What’s limiting your shop’s productivity?

People can only be as productive as the business (management) system lets them be. They may be less productive, but unless they figure out a way around the barriers management has set up, the system determines the limit.

For example, if parts room window attendants have to climb mountains of boxes or fall all over themselves finding parts, shop productivity is limited that day, and so is theirs.

The business system I am referring to is mostly invisible. At best, it can be “seen” in the spaces between activities.

Simply, the business system is a sum of all the policies, procedures, paperwork, authorizations and decisions made to control all aspects of maintenance of the company’s assets.

Real Processes

Consider the impact of the business system for managing petty cash. Here are two are real processes:

At Fleet 1, every Class A technician has a “P” card (a credit card used for miscellaneous purchases) with a $500 limit. Each item on the monthly bill must be matched to receipts and assigned job or work order numbers.

At Fleet 2, petty cash must be requested ahead of time. The cash request must be signed by the supervisor for reimbursement. Receipts must be turned in before reimbursement.

Each of these business systems has advantages and disadvantages.

Fleet 1 has speed and simplicity. It also has a higher possibility of petty theft.

Fleet 2 has tight control of expenditures but also is fraught with possible delays.

Productivity Assumptions

Experienced supervisors manage by walking around. They instantaneously see and remember who is working, who is surfing the net, who is carrying tools, who is talking on their cell phone and so on. These data points form opinions about who is “good” and who is “bad.”

What if a supervisor’s opinions about workers are based on faulty assumptions? What if bias replaced facts? What if the drivers of the not-working activities are a damaged business system, an unorganized shop design or unreasonable cost cutting?

Let’s say it takes 12 minutes to fill a spare parts order if everything is in stock.

Technician A turns in her order and immediately texts her friends about plans for the evening. The supervisor might already be annoyed with his own daughter about the amount of texting. He sees Technician A texting and decides the worker is not dedicated to the job. He files this data point away.

In actuality, it becomes a line on a psychological indictment against that employee. It also may color what the supervisor actually sees.

If on the next day he sees the same person chatting with another employee, what is he going to think?

If you ask the supervisor what he saw, he’ll tell you he saw Technician A chatting with Technician B on company time. Can you hear the bias?

The supervisor goes with his bias and this incident becomes another line on the indictment. If he had taken the time to learn what was actually going on, he would have found that Technician A was asking Technician B for the computer settings for the new V-Tec engine.

Information Gathering

It is essential to gather unbiased information and ask what is driving the activity. Was texting a primary driver or was the excessive waiting time?

Was the conversation the primary driver of the activity or was the lack of set-up information, or lack of specific training, the driver?

I am not saying that some employees are not lazy some of the time. Nor am I saying that texting, surfing and cell phone usage are not huge problems for both productivity and safety.

I am saying that the primary driver of the behavior might be gaps caused by a less than robust business system.

In other cases, the lack of productivity is caused by decisions made on building layout, equipment selection or even tool selection. For work on tractor trailer combinations, imagine the difference in productivity of pull-through bays versus back-in pull-out repair, wash and PM bays.

Work Sampling

As mentioned in last issue’s column, work sampling can help uncover more of the facts about activities. Facts lead to questions. The answers to the question will frequently point to:

  • Defects in the business system – like needing permission from a supervisor who is rarely in the shop or accessible.
  • Stockroom being set up incorrectly.
  • Odd layout decisions – like store rooms in other buildings.
  • Decisions around stocking of hard-to-get parts.
  • Lack of tools and equipment.
  • Lack of manuals or other documents.

Once you see where the facts are pointing, you have insight into trying to fix the problem.

Keep track of your experiments. Because whether they work or not, you know something you didn’t know before.