Reduce Handoffs to Increase Throughput
To reduce the time it takes to complete any process, look at the number of steps in the process and the number of times things are handed off from one person/department to another.
We see handoffs taking place everywhere. In some cases, it’s due to a skill deficiency in which someone does not know how to perform a certain task. In other cases, technology or equipment limitations may necessitate a handoff. Sometimes handoffs are a result of a perceived need for a “check” to assure quality. Handoffs may even be based on a need to maintain process control through multi-level approvals. Whether the process is in manufacturing, administration, warehousing or service, handoffs should be targeted as a means of increasing throughput and process improvement.
One of my clients claims that if his company cannot provide price and delivery information for everything before the end of a workday, the company has almost no chance of landing an order.
One of the more common processes in which we see handoffs is job quoting. Often, a request for quote (RFQ) is received by a sales/customer service group. After entering the quote into some type of “system,” the quote is handed off to a manufacturing or service group for pricing and delivery. If the product or service is truly a one-off, meaning the company has never done similar work in the past, input from others may be needed. However, if a company has consistently provided the same or similar products and services, there should be no need for a handoff. Sales/customer service employees should have the necessary tools to develop price and delivery quotes. If these tools are lacking, the company should make it a key initiative to develop such tools. In some cases, it’s just a matter of collecting data and making it visible to those receiving RFQs. In this age of instant information, customers are expecting instant feedback on pricing and delivery of products and services. One of my clients even claims that if his company cannot provide price and delivery information for everything before the end of a workday, the company has almost no chance of landing an order.
Warehousing is another area typically rife with handoffs. Frequently, employees are assigned the task of picking parts from a warehouse for shipment. They dutifully pick the parts and then hand them off to others who complete the shipping process. I recently saw an operation that broke this process down even further: One person picked the parts, another person put the parts in an envelope or box, and a third person processed the shipment and added the required shipping labels. Contrast this with the same process in another company in which the person picking the parts has a computer and printer on the picking cart and picks, packs and ships 95% of all orders going to customers. After the order is touched by just one person, it is put onto a cart next to the shipping dock awaiting daily pickup by a package delivery carrier.
I have written at length over the years of the numerous handoffs that occur within manufacturing processes. Sometimes they are unavoidable as parts cannot be made completely in a single process. However, quite often parts are handed off to secondary processes when they could easily be completed in a single process. Obvious examples are deburring, cleaning, drilling/tapping of side holes or features not typically achievable in a single setup, and even light assembly. For every handoff in a process, a new queue is created, and this queue increases the time required to finish a part. These manufacturing handoffs can be reduced by introducing tools to accommodate deburring, drilling and tapping during the next part’s machining cycle, portable cleaners positioned at the machining station, and assembly fixtures and tooling that support single-piece flow from the machine to the assembly bench.
Many other handoffs can be discovered if we spend a little time reviewing the way things currently are being done. The obvious place to start is with repetitive parts or services. Make changes and observe the impact over time. There is also an opportunity to look at non-repetitive tasks with a big-picture perspective. Although parts may appear different, and services may seem unrelated, there is often more commonality than we realize. We can take advantage of these commonalities to identify improvements that can be applied to our product and service groupings. After all, everything we do starts with something that transforms into something else, and each step in this transformation offers an improvement opportunity to be realized.