If you haven’t heard the ‘Blue Light’ metaphor, you’re in for a delightful discovery. I would just tell you to Google it, but I’m too excited. When was the last time you thought deeply about improving the workflow and productivity in your business? I mean really looked around and scrutinized each process for efficiency- even if that means making uncomfortable changes?

As a business owner/founder/manager, it’s clear you have skill, creativity and innovation going on. But it’s easy to get complacent when things are running okay. Mustering the motivation to take a step back and reevaluate some of your processes can have a huge payoff.

When running a business, searching regularly for improvements can mean the difference between success and failure. You better believe that your competitors will finds ways to improve, so it’s necessary that you do the same- and if you're lucky you'll out-innovate them.

Organizations that are making a concerted effort to improve processes are getting an edge over the competition. Take a look at Intermountain Healthcare. You may think a woodworking business has nothing to do with healthcare, but there are things to be learned from process improvement in all industries. This healthcare organization is at the top of their game right now, getting a lot of media attention for their quality of service, while keeping costs down. Why are they special?

Intermountain has received several awards for its progressive use of electronic medical records and ‘evidence based medical care’. They have been willing to invest time and money into process improvement- and it IS an investment. They've created a culture of innovation in the system that encourages all levels of employees to speak up with improvement opportunity ideas. The company provides cards that any employee can fill out when they have an idea for increased efficiency, safety, or to conserve resources. From changing supply organization to modifying a communication process, these ideas are implemented on a regular basis.

The administrators know that they can’t be the only ones coming up with new ideas, and see the value in gaining information from the staff that’s deep in the day-to-day processes throughout the organization.

Robert Fox (from now on referred to as Bob) is the founder of Viable Vision, an operational excellence consulting firm. He is a widely known expert in improvement practices. Bob has been consulting for over 20 years with a metaphor he calls 'the blue light' that came from a single moment of insight early in his career.

At the beginning of his career Bob was consulting for a bumper manufacturer. The business was stuck, unable to keep up with increased orders. They were experiencing a chokepoint at the welding part of manufacturing, a major control point. It was so bad, the manager said they needed to expand their building to increase the number of welders- something that would have been a huge and time consuming expense, but seemed necessary as they were getting backed up on orders. They weren’t scalable, and that puts a halt on growth.

Bob was sure he could find a better solution as the skeptical manager took him down for a tour of the shop. The manager was quite sure this process was as efficient as it was going to get- I mean, the guys were technically working the whole time, but Bob saw an entirely different situation.

While watching the welders work, it hit Bob.

With all the intermittent stopping to reposition the bumper or get a new one, the bright bluish light from the welding torch was actually on about 25% of the time (hence the blue light metaphor)! The welders were there to WELD, right?

The manager saw busy men with no room for improvement, Bob saw a welding station that was hardly welding! See what I'm getting at?

Having a similar ‘aha moment’ in your own company could result in significant improvement in several aspects of your business. What’s your ‘blue light’?

How’s your finishing room running? Are workers stopping to load their own product, stopping the spray gun? Is your sanding station stopping so the guys can attend to other problems? What about box or furniture assembly- are bad parts making it to them, therefore turning off the ‘blue light?’

Turn your company's culture into a place of continuously flowing good ideas, with open communication so that good ideas don't slip through the cracks. Remember, we all have a blue light; it's up to us to make sure it's on perpetually.

I encourage you to brainstorm ideas to increase efficiency at control points in your own business. We will be talking more later about control point in the manufacturing setting and what you can do to improve function. Stay tuned.

Click here to read the blue light story

Eliminating human error is an incredibly important process improvement, and getting Allmoxy for free will help you streamline your office.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.