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Articles > Positioning Systems Newsletter #41 1-26-05 “Liberty's Lesson”

“What things can I do to increase my businesses productivity? In a mature business is it possible to make measurable gains and will my people be willing to respond to my efforts?”

There are any number of things you can do with your business to increase productivity. One immediate gain is to improve each person’s individual productivity through time management. Again I’d suggest David Allen’s Getting Things Done as a good place to start with individual and company gains in this area, and you only need to read last months newsletter for more insight on that. If this question is more about operational productivity we need to look at other ideas where improvement can be made.

First you must have your current method of doing whatever functions that you would like to improve productivity on documented. Then you should evaluate the system. Where does it , start, end, and what are all the steps in between? If you haven’t done this often times you and your staff are confused about what the system exactly entails and who should be accountable for what. In many cases a system can be improved simply by writing down these identifications. Look at all the inputs into your system. What goes into it? What are the costs? Measure everything you can that directly affects the costs of doing this activity/system. Quantify, and measure the quality of that which is both input and output from your system. Make sure to identify all the outputs. In some cases the outputs are extremely important. A lot of company’s get sales leads but once they have gone through their sales process they are discarded. A prospect who says no may be a prospect who will say yes in the future. Include these “outputs” in another lead generation system for a newsletter, follow up prospecting process like mailings or phone contacts.

We also encourage you to determine what the key indicators are for your system. Many small business owners are not getting the necessary quantification on their most important systems. How many units or contacts are being produced on a daily basis? What is the quality of these units or contacts? They may be below the standard expected and this alone would indicate a necessary adjustment in a production activity or a lead generation process. Once again you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

When the system documentation and evaluation is complete, it’s time for innovation. Here it’s necessary to go through a series of questions that look at the four faces of work flow including task flow, information flow, material flow and layout or traffic. We have a checklist of these questions to determine if necessary changes should be made in any of these four crucial areas.

Many small businesses immediately see changes that are so obvious they instantly make these in their activities. In the real world we suggest you wait and measure your current output, and then test the innovation to make sure it actually produces a better result. There’s no sense making a change that will reduce productivity, however many small business owners make changes without ever having the information on whether the new way of doing it will actually improve performance. They don’t have the quantification on the present way, but they simply assume the new way will be better. Don’t be guilty of this mistake.

Want some inspiration for this? In World War II our country’s shipping of valuable troops, supplies and war materials to our allies was being crippled by the Nazi submarine fleets. In an effort to improve our ability to deliver, the merchant marine production was asked to improve their ship building of the main carrier of these materials, the Liberty ships. What happened is a story that continues to impact productivity to this day. Originally the ships took 225 to 230 days to be built, and the German U-boats were sinking them faster then they could be produced. Through an alliance of mass production and pre-fabrication this time was reduced down to 42 – 60 days, with the fastest ship built being the Robert G. Peary which was launched from Richmond, CA in some four days, fifteen hours and thirty minutes after the keel was laid. A remarkable increase in productivity which contributed greatly to the Allies victory.

One of the reasons they were able to do this was they used the learning curve. They bunched all their tasks together, so they could do them more efficiently, and they worked as a smooth, well oiled, well functioning team. Learning curve theory states the more you do at a repetitive task, the faster and easier you perform each subsequent task. For example if it takes you ten minutes to do a certain task it will take you nine minutes for the second task, eight minutes for the third task, seven minutes for the fourth task and so on. Down to two minutes a task for a savings of 80% from the time it would take you to do these tasks separate from each other. Many people are oblivious to the learning curve. They perform a task in one area and than in another area. They never find themselves producing at high levels. This is one of the keys to mass production and pre-fabrication.

However in some cases this can have the opposite affect and reduce productivity. It doesn’t do any good to have one production area producing a task quickly if other areas of production can’t perform at a rate that will use the material or service the other department is providing. This is where it is critical to have a system that looks at the four faces of work flow together to maximize productivity principles.

Finally can you motivate your people? Ralph Stayer & James Belasco, in their book The Flight of the Buffalo provide this insight into motivation, “There’s a lot of words written in the past years about making work more fun and rewarding. Many pundits believe that if we can make people happy they will perform better. I started down that path years ago and concluded that just the reverse was true. I discovered that when people perform better, they are happier. My experience is that everyone wants to excel. Everyone enjoys winning. Everyone loves being part of a winning team. Winning reinforces itself. Everyone takes pride in his/her accomplishments. That is why most everyone loves sports. Sports give instant feedback on performance. We all share a deep desire for feedback on our performance. Harness this deep well of energy and commitment in your organization by helping people build systems that measure their performance against those things critical to success. “ Getting your employee’s involved then is more a matter of commitment to improvement. It’s why your leadership is the most important ingredient in the evolution of your business.

Are you on the path to changing yourself and improving productivity?

Need help implementing these ideas?

Positioning Systems helps business owners and entrepreneurs transform their business.  We provide the tools and coaching to help you take control of your business -- rather then having your business control you.