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Operational Efficiency

How to boost productivity through value stream mapping

When striving for Operational Excellence, the variety of tools and techniques that an Operations Manager can call upon are vast. In this blog, Geoff Crossley, specialist Manufacturing Advisor at the Business Growth Hub recommends starting with a technique to focus on the biggest productivity gains.

Implementation of lean manufacturing and removing the 8 wastes are well established ways to work towards operational excellence. But in any operation the number of challenges which appear to need resolving immediately or that are linked in a chain of inter-dependent business functions can be overwhelming.

You may be motivated to whip the whole operation into shape only to lose steam and team buy-in at the first hurdle when solving one problem creates ten others. It is in these instances that I recommend manufacturing leaders consider Value Stream Mapping (VSM).

An example of a Value Stream Map. Image: Daniel Penfield.

What is VSM?

VSM takes a holistic approach and identifies the areas you should focus efforts while alerting you to the wider picture and how changes will affect the whole process.

I recently worked with an engineering company in Manchester and to understand their manufacturing bottlenecks we used VSM to model the process and timings of production. This process gave a clear picture for the business to see where efficiency could be improved.

By changing the utilisation of three key machines, they were able to reduce production time by 300 hours. By coordinating the sales order process to manufacturing process and ensuring better communication between sales and production, machine utilisation was improved by the adjustment of batch sizes producing orders more quickly. These changes have reduced the amount of work in progress (WIP) and materials on site – meaning less risk to existing stock and improved productivity.

There’s no I in team…

A common theme for businesses struggling to manage capacity is the challenge of communication between sales and production teams. I recently worked with another manufacturer in Greater Manchester who were struggling to keep up with customer demand. The sales team would commit to unrealistic deadlines to win new business, which meant stopping existing production to focus on urgent jobs. This was creating rework, WIP and expensive downtime for the business.

Gathering together a team of people from the production and sales team to map out the processes gave both departments an understanding of the different challenges they were dealing with. Together they were able to identify that by changing to a smaller batch size, the sales team could bring in new or urgent work without impacting on other orders or creating more WIP and rework.

Winning new business is vital, but rework and waste had added a hidden cost which dented their profit margins. VSM demonstrated how the sales and production teams must work together to impact productivity and profitability to achieve their businesses targets.

As you can see, the scope of VSM is vast, but the impact is always the same – reduced waste in production and improved communication between teams.

How do I go about this?

VSM is not a quick solution, it will take time to do this properly. This factsheet provides useful information on how to go about this and recommends some reading that you might want to consider before starting. Alternatively, the Business Growth Hub’s Manufacturing Team can provide fully-funded support to help you do this.

My advice on how to succeed is:

  1. Start small
    Don’t try to fix the entire process in one go, focus on one area such as order processing or quality checking.
  2. Get the right people together
    You will need a cross section of people from different teams to work together if it is to succeed. The interface between people, departments and machines is essential. Make sure to pick a combination of motivaters and challengers to be part of the team. Convincing a potential detractor in the early stages will help motivate others to ‘come with you’.
  3. Avoid scope creep
    Fix the start and the end point of the process before you start, to avoid scope creep. For instance, in order processing the start point will be when the sales team receive a customer call, through to the order being ready for delivery. You would not consider your marketing strategy at this point.
  4. Set SMART objectives
    We all know how business as usual gets in the way of making change, so be realistic and set time frames to achieve this. ‘Improved communications between sales and production teams’ is not a clear objective. Whereas ‘Implement a new communication channel between the sales and production teams on a weekly basis to manage production capacity’ is.
  1. Give the team time and space to achieve this
    If the recommendations come from the workforce, the change will be easier to implement. Be sure to allow them time to work on this, in a separate room away from the shop floor if possible. Impose the value of the project on the team, by explaining how important it is to you. Most crucially make sure that they have the necessary time in their schedule to achieve it.

The scope of VSM is vast, but the impact is always the same – reduced waste in production and improved communication between teams.

Gather a cross section of people from different teams to work together.

Fix the start and the end points you want to focus on, before starting the project.

Some manufacturing firms refer to this process is as a Kaizen event, a fundamental aspect of Six Sigma training for manufacturing leaders. The Kaizen event is a short improvement project with a clear objective, which involves team members directly involved with the process.

For further reading download the Business Growth Hub’s free Value Stream Mapping and 8 Wastes factsheets from the website.

If you would like to speak to a Manufacturing Advisor about fully-funded support or grant funding to bring in continuous improvement expertise, complete this form or call 0161 237 3050.

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Geoff Crossley

Geoff Crossley, Manufacturing Advisor

Geoff is a highly skilled manufacturing specialist, practiced in supporting manufacturing businesses to implement lean tools and techniques which will increase efficiency. Geoff is passionate about helping manufacturers work smarter and to do more with less.

With a background in engineering design and experience running a successful business, Geoff is skilled at strategic planning, developing sales and marketing strategies to generate new customers and delivering sustained profitability.

To view Geoff's full profile including technical capabilities and industry experience, please click here.