Some Efficiency Lessons Business Owners Can Learn From Manufacturers

bs1I’ve always found it useful to be eclectic when it comes to looking for advice. You may think your dry-cleaning business or auto mechanic shop can’t possibly learn from businesses that are in completely different industries, but you might be surprised at what you can learn if you open your eyes and mind.
One of my businesses is a small manufacturing company, and it occurred to me the other day that I’ve learned a lot from our successes and trials. I’ve been able to put those lessons to use in my other business ventures to improve my efficiency. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned from manufacturing that may be helpful to your company too:
1. Eliminate waste.
Whether it’s office supplies, raw materials or employees who aren’t earning their keep, you know there are measures you could take to cut costs.
Manufacturers have learned that becoming more efficient can be difficult if they don’t trim unnecessary costs and stop wasting time and money.
2. Establish SMART goals.
To improve efficiency, it helps if everyone in your organization understands your clearly defined goals. It also helps if those goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific—otherwise known as SMART goals.
If your company goals don’t meet every single SMART criterion, then you and your staff may end up spinning your wheels in inefficient activities that can hurt your bottom line. Consider sitting down with your team to define your goals and make sure they’re SMART.
3. Establish systems.
If you or your employees must hand-manage every single task you need accomplished, you may become so mired in minutiae. And that can get in the way of efficiency.
Consider taking a step back from your company’s processes and look for ways to establish systems—portions of your business that you can automate. Systems can help free up you and your staff for more important hands-on tasks, thus improving efficiency. Scaling up requires systematization.
4. Look for bottlenecks.
Bottlenecks are points in your process that prevent you from running more quickly and efficiently. They’re the sticking places where workflow gets gummed up. Bottlenecks can create backlogs that leave your staff idle, waiting to be able to do their jobs—they can be an efficiency killer.
Whether your bottleneck is a task that might benefit from streamlining, or a person who’s unable to keep up with the rest of your employees, when you identify and resolve bottlenecks, you may find that you can accomplish much more.
5. Use key performance indicators (KPIs).
In addition to setting SMART goals, savvy manufacturers use KPIs to evaluate their progress in achieving those goals. KPIs can help you make sure that your goals are clearly communicated to your staff by evaluating them on your prioritized tasks. If your staff knows what matters to you, they may be better able to help you achieve it.
6. Establish quality controls.
Whether you’re manufacturing widgets or cleaning houses, providing excellent service and value to your customers is important. If you don’t have a way to assess the quality of your finished product (and of the staff producing it), you may find yourself struggling to wow your clients. Consider building assessment and evaluation into your process—this can help you learn how much more efficient you can be.
7. Employ root cause analysis.
Business owners often face troubles in their business, but the most successful entrepreneurs find ways to surmount them. It’s important to avoid treating the symptoms of your problems, rather than the cause. Root cause analysis can help prevent just that.
One of the simplest strategies you can use to make sure you’re getting to the heart of your problem is to ask “Why?” until you actually arrive at the root cause. Take this for example: A manufacturer of watches is having trouble delivering orders on time. She asks why. It turns out one portion of her factory is at a standstill. She asks why again. They don’t have the materials they need to produce their component. She asks why. The materials haven’t been ordered. Why? Because the vendor went out of business.
By asking why until she got to the real cause, the manufacturer discovers what her course of action should be. She can then find a new vendor and begin meeting deadlines once again. Root cause analysis is about getting to the actionable issues.
8. Strive for continuous flow.
Most manufacturers understand that streamlining their process can help ensure a smooth, continuous flow of work. An important part of streamlining is ensuring that clients are moved through your process without a hitch. What that means in practice is that if you have a marketing team handing leads to your sales team, that happens without customers getting stalled or neglected in between.

Clients (like products in manufacturing) must be handed off from one department to the next without being dropped. If those handoffs aren’t seamless, you may not be as efficient as you could be. It helps to work toward making your workflow process as smooth and hassle-free as possible.
Ice cream shops, accountants and home repair contractors alike can all benefit from learning from the strategies manufacturers use to become more efficient and profitable. Even if you’re in a service industry, efficiency is worth striving for, as it can always affect your bottom line.