How to reduce cycle times, improve quality, boost profits

reduce cycle time efficiency quality

Right now there are a lot of memes making the rounds in the social media that poke fun at Ikea. The general idea of most of them is to tease the Swedish furniture maker about all the instructions users have to follow in order to assemble the items they’ve purchased.

Eiffel-Ikea_o_93837Honestly, although Ikea instructions (and names) are rather cryptic, they do a pretty good job of showing people how to put their items together. However, it doesn’t always feel that way at the time!

This puts a focus on the concept of how to reduce cycle times in your small business. By this, I mean the necessity of reducing processes down to their fewest number of steps, organizing them ideally and therefore accomplishing things more quickly.

Further, when you lower the number of steps in a process and reduce the cycle time, you eliminate the number of places where your employees can make errors. In many cases you’ll also find that you can reduce materials and paperwork. Add all of these efficiencies up and they equal greater profitability in your small business.

The enemy of reducing cycle times in your small business is the we’ve-always-done-it-that-way mindset. The principle of reducing cycle times is one of the cornerstones of traditional manufacturing quality assurance, but it’s a principle that can be applied to virtually any business, including small business service companies.

Pick the low-hanging fruit

Take a fresh set of eyes to review your processes. If they haven’t been documented, get that done and be sure that no one leaves out any step they do. When things become habit, we do them without thinking; don’t let these steps escape your documentation process!

Eliminate redundancies. When two or more departments have to work together to accomplish something in a small business, they often duplicate one another’s work. Down deep, they just don’t trust the other group or person.

Principle: Do it right the first time and you don’t have to do it a second time.

Get your entire team involved in these reviews. Look for paperwork that gets filled out but never looked at again. Cut the red tape.

Streamline timing

There are a variety of strategies that help you complete tasks more quickly. Review the sequences that you use. Can they be reordered to make them more efficient? Don’t be afraid to experiment. Switch things up. One of the most important things you’re doing when you start on a journey to find how to reduce cycle times is to get people thinking differently and accepting new ideas.

Ask questions like, “Who are you always waiting on for them to finish their work?” Find out where the bottlenecks are and propose creative ways to eliminate them. Maybe having some materials “pre-staged” would greatly improve throughput.

If your processes all seem to be linearly organized – A then B then C then D – look for processes that can be done in parallel. Maybe two departments can be working on a project or product at the same time, then everything would come together at the end.

Systemize, automate, outsource

Above I said that you must systemize and document your processes. However, don’t see this as something that is done once and you’re finished with it. Your documents should be constantly updated as your team finds better ways to get things done. If the documents aren’t kept up to date, then someday soon a new person will come on board and start working with antiquated, inefficient instructions.

To take it one step further than systemizing processes in your small business, automate processes wherever you can. This, of course, can be more expensive, but you should always be open to automation.

In the same way, there are probably other companies that can provide services to your small business that you shouldn’t be doing in house. Find the areas where you can do some smart outsourcing. With proper planning and scheduling, outsourcing can help you reduce your cycle times.

By the way, finding a good place to outsource can even help out in processes that you typically handle yourself. If your small business gets overwhelmed at certain times of the year, it can be a smart idea to outsource some of your work so you can maintain your fast turnaround times.

In the end, reducing cycle time is a “frame of mind.” And if you, as the small business owner, are constantly discovering how to reduce cycle times, it’s an attitude that would spread to your team. You’ll end up owning a small business where continual quality and process improvement is part of the culture.