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Production meetings are a necessary evil. It’s critical to make sure shop employees are on the same page, but pulling technicians out of production and into a meeting goes against lean thinking. Meetings have the potential to be unproductive and a waste of time.

Still, you need a process to keep everyone in the know so work continues to move smoothly. You might find additional value in production meetings by implementing a more effective and efficient process.

Take a look at how Troy Hunt restructured his shop’s production meetings, for instance. As regional operations director for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Hansen Collision Inc., Hunt developed a production meeting standard operating procedure (SOP) to use at each of the company’s 22 locations.

It’s not your typical morning meeting. It’s a three-step process that’s conducted every day—a strategy that might help revamp your mundane morning process. Hunt offers tips on how to be successful during each step, and avoid problems that often cause unproductive discussions.

STEP 1 The Office Meeting

Each of Hansen Collision’s locations holds an office meeting first thing in the morning, between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. The meeting includes the office manager, shop manager, production manager, estimators and parts personnel.

Hunt prints out a production schedule from the shop management system, and highlights the most important jobs in green and yellow. Jobs scheduled for delivery that day get marked with green, while jobs scheduled for the next day get marked with yellow.

Those green and yellow jobs remain the focus of discussion during the office meeting. They discuss the status of each vehicle, sublet needs to care for, parts issues and delays, and customer needs.

How to avoid inefficiency: Don’t treat the office meeting like a staff meeting, Hunt says. Keep the discussion focused on immediate production goals, and save all other issues for another time.

Be a better leader: Steve Trapp, collision services development manager for DuPont Performance Coatings, says strictly adhering to immediate production issues during the office meeting helps managers stay on track. You only talk about things critical for the near future, which avoids cluttering your mind with other unnecessary challenges.

Hunt’s top tip: Keep your technicians out of the office meeting. Hunt says technicians prefer to get started on work right away rather than sit through a meeting first.

“We don’t want to consume too much of the technicians’ time,” Hunt says. “Time is money. Technicians, and the shop, make money by producing work.”

STEP 2 The Shop Meeting

After the office meeting, Hunt says the production manager goes into the shop to hold a meeting with the painters, technicians and parts personnel. The production manager prints out work-in-process reports by technician, and again, highlights the jobs of primary and secondary importance in green and yellow respectively.

Those jobs are the focus of the conversation. They update repair statuses, discuss parts needs and highlight any foreseen delays in order to set realistic delivery times.

Avoid inefficiency: Don’t get wrapped up in day-to-day challenges and struggles, Hunt says. Talk about the car and the customer; leave all other concerns for separate conversations.

Be a better leader: Trapp says meeting with technicians separate from other shop employees helps managers keep them focused. You’re only talking about issues that matter to each person, and you spend less time discussing things that don’t pertain to them.

“In typical production meetings, technicians tend to mentally shut off during discussions of issues that don’t effect them,” Trapp says. “Then they have to get refocused when it’s their turn to talk. It can be quite inefficient.”

In addition, Trapp says it helps managers work together with technicians rather than dictate orders. Technicians feel more comfortable about giving input to develop a work plan and job priorities.

Hunt’s top tip: Highlight the current and following day’s deliveries on the work-in-process report, Hunt says. That helps keep jobs flowing because technicians know what to start on next in the event of a delay.

“It helps technicians prioritize their entire day by giving primary and secondary focuses,” Hunt says. “It’s a great road map for their day’s work.”

STEP 3 The Walk-Around

Hunt strolls through the shop every day prior to 2 p.m. to update the status of each vehicle in the shop’s management system, an activity he refers to as a walk-around. He pays special attention to those green and yellow jobs, and uses an iPad to make on-the-go updates for each one.

Hunt says he’s got vendor cutoffs at 3 p.m. each day—meaning orders for broken or missing parts need to be in by that time in order to receive them the next day. The walk-around helps make sure each job is on track and proactively identifies problems to maintain delivery schedules.
“It’s those last-minute problems that burn you,” Hunt says. “We’ve saved so much time and frustration by doing the afternoon walk-around.”

Avoid inefficiency: No war stories, Hunt says. You might identify problems that arose, but spend your time finding solutions rather than hashing out what caused the problem.

Be a better leader: Trapp says the walk-around reduces management frustration because you’re proactively keeping people on the same page. There is always a work plan, everyone knows the plan and people know what’s necessary to get it done.

Hunt’s top tip: Use the walk-around to prepare for the next day’s production process. You already know what was happening in the shop the night before, and you have a good idea of where each job stands. That allows you to formulate focused discussions with employees, and develop new sets of priorities for the following day.

“Our work the previous afternoon sets us up for success the next day,” Hunt says. “There are no surprises.”

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