I appreciate the road network expansion that we have been 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 and give some more way to each other, 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 …. But let me go back to where I began this article, road construction.
I notice that there seems to be little coordination between the several works going on, let alone information to the public about planned road works, catching most of us by surprise as we suddenly have to find an alternative route to our destination. And once a road is completed, we see it broken up again by workers soon after to lay down sewage pipes, for example. The road works never seem to be really completed though as I see unfinished stretches, uncovered manholes, missing pedestrian pavements, etc. We continue to run into bottlenecks that hinder traffic enormously, disrupting the flow we would potentially 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. Entire theories exist about process flow and many design programs have been developed 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 its weakest link so if one link breaks, the entire process is disrupted.
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, I noticed that the walls were plastered and painted before the plumbing and electric wiring was completed. As a result the plumbers and electricians will 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 often 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.
Now, I am no expert in farming but I guess there is room for improvement in the production processes here as well. We are eighty million strong and we all need to eat. The farming techniques of years ago will thus not be sufficient anymore calling for a change in planning and techniques, which need to result in more production per acre of land. Early preparation of the land and modern intensive farming techniques will help and planning ahead is essential.
I would like to challenge the reader to take a look at his or her 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 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 and let it flow.