Going with Flow Results in Real Efficiency
by Ron Crowl
In a door and window manufacturing company, efficiency starts and ends in the front office. Make no mistake, how work is done on the factory floor matters. But all information flows through the office. Poor up-front procedures can eliminate the hard-won efficiency you gained on the factory floor.
What’s the key? The answer: Well thought-out and executed flow of information from estimate to invoice. Good flow increases output from the same or less staff, equipment and costs. It also makes for responsive customer service, shorter lead times and enables production to be scheduled just before a shift starts.
Flow can be aligned to fulfill the values, promises and goals you want and can be adjusted as you move in new directions. Lean manufacturing aficionados will notice that flow and lean share some similarities. Flow is even a concept within lean. But there is at least one difference.
Lean says computer systems are not required. As you’ll see, flow in a fenestration plant is difficult to achieve without them. Six
Steps to Flow
Step 1: Connect all information points.
Wherever information is needed it should be part of one integrated and connected system. If it can’t be connected—and least 99.9 percent of what is in a door and window plant can be affordably connected—eliminate, replace or combine it.
Step 2: Enter data once.
At least two bad things happen when the same data is re-entered: costs increase and mistakes are made. The ramifications cascade: people wait; materials are wasted; shipments are delayed; customers become frustrated; invoice payments are delayed; and profits decrease.
Step 3: Make data available everywhere.
It is useful to walk through your office and plant as if you were an order. See how people are, aren’t or could be using information at each step.
Step 4: Automatically apply pricing, policies and
Computers calculate and remember better than people do. This is particularly true for things like restrictions that apply infrequently but are costly to forget. Building as many safeguards into your system improves flow and saves money.
Step 5: Allow for rule changes.
It’s difficult to think of everything ahead of time. Your flow system should allow for appropriate exceptions and adjustments to the rules. You might be offering a limited time special or special order discounting may be required to obtain large projects. Where suitable, you want to be able to make these changes immediately.
Step 6: Track and correct.
When a problem occurs under the Toyota Manufacturing System, workers can stop production under the principal of Jidoka. Many practitioners will not restart production until the cause is found and corrected. Whether you want to halt the flow of information in your business or not, tracking issues and trends so corrections and improvements can be made should be straightforward.
Like lean, flow removes obstructions to delivering customer value. Also like lean, it makes your organization more resilient by building up a “reservoir” of efficiency and responsive customer service that cushion you during downturns and price competition.
Still, no matter how efficient your plant floor, your overall efficiency depends on the flow of accurate information throughout your business good systems.
Integrating the flow of information and materials through your business from estimate to delivered product to invoicing creates harmony. You might need only to give up some current habits or take fuller advantage of systems already in use, or you might need to invest in new capabilities.
It’s worth it. Flow harmony enables you to manage your company to fulfill your vision of how to serve your customers, to grow and to profit. Without flow? You’re likely to be fighting noise every day.
Ron Crowl is the president of FeneTech in Aurora, Ohio. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org.. Mr. Crowl’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.
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