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Communication Is Key (part 1)

May 14th, 2015 by Mike Meyerhoff

A number of months back it was decided that in an effort to avoid some of the inefficiencies in our shop we were going to make some changes in how sales staff write-up orders.  I had spent several weeks studying operations trying to find where we could pick up efficiency (value) in the shop and found that almost every problem came back to something so ridiculously simple…poor communication.  It took little effort to re-train people in how to get more life from a saw blade, institute new preventive maintenance initiatives for our equipment, stage orders, and things of the like.  The hard part was going to be solving the easy problem.


The shop would get an order.  The notes on the order would instruct the shop what to do.  The shop interprets the notes (the best they can) to process the order and in the end you hope the end product is what the customer wanted.  Our problem was different shop guys would interpret shop notes differently, different sales people would interpret customer specifications differently, and all parties involved would communicate these matters according to what made the most sense to THEMSELVES with little thought as to how their communication would be interpreted (customer just wants our 40’ stock lengths cut in half for ease of handling as they just need 17’ minimum lengths…salesman instructs the shop that they need 20’ cut lengths cut from 40’ers…shop guys waste time cutting to exact tolerances or waste time reporting to sales that we are out of 40’ers, all while walking past the 19’ long drops a dozen or so times.  We could have just shipped the 19’ers).  The confusion and delays created by this poor communication not only led to delays and rejections, but it was devastating to morale…pissed-off salesmen would be mad at the shop and in turn the shop would get mad at the office.


The solution was to create a series of well thought out short and concise standard notes sales people would use on their orders to convey customer requirements.  These notes would leave ZERO room for shop interpretation, require minimal effort on the part of the sales person, and clearly/quickly identify any tricky or abnormal order requirements.  A key component to making this endeavor successful was making sure all the standard notes would leave no room for interpretation as well as alerting the shop to situations requiring more detailed instructions.   The impact this simple change made to order quality, lead-times, and morale was felt almost immediately.  The real hard part was going to be getting all sales staff on the same page with these standard notes (we’ll address that in part 2).