If ever there was a time to get your business up to snuff, it is now. I have spoken to several woodworking companies that tell me that they are half the size they were a couple of years ago. Everyone, residential, commercial and government is holding back, which leads to one conclusion: a lot of pent up demand is being created. What a great opportunity to get all your ducks in a row, because once busy again there will be no time to do so.

Right now, to be sure, for many of you survival is key. But remember the tide will turn, and if you are around supply will be short.

Take a fresh look 

Now is the time to look at your operation with fresh eyes by first stepping back. Examine your core competency. Jettison all other functions. When the time is right, which is now, start dialog with suppliers who have specialized in those disciplines you do not have or want.

Next ensure that you have the tools to manage and convey your customers’ requirements to your shop and your suppliers. Examine your operations from receipt of inquiry to fulfillment of the contract and reduce redundancies. Make sure that the right people fill the necessary slots. Be mindful of not introducing redundancies based on your staff’s past performances or expectations.

Opportunity for change 

If a cultural change suggests itself in your business, now too is an excellent opportunity to initiate it. First, take a fresh look at the environment in your house. This task falls on owners and managers, very much a top down thing, as the rest of the staff cannot initiate this. Ask yourself what can be done with minimal investment to improve the look and feel of your surroundings. Examine the rules and dictates imposed upon your staff. Are they still meaningful? My experience is the fewer rules the better but those that stay must be firm.

It is important to share your intent with everyone. People are more fearful of change if left in the dark.

Plant upgrades 

Take a hard look at the plant. Examine each workstation and clearly define the function of it. Can the steps required to complete the goods be reduced? Can a workstation be eliminated? Does each workstation have every tool always at hand? Is the flow between workstations in harmony? Is the path from workstation to workstation as short as possible? Do you have machinery sitting around from the past which appear to be too good to remove?

If the space available is simply used because you have it, invariably there is too much of it. On every consulting job I have done over the years, at least 20 percent of the space was misused or unnecessary.

Think of this. If the output of your shop or plant is generated by the operators on the shop floor, and your expectation must be that the opportunity cost of each one of them is say $100 per hour, for every minute that is lost, $1.67 of productivity has vanished forever. That’s a cool $20,000 a year for that operator.

Pursue this line of thinking and before you know it you are on the path to becoming a lean organization. If you fully engage your staff in the process by allowing them to execute the changes, everyone will benefit beyond their wildest dreams.

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