parts should look like, how the techniques are performed and what the result should look like to meet customer needs

These are just some of the principles and approaches that we use when development Efficient Work Methods, and they are completely dependent on the process, issues and causes and factors that each client value.

Ideas for improving methods are generated from the first exposure to the principles of good methods. Once there is an understanding of a better way, applications are more apparent. This is a creative process that can be applied by an individual, but can also be done with a group using a more structured collaborative approach as well. Once we determine the new Efficient Work Method and vet it with the client, we typically want to quantify the impact on production payroll, especially if capital investment is needed to facilitate the proposed method. After the new method is agreed upon, we enter the final stage of implementing Efficient Work Methods.

Stage 3 – Method Documentation and Change Management

The final step we undertake is to define and document the new Efficient Work Method in simple steps and create documentation which we call Visual Method Sheets (VMS). We collaborate with our clients to create these Visual Method Sheets, which are used both to train the workforce on the new method as well as enforce adherence to the method over time.

Once the VMS are developed, the next step is to develop a training program in which we train the individuals from our clients that will ultimately own the processes, methods, documentation and employee training going forward. The idea is that the more that a client resource owns the training and rollout, the more receptive employees will be to the change.

The goal is to communicate the importance of performing the new Efficient Work Methods in a consistent manner in accordance with how it has been documented. This is critical, as the next step in our process is to build engineered labor standards which generate the overall earned hours that a store will receive. If employees are not following the method that these standards are based on, they will not be able to execute to the staffing demand and ultimately the labor schedules that was developed based on the new Efficient Work Method.

Implementing Efficient Work Methods is but one step in developing a workforce management program, but it is one that can return significant benefits. And not all Efficient Work Methods that we recommend will be implemented by every client we work with, for a variety of reasons. However, if we follow each stage of the process – Identify Opportunity, Assess and Quantify Method Impact, and Method Documentation and Change Management – we can ensure that the Efficient Work Methods that we do develop are as impactful and sustainable as possible.