Transplanting, a Formula for Success
As process consultants, we recognize common structures across a wide spectrum of specific cases. In this article I will explore multiple instances of three common process structures. Process Renovation works with our clients to help them gain a process perspective of their activities and align them with the strategic goals of the organization.
Documenting and understanding a process has many benefits. It helps get everyone on the same page, provides a common structure for evaluating and improving the process, and supports training for consistent execution.
Processes can be viewed at varying degrees of detail. At each level, a different process structure may be employed. In many cases a hybrid structure is appropriate. We are going to look at three types of process structures that span different environments but have the similar structures.
Structure 1: Getting the right materials and tools in the right place at the right time.
From a process structure point-of-view the following examples are virtually the same and provide the same benefit in a variety of situations: They ensure you have immediate access to required tools and basic materials.
For my daughter’s landscape company, I built custom racks for the service trucks to hold tools and supplies.
When Sara started her landscaping company, at the end of each day a list of what should be taken to accommodate the next day’s jobs was made. At the start of the day those items would be gathered and placed in the vehicle. This took time, was not always accurate, and did not allow for clients to request additional unplanned services. Together, we renovated this process to have each service truck have over 95% of materials and tools needed to deliver the range of services her company provided.
This saved time at the end of each day and at the beginning of the next day. It also allowed for an improved customer experience with unplanned request being fulfilled and to employee satisfaction by them being able to say, “Yes, we can do that while we are here today”. This change increased profitability.
Construction Site Trailers
I volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and have relied upon the Construction Site Trailer inventory to accomplish planned and unplanned tasks. For the primary task involved in building homes, Habitat has well defined processes that get the right materials and tools into the hands of volunteers very effectively.
Unplanned opportunities often emerge as the build unfolds. As an example, one Saturday, I saw volunteers and staff struggle to get in and out of the house that was under construction. The problem was that the foundation backfill was nearly 3 feet below the threshold of the door. Using scrap materials and tools/fasteners from the Construction Site Trailer, I made a temporary set of three steps with a handrail. I probably would not have built the steps if the needed items were not at the job site. Having a well-equipped construction site trailer allowed me to react to an unanticipated need and save the 20 volunteers and staff on the build that day significant effort and increase safety on the job site.
ER Crash Carts
My wife was recently in an emergency room where the team prepared to use an ER Crash Cart to provide special medications, supplies and a defibrillator. Fortunately, her condition was resolved before needing to use the items on the crash cart. It was great to see all effort focused on the patient and resolving her issues, not on gathering the tools needed.
A few years back, when my mom was at an assisted living center, I appreciated the process they had for assisting residents with showers. They would schedule the showers so the residents could anticipate when it was their turn. The aid would prepare a cart with all the items needed to do a set of showers. This included towels, soap, shampoo, etc. In addition, it included all the supplies needed to replace bandages.
One reason I notice the Shower Cart is that my mother had spent 2 weeks at another assisted living center years earlier. It had a much less efficient process. Showers were done on request and each one was prepared for separately.
Having the right tool in the right place at the right time can improve customer experience, improve volunteer/employee success and safety, and save lives. These are very different situations that seem to have very divergent requirements, but the solution to each is structured in the same way and then adapted to the specific circumstances.
Structure 2: Staging items in anticipation of action.
A second process structure that fits many different environments is using a staging area to gather all the appropriate items so when it is time to move/use the items, they are easily accessible. I have seen this in a wide variety of environments including manufacturing, non-profit fundraising, professional cooking and my personal life.
- Manufacturing Shipping
- Volunteer Event Support
- Mise en place
- Family Weekend Trips
I was working with a manufacturer that only had one loading dock door. However, they needed to quickly load four Semis in a 2-hour window each afternoon. In the morning, they staged each of 4 trucks contents in 4 locations on the loading dock. This allowed them to verify that everything on the packing lists was ready to go. At the time of loading the trucks, it was simply a matter of clearing each of the staging areas into its assigned truck.
Volunteer Event Support
I was a volunteer at the Raise the Woof fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity. In preparation for the 16 teams completing their unique dog houses during the Saturday event, we used a staging area in the warehouse so each team would have easy access to all the materials and tools being provided. That included precut sides, fronts/backs, studs, roofing, nails, screws, etc.
In the days leading up to the event, we were able to verify that all items were prepared in the appropriate quantities. There were also safety items including: gloves, earplugs, safety glasses and dust mask. Having staged all the parts, the event volunteers and staff could focus on the teams and observers enjoying the event.
Mise en place (setting in place, positioning)
Professional cooks always assemble equipment and ingredients prior to starting to prepare food. Process Renovation partner Adam is the restaurant consultant on our team and he can explain in greater detail the importance of Mise en place. In recent years, Adam has demonstrated Mise en place as he has taken the lead on our family’s holiday dinners.
Mise en place is the religion of all good line cooks. — Anthony Bourdain
Family Weekend Trips
In my personal life, for decades, my family has used a staging area to prepare for weekend trips to our cabin. On the day we are departing, everyone gets their personal belongings into a designated area near our front door. When our children were young, this included toys and homework. Now it is my c-pap machine, our medicines and laptops. It should be no surprise that we use a staging area at the cabin to prepare for our return home.
Using a staging area makes moving material easier since the preparation is spread over time. It also improves accuracy by facilitating verification. And most importantly to me, it eliminated much of the stress of getting my family to a weekend of relaxation at our cabin. When I said, “it’s time to load the car”, everyone knew exactly what to do.
Structure 3: Using a checklist to verify a predefined process is executed as planned.
The following examples all use the same structure and basic concepts: Planning the steps and materials to be used in the process, sequencing steps and preparing a timeline, executing the process, and then verifying step completion. They use checklists to facilitate completion and ensure no steps are missed.
- Preparing Thanksgiving Dinner
- Back to School
- Airplane Take-Off
- Manufacturing a product
In my family, this annual tradition has taken many forms. When I was growing up, my involvement was limited to gathering chairs, help setting the tables and of course helping with cleanup.
As an adult and parent, I was involved in scheduling, shopping and food preparation. Well in advance there would be a lot of phone calls and conversations about the menu. Then there was negotiating the delegation of dishes to various family members. Each dish had a recipe either explicitly or implicitly known by the preparer that is a combination of ingredients, quantities and process steps.
Recently, with a chef in the family, I have watched how a professional makes it look simple. Planning the menu, shopping, prep and most impressively execution on the day. He had a plan for when each dish would go into the oven or onto the stove and when they would all come out at the correct time to have a lovely relaxing dinner. Growing up, I sensed my mother, mother-in-law and grandmothers being more stressed.
It’s a very common annual ritual for adults to help their children get ready to go to school. In my experience a checklist was central to this process. My mother made several lists to help me and my two brothers return to school. These included shopping list for clothing, general school supplies and special items like a graphing calculator.
When I fly on a plane, I trust the pilot and copilot have meticulously completed the preflight checklist to ensure our safety. I can imagine one of them reading out the items and others acknowledging that they are completing each step with “Check” or “Roger That”.
Manufacturing a product
Requires multiple lists. Typically, the first is a list of customer orders or a forecast of needed products. For each item to be manufactured there is a bill of materials that may be multi-level including its sub-assemblies. There is also a list of routing steps and/or shop instructions for how to transform the raw materials into the finished good.
A checklist can be as simple as milk, bread and peanut butter. Or, as in the case of a Boeing 777, have over 3 million parts, provided by more than 900 suppliers. However, the basic steps remain consistent: plan, sequence, execute and verify.
Seeing the process underneath the details is a combination of experience, methodology and perspective. All process improvement must be preceded by understanding of the current process. Then the stakeholders involved can look for opportunities to simplify and improve the process. In addition, consistent execution usually requires documentation and training.
In many ways the cliché “there is nothing new under the sun,” is an illustration of the universality of process. As technology, norms and paradigms evolve the opportunity for process renovation is endless. That is why I love being a business process consultant.