I was four team members down to three literally overnight in my online business, and I had to act smart and fast if I was going to save the business I had been left with. Every task was under scrutiny. Every email, every phone call, every stock order, every delivery receipt. What could we do in our warehouse or in our office that was faster? Smoother? Cheaper? More productive? What could we eliminate from our work day altogether? How could we get the most out of every moment we invested into our workflow?
These desperate days brought with them many blessings in disguise. We all know Business Success 101 involves reducing inputs and increasing outputs. Reduce overheads, increase revenue. Reduce staff, increase productivity. Reduce time spent, increase efficiency. In this situation, I ran over every business process with a fine tooth comb. Did we really need to have the phones open that long? No… we turned off the phones 2 hours earlier. Did we really need to buy that much stock? No … we started buying only what we sold. Did we really need to serve those customers? No … we stopped international orders altogether. The small gains were not worth the headaches of lost parcels, items in customs, and unavoidable delays beyond our control. I literally started forcing my business to become something different.
How long does it take you to walk from your desk to your kitchen, and then back again, five times? Go ahead, time it.
If you’re smart you will pick up those five items you need from the kitchen in one trip, right? If you were paying actual money for the time it took to get to your kitchen and back, you might even consider moving your desk.
As I watched my warehouse assistant picking his orders for the day I saw how truly absurd his small basket was. So we bought him a large trolley with three tall shelves to load up.
And I watched him wheel that trolley all the way down to the end of the warehouse to pick some of our most popular filters. I knew he was walking too far each time he needed to reload his trolley, so we moved the packing bench off the wall to the centre of the warehouse. We surrounded that work station with our fastest selling lines.
Then I watched my warehouse assistant resist the use of the trolley because now, most of the stock he needed was within ten steps. Before all this restructure had been necessarily thrust upon us, he had worked largely unsupervised in that warehouse. He was reliable and his work ethic was unquestionable, so that space used to be his domain, without conversation or question. The original layout was not genius by any stretch of the imagination … In fact, it had simply been inherited from our old garage operation, back when we first started from home. Our initial warehouse setup had evolved from our early days, when all we had was a single shelf of vacuum bags tucked in behind our car. In our ten years of operating this particular business, we had never reviewed the floor plan or evaluated the locations of the stock. Heck! We had never even labelled the locations. We were like the vast majority of small start up businesses out there. We made structural changes in a random, ad hoc kind of way, and we continued to do things simply because that is how they had always been done.
My warehouse assistant wanted to go back to the old way. It was comfortable and familiar, and now with the packing bench moved to a better vantage point, and the stock he needed right there at arm’s reach, he argued that it didn’t take that much extra time to simply walk to it, pick it, walk it back to the bench, and pack it.
“How long does it take you to walk from your desk to the filter wall and then back again, five times? Go ahead,” I said, “time it.”
He responded as if I was being contrary and argumentative for its own sake, and he refused to actually take the steps of those five trips to the filters and back again. I didn’t want the interaction to become any more confrontational than it already was, so I walked that little trip back and forward a few times myself to illustrate my point. The five trips were never timed, but thankfully, they were never made like that ever again. It was clear that even the short walk to those filters would happen five times faster if all of the filters were picked in one go.
Workplace inefficiencies are largely invisible to the long term user. The cows who walk those tracks into the side of the hill would never dream of walking a different way. Those tracks have been created over months, if not years of routine. But time passes and things change, and if your business is doing what it’s meant to do, you have grown into something different now. You do not have the small operation you used to have, and your old processes don’t work the way they used to.
If yesterday’s methods continue to be used today, your business cannot grow into a new tomorrow. The growth you have worked so hard for will choke your workflow, and the growing pains will become crippling. Your daily processes will end up being the bottleneck of your operation, and it will become tiresome and overwhelming. One day you might even look in the mirror and realise that you used to say, “The sky’s the limit” and now you realise that “This guy’s the limit.”
It’s time for you to examine the time you spend in motion.