I appreciate the road network expansion that we are witnessing all around the city. We indeed need more and wider roads as the traffic is getting heavier by the day. Mind you, we could make much more effective use of the existing roads if only we would follow basic traffic rules a bit more, would be a bit more patient, give some more way to each other and use “hands free” mobile telephones, just to make a few suggestions. If on top of that pedestrians were also more aware of where to cross roads and where not, traffic would be a lot less complicated, leaving the donkeys, sheep, goats and cattle out of the picture for the moment. But because we behave like we do, we need a minimum of two, usually more traffic police officers to control traffic at crossroads and roundabouts. Even then ….
There also seems to be little coordination between the several works going on at the same time, let alone information to the public about planned road works, catching most of us by surprise as we have to find an alternative route to our destination. What puzzles me most though is the fact that once a road nears its completion it is usually not completed sufficiently to connect to joining roads. Approaching a junction over a new road, eventually leads us to a dirt track of some twenty to fifty metres before hitting the next stretch of asphalt. Roads never seem to be planned or constructed in a way that they smoothly connect to one another. Why is this so? I don’t really know the answer but I guess that some planning, contract and administrative factors play a role here. It is a pity that this is so because not joining roads properly defeats the purpose of roads altogether, which is to allow traffic to flow smoothly. Instead, traffic has to slow down considerably and negotiate potholes and sometimes steep and slippery edges, difficult for low two wheel drives. The disconnection is a true bottleneck and hinders traffic enormously, disrupting the flow it would otherwise enjoy. It is the flow which is the issue here, or rather the lack of it. Now, what has all this to do with doing business?
Process flow is an important part of management and process flow design is an art by itself, meant to allow for efficiency, be it for the production of goods, decision making processes or for traffic for that matter. Point of departure however always is to know exactly what the desired end product is and how to get there. The process of how to get from the beginning to the end is often described as the “black box” because very few people know the precise details of the production process. And yet, the way in which the process flow is designed will determine whether or not the process is efficient and leads to the desired results. Planning, technology and skills are critical aspects of effective and efficient process flow and it is here where we often fail. Ineffective planning leads to inefficient use or even waste of resources, including workers, materials, time and money, while sub standard technology and skills lead to poor quality. The combination of poor planning and sub standard technology and skills is disastrous.
Process flow is about one phase of a certain process flowing smoothly into the next, like in a supply chain or in a value chain. A chain is as strong as it weakest link so if one link breaks, the entire process is disrupted. If there is a serious delay in flights for example, this may result in the loss of its entire freight, if it consists of perishable goods destined to other parts of the world and which can’t wait.
The construction industry provides another example of what happens when phases in the building process are not well planned and coordinated. I visited a real estate project the other day and while entering some of the nearly completed mansions, the results of inefficient planning and coordination can be noticed immediately. The walls are plastered and painted before the plumbing and electric wiring is completed. As a result the plumbers and electricians begin breaking the walls again to do their part. It is clear that covering up the damage thus done will not be as smooth as it was before, while large parts of the walls are covered with hand and finger prints left behind by the workers. An additional paint job needs to be done as a result. The painters in their turn fail to free the electricity sockets while painting the walls, leaving the sockets full of spilled paint. I could go on but the point is that a lot of time, material and money is lost unnecessary.
I’d like to challenge the reader to take a look at your own business and especially into the critical process flows of the business. Try and answer the following questions:
Are you clear about what the end result of your production process should be like in terms of quality and quantity? As the business owner you should know exactly what your business objectives are.
Do you know the details of the process or is it a black box for you? You should at least have a basic understanding of the production process.
Is the process well designed in terms of efficiency and effectiveness? Is there much wastage? Does it take too long? Are machines and workers idle for much of the time? Is it expensive?
What can be done to make the process more efficient and more effective?
Now begin to plan for improvements.