Fire-fighting Cereals And Snack Bars

This third-generation, family-owned business employs about 180 staff, working on a three-shift/seven-day operation across 14 production lines. The company produces over 220 stock-keeping units and sells their products in most major consumer retail stores nationwide.

They don’t compromise on new product development and always ensure that they quickly respond to their market. This means they often innovate with their formulation, as well as producing creative packaging for their products.

They also don’t hold back with capital expenditure, regularly spending on new equipment, to manufacture and pack new products.

This company focuses well on product and equipment innovation. I admire them for being very innovative in these areas!

But what about process innovation? What about people growth and development?

In spite of their fantastic product and equipment innovation, this company still thrives on daily fire-fighting. And they’re very good at it!

Everything is urgent, and problems get fixed through a correction and re-work mindset. In most cases, they do succeed in delivering to their customers, but it takes a lot of hard work, stress and frustration.

This is not sustainable! They deliver the results, but they are on their toes all the time, putting in long hours, repeating tasks, and giving the same answers to the same questions every day.

So, what does this look like?

When materials are required for production, as a matter of course, they call the forklift operator on the phone to do the task. There may be times when this is necessary, but that should be the exception, not the norm.

Why isn’t the system set up for him to deliver at the right time?

Whenever there is a machine breakdown in one of the critical lines, which is a recurring problem, they pull a fitter out from another breakdown elsewhere in the factory, because this particular line is “more important.”

Why does this machine keep breaking down?

When they run out of storage bins, they call the production line manager each time to order more.

It’s a routine task, so why are they involving the manager?

During set-up and start-up of a production line first thing in the morning, direct supervision is required to organise the crew, the tasks, the materials, and the output requirements from the production plan, which is often unclear and unrealistic.

Set-up and start-up is an everyday occurrence, but on days where direct supervision is not possible, it takes twice as long.

Why is supervision always required to organise everything?

This is a situation that I find is quite common with passionate, hardworking, and dedicated business people. Basically, the owner of the business is overly hands-on. He comes in at 5am every morning and leaves late every night.

And while he is there, he is involved in everything! When a truck arrives unexpectedly early in the morning, he jumps on a forklift to unload it. When a key machine operator is ill, he takes his place for the rest of the week.

He grew up in the business, and he knows how to run most of the different operations in the place. He is working in the business and not on the business.

Key lessons for this company

The first thing they need to work on is preventing fire-fighting. They need to start by putting the right systems in place. As Abe Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

The next thing they need to do is focus on setting the standards and building systems to support these. The problems they have are not hard to solve. They simply have to go back to basics and be good at them.

Once they have the standards in place, they need to think about how they use their time, so that they can create the perfect balance between routine work and improvement and innovation work. As a rule, the more senior you are in the business, the less routine work you should be performing.

Finally, they need to focus on recruiting the right people for the business. They also need to empower them with well-defined responsibilities and make them accountable for the results.

To ensure continuous growth, they can then implement a learning and development program for all their employees.