Tips for Achieving High Throughput

Feb. 1, 2020
The seven habits of highly effective production managers.

Occasionally, I need to jump into the production manager role at one of my shops. While not always by choice, production management is something that I have done on and off for over 15 years now. And I love it! This role like no other puts me in touch quickly with the overall health of a shop. It also exposes any issues and opportunities with a clarity that rivals wet clear. 

Not only have I had the opportunity to run production myself, but I also have had the privilege to work closely with some great production managers over the years. Here are seven of the keystone habits I’ve discovered of highly effective production managers:

1. Create urgency without anxiety.
Usually, when I need to jump back into production management, it’s because there is a problem. Revenue dips. A key person moves on to another opportunity. Typically, the shop knows that if I’m showing up daily and getting really involved, something must be “off.” While I hope that my presence brings calm and confidence to my team, too much of me is not a good thing. Like coffee—a little bit goes a long way. Also like coffee, I can create anxiety! There’s not space here to delve too far into this topic, but psychologist Edwin Friedman’s work on being a “non-anxious presence” has been some of the most profound leadership learnings of my life. There are some summary videos and articles of his work online. Great production managers take decisive action, while setting a high bar of expectation for their teams, but they leave the anxiety out of the mix.

2. Clear the runway for delivery.
Have you ever seen the Olympic sport of curling? That is the production manager’s job! The puck is the car. And the production manager is out in front of it—key point there!—smoothing the ice in front of it to make it go exactly as far and as fast as it should to hit the mark: a timely delivery. What is in the way of your team and how might you smooth the path for them? Production blocks can be things like empty boxes, being out of sandpaper, and cars with dead batteries. 

3. Keep techs in their stalls.
Production managers go to their team; parts managers go to the techs. Material carts and tool carts are always close at hand. If techs have to come out of their stall to get information or materials, that is 100 percent wasted time. This is the essence of servant leadership. Go to your team so they can stay focused on repairs.

4. Stay 1–3 steps ahead on each vehicle.
Stay ahead of where the car is going. Is the car almost ready for paint? Are you sure? Has it been quality checked by the tech and manager? Has the glass been pulled to prep it for paint? Has the color been matched before it even hits the paint department? What about the part that is being painted off the car? Has it been mirror-matched by the parts manager and the tech and taken to the paint department? It’s easy to think, “Got it. The next step is to get the car to paint.” But several steps need to be orchestrated long before the car physically moves into the paint department. Nobody can do several things at once. But production managers can coordinate the efforts of others to get the car from where it is to where it needs to be next.

5. Implement a speed lane.
We all have those problem child jobs that just take too long! You know, those ROs that in spite of our best efforts are a 1-hour touch time. How do you offset that? Speed lanes to the rescue! A speed lane is a job where you go for a crazy good touch time, like a 10. A quick bumper and fender repair with no hidden damage can easily be out on the same day if things are orchestrated properly and prepped ahead of time.

6. Build momentum by celebrating wins.
Most recently for me, that was cars delivered. I wanted to create a cadence of two per day, then three, then four, etc. Even if those cars didn’t add up to our revenue goals at first, it still created momentum for the team and got all departments used to seeing that number of cars go out the door. Paint gets used to painting two, then three. Detail gets used to cleaning that same number. And on it goes. Over time, a solid mix of job size will ensure you hit your revenue goals. But getting those reps early on and increasing car count delivered will set you up for those bigger wins.

7. Lead visually.
It can be simple whiteboards or high tech screens. It doesn’t matter. So, even if you’re not physically present, any team member can know what you’re aiming for and what’s next. This creates a pull through the shop as each department looks for and prepares for the cars that will be coming toward them.

These seven habits if practiced consistently day in and day out will produce the results you’re looking for. Remember: Car flow equals cash flow. As you create a cadence of high throughput the rewards will surely follow.