Clean Handoffs

March 1, 2017

The power of improving processes

We just had a record month at one of my shops. One of the many gifts of having a high-producing month is that you can seen where the weaknesses are in the overall system. It’s like running a lot of water through a hose at very high pressure: You immediately know if there are any cracks or holes. 

That seems to be what happened to us recently on this great and challenging month. Our weaknesses were exposed. And that is a good thing—a gift really—because it was clear what we needed to work on. 

Not surprisingly, the work had to do with processes. I used to think I just needed techs that worked harder or faster or had more experience or better tools. Not anymore. Now the first places I look are at the environment I am creating for them to work in and the processes we use to move cars from one department to the next. I begin to ask: What are the working conditions like? How are the managers treating the techs and vice versa? How do the paint and body departments relate to each other—as adversaries or partners? If adversaries, why is that and what can I do to improve the relationship?

Now, what I don’t do any longer is try to get two people or two departments to “like” each other. Typically that will take care of itself if I go to work on the processes that help the departments or people work together better. Here are a couple of examples that recently came to light when I did an informal audit, basically just inviting feedback as I walked around the shop: 

The paint department was frustrated because they would get somewhat random parts sent to them, but they had no way of knowing which car they were for, or if the car was coming right behind the parts, or if they were to paint the parts off the car. I went to work with our parts runner and the paint department and simply asked what kind of information they needed to do the job well. 

“We need the parts labelled,” they said. 

I asked, “What information do you want?” 

“Well, which RO for starters,” they said. 

I asked, “OK, what else?” 

“It’d be great if they had the paint code listed somewhere on them as well,” they said. 

Again, I asked, “What else?” 

“Knowing who the tech is, so in case we have specific question, we can text the tech and ask them,” they said. 

And on we went. I just kept asking what issues they had until there was nothing more the painters could think of.

With that, I was able to create a simple form for the parts runner to fill out whenever he brought a part to the paint department. I asked the painters to train the runner on where to find the paint code, so he could list it on the form along with the RO number, the tech and other pertinent information. Once we turned all this into a simple checklist that had to be filled out for each part, it solved 90 percent of the problems between the paint and body departments. Why? Because they were communicating and it only took a few extra minutes of someone’s time to label the part, fill out the checklist and tape it to the part. 

The easiest and most natural thing to do when we get frustrated is to blame someone or think the worst of them. What if instead of blaming people and thinking the worst, we started with “blaming” the processes and seeing if there’s a tool—like a simple checklist or operating procedure—that could solve the bulk of the problem. 

As is apparent in the example above—and this came to light in several other places as well on this recent big month—the vast majority of challenges happen at the point of handoff. Think of all the handoffs in a repair process, from the time someone drops off their car. Think of all the places the ball could drop. And typically if it does, it’s at that critical point of hand off. Happy handoffs, happy team. 

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