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Productivity is a term that is often thrown around when running a business, but it holds immense importance. It can be a crucial factor in determining the success or failure of a company. 

To enhance productivity, it is essential to focus on building a productive workforce, who are fully trained for each task they are asked to perform, with the right components / sub-assemblies and tools in place, with the tasks correctly sequenced, leveraging technology that can accelerate production while ensuring a safe working environment. In the current business climate, small and medium-sized businesses must prioritise productivity enhancement to succeed. And believe it or not, it is possible to achieve this goal without making extravagant investments. 


A Game of standards and repeatability 

We’ll use traditional manufacturing as an example. Manufacturing is about achieving the same result (producing output of the same quality) in a repeatable process, and ultimately, it is a game of standards.  

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) generate repeatability and uniformity, which are the foundation of any improvement work and are necessary for maintaining good productivity, quality and happy customers. But any business can develop its own SOP!  

Candy's Cupcakes is a typical example of the impact of adopting a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in the manufacturing process. They worked with me as a specialist Manufacturing Advisor from the GM Business Growth Hub to discuss their production process, participated in our Lean Champion Programme, and subsequently reorganised their production line to enhance efficiency.  

By rearranging worktables, tools and ingredients storage, and introducing more technology into the kitchen, they were able to significantly improve their productivity by reducing backtracking in the production process. The owner immediately noticed that after these physical changes, the staff's general mood improved as everything they needed was more readily available. This prompted them to implement the SOPs in the production process. 

Things to start with when introducing an SOP:

  • The SOP should define the task to be performed, who the SOP is for, and where and how it will be used.
  • Utilise the knowledge of the staff across the Company’s functions to optimise the work to be done, taking on board Lean Principles.
  • Include a List of Components / Tools required to complete the task.
  • Provide written instructions, using simple English / Layman's Terms and include photographs / graphics - a picture is worth a thousand words! These instructions must provide a step-by-step series of operating instructions that can show employees what they need to do to accomplish a given task.
  • The SOP should have a unique identifier / issue number. 

Candy's Cupcakes has implemented Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) into its production process to ensure product quality and cost control. The SOPs provide a detailed cookbook for employees, containing precise measurements of ingredients and step-by-step procedures for every cake on the menu. By using the SOPs, Candy's Cupcakes can guarantee that all cakes meet the same high-quality standard and are produced at the same cost.  

Additionally, the straightforward SOPs have made training more efficient, allowing new employees to work effectively with minimal effort. Most importantly, reorganising the production line and adopting SOPs does not require a huge capital investment, and by doing so, Candy’s Cupcakes got a 15% productivity enhancement. 


Two different approaches: Firefighting vs Learning

Maintaining standards is crucial. When standards are not met, repeatability is lost, leading to unravelling.  

When faced with this problem, there are two approaches: firefighting and learning. An organisation that relies on firefighting seeks temporary fixes for minor issues. However, a learning organisation does not settle for workarounds. Instead, they take the time to identify and understand the problem, learn from it, and eliminate it forever.  

Leaders who adopt a learning culture should regularly visit the factory premises, converse with employees, and avoid jumping to conclusions. They should consult with management for their insights and collaborate to make incremental improvements without drastic changes.  

Always remember that it is the responsibility of leaders to set and maintain the standard. 

Senior Manufacturing Advisor Geoff Crossley looked back at one of the core lessons from our Lean Champion programme about the importance of setting and upholding standards, explaining how a lean principle based on martial arts makes all the difference. For more in-depth advice, please go to: 

Why you should never walk on by: Part 1 | GM Business Growth Hub 

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