When I first try to understand why my client’s on time delivery performance isn’t where it needs to be I am often faced with people telling me that they don’t have the time to do things properly. I then understand what they mean, as I discover that they don’t follow their own processes (formal or informal), they are inconsistent in how they handle the orders that run through their business. Within these businesses there is a perception that a properly defined business process will slow down how a business works. A properly thought out process should help a business to improve not only its effectiveness, but its efficiency too. The same people who tell me that they don’t have time to follow a prescribed route, however, do seem to have enough time to handle all of the re-work activities that seem to come with their normal mode of working.

Following the logic that if you define some proper business processes to handle how you launch your production process (and please, read that to suit your business type) it is possible for you to make significant improvements to not only your on time delivery performance, but wider business metrics. The trick is to make sure that your process is relevant to your business, is easily understood and is easy to adopt. That is the focus for this article.

Is your business special?

Many businesses will cite that their business is different, or that every project / product / customer is different, and that is why a formalised business process will not work. Thankfully we can approach this subject from a more generic point of view. If you can identify the consistent elements of the process (i.e. the start, the middle and the end) then you can define the process. You don’t have to have each minute detail screwed down, unless of course that serves to improve the output of the process!

If you look at how your business launches its production phase of activity you should be able to see these elements. Perhaps you need to validate specific order items before you undertake the work, or perhaps there are preparations that need to be made before you start. Whatever these items are, they will most likely form a handy checklist that can be used time and time again. Simple checklists can make a significant difference to the consistency of the production of a business, and if it removes the usual trips, slips and failures of previous orders you can also improve the delivery performance of your process.

Ensuring that the newly formed checklist becomes a habit is now the next challenge. Linking the checklist to an existing process step (that’s already a habit itself), or an existing regular meeting are two good strategies that can help you to repeat the thinking necessary to launch your production activities. If you are going through this exercise yourself, then I would urge you to generate some ideas on how you can build the checklist into your normal working day. It needs to become a ritual for the business.

To get to the point that your business adopts the ‘pre-production checklist’ might require a degree of stamina on your part. If you have thought through the checklist properly then the undertaking of it should be easy enough to do. Unfortunately, as with most changes, it can also be easy not to do it. There are a range of management and leadership approaches that you can employ in this situation. Whatever your preference I would encourage you to find the stamina to lead by example and coach others to work with the checklist approach. Real life benefits of course help to sell an idea better than any pitch, so hopefully you won’t have to be waiting too long for the approach to take hold.

Along with the good feedback of better results usually comes the feedback of failure. This is not something that you should see as a bad thing, it is just feedback. Take the learning and build it back into your checklist. Next time you launch an order through your business let it take advantage of the learning from previous failings. Many of my clients have quickly transitioned through this period of discomfort (reflecting on the problems rather than just running around like headless chickens!) and it is worth persevering with.

Putting this into action

To summarise this approach, so that you can also have a planned way to launch your production processes in an effective manner:

  1. Look at past production failures and pull out the learning points.
  2. List out the main (generic) steps you need to take to launch an order / service into the production phase of its life.
  3. Create a checklist that can help you to remember what needs to happen (rather than relying on your memory when it is already jammed full of other pressing issues).
  4. Piggy back your checklist onto other meetings / habitual activities, to increase its chance of becoming part of the business’ normal day to day.
  5. Be strong, and guide your business through the change it will experience.
  6. Watch the results and temper your approach according to the uptake it gets from your team.
  7. Refine your checklist over time.
  8. Enjoy your improving on time delivery performance!

A checklist is a simple thing, but when it is applied to how your business launches production activities it can dramatically improve how your business delivers on time. And, if it is done right, you might experience shorter lead times, improved quality and happier customers too!


Giles Johnston

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who consults with businesses to improve their on time delivery performance, ERP system performance and deploy Kaizen / Lean production methods. Giles is also the author of 'What Does Good Look Like?'.