Managing the Unexpected

June 1, 2012
Better processes and planning can help eliminate surprise problems.

In my last column, I looked at how departments in your shop added to your cycle time and how the body repair process we traditionally run adds to the length of time it takes to repair a car. In my view, the system itself has to change, in order to achieve the requirements of ourselves, our customers and our supply chain.

In the May issue, I looked at one of the things that stops production, which is in my view one of just four things that stop production in any body shop. Without jumping the gun, these are departments (we’ve done that one!), Murphys (things that unexpectedly stop workflow), drying time and our traditional culture.

In this column, let’s look at Murphys. Why the term Murphy? Purely because it relates to Murphy’s law—the law that says, “If it’s going to happen, it probably will!”

You know the scenario: You butter your toast, accidentally drop it on the carpet and it’s guaranteed to land butter-side down. That’s Murphy’s law. So how does this translate to body shops and collision repair? Simply put, things go wrong, and things that go wrong add to cycle time, cost us money and add to repair costs.

Let’s examine Murphys. These are things that we don’t expect to happen, yet they halt or hinder the repair process. They range across a whole sector of disciplines, and include the accidental ordering of the incorrect parts, or the delivery of incorrect parts. They could be a staff member going sick, or your air compressor malfunctioning. One of your workforce could drop a headlamp, which will mean ordering another, or a vehicle could have been assessed incorrectly meaning a requirement for a supplementary estimate. All of these stop production unexpectedly—and that’s the critical point—they are not expected, yet can, in many cases, be eliminated.

Please don’t consider expected production stoppages as being a Murphy. These are easily within our control and include things such as vacations or ordering parts too late. I bet you’re surprised when a staff member wants a vacation, yet your contract of employment gives them 20 days. This is not a Murphy; this is just bad planning.

If your compressor fails, it’s not usually something you can predict. It’s not usually something that you can plan for, unless you install a backup system. Then what happens if that fails—a backup of a backup?  The point I’m making is that Murphys always occur, and there is no way of eliminating a Murphy completely. However, we can reduce them. Research shows that about 80 percent of Murphys can be eliminated with some correct procedures, better processes and better planning—pretty much all upstream of the repair process.

Better processes up front in areas such as estimating, parts control and acquisition will remove a great deal of the Murphys that stop production. Let’s remind ourselves that Murphys (stopped production) add to cycle time, add to work-in-progress and all of the ongoing costs that these incur. Therefore we need to eliminate them.

This means that we have to tear down a car at estimate stage if we have any doubt about the parts or method of repair requirements. It means that irrespective of what we believe, we have to know what is required to repair the vehicle right the first time. When we order parts from our supplier, we need to know what we are ordering, and know that they understand what it is they have to deliver. Using the same person to estimate, to parts order and to receive goods is critical in eliminating most of the Murphys up front. Guessing is not a strategy. Hope is not a strategy.

We need to change our parts suppliers’ behavior—we need to make sure that they deliver all of the parts we ordered in one delivery. If we don’t do that they will not pay attention to the one part missing that will stop the rapid and continuous completion of our repair. Finally, if we know that a Murphy can strike at any time, then shouldn’t we build in time to make sure that if this happens, we have some contingency to cover us in case we promised a delivery date too early?

In summary, Murphys add to cycle time, to our costs and to reducing customer satisfaction. Focussing on Murphy elimination is key to fast-tracking work through a continuous workflow program.

Jon Parker is managing director of the Byteback Group, a U.K.-based information technology and services company aimed at advancing the collision repair industry.

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