FIRST IN, LAST OUT

By John Stange Posted December 08, 2015 In Corporate Objectives
First In, Last Out

I wanted to share where my passion for process improvement and efficiency comes from. I can remember the exact moment I noticed the benefits of something being perfectly executed as the result of a well-documented, defined and repeatable process.

It was just over 20 years ago and I was a young man in Marine Corps Bootcamp. Each morning we were woken up by the kind and soothing voices of several Drill Instructors who needed to “Re-Teach” a Platoon of young men how to put on their socks, pants, boots etc. It seemed as if nothing we had learned in our pre-military world was taught to us properly. This went on for the length of Bootcamp and beyond in some areas, and I didn’t understand why we had to be ingrained with the Marine Corps ways of performing the smallest of life duties.

ship-300x240A short time later I was on deployment in the Mediterranean Sea. It was 1995 and my unit was training on a small island West of Italy. We were woken in the middle of the night and told we were being re-routed to the Adriatic Sea because a US Air Force pilot had been shot down in Bosnia. That night I witnessed several hundred Marines go from a dead sleep, to being packed, transported back to ship and underway in a manner of a few hours. I realized very clearly at that very moment that complete process efficiency resulted in excellent functionality and deployment. I had never seen something operate so smoothly and it was because every little detail had been rehearsed over and over without us knowing why or to what end. It was then I realized the Marine Corp had been perfecting their processes for over 200 years and that was why we did things the “Marine Corps” way. The Marines had perfected the small processes to the most efficient level so when we needed to come together into an operation, we functioned perfectly. Without having documented, understood, and lived these processes over a period of time, it would have been absolute chaos when it came time for us to perform that operation. 

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My desire to maximize efficiency continued later in life as Partner and Vice President of Operations in a small development company. We built beautiful large scale custom homes. The need for quality in all aspects of construction was paramount to us, as our clients deserved the best. As most Partners in a small business I wore several hats, one ofwhich was being in charge of quality control. I realized we were paying our sub-contractors their final draw when the job was “Complete”, then finding several punch list items. We had to document those items, call the sub-contractor back (often more than one call was necessary) to correct and complete the work. We then had to go back and re-inspect the work, hoping there was not a third round needed as this was a tremendous waste of time and money, not only for us having to coordinate this, but for the sub-contractors as well. Often they were working for us on a separate job, so I would lose time on a new project to complete the past one. Needless to say this was a WASTE of time and money and in need of a new more efficient process. I decided to start meeting with the sub-contractors personally on site at the completion of their portion of construction. This would happen prior to issuing their final check. We would conduct a quality inspection together knowing they would not get paid until we were both satisfied. In a very short amount of time our “Punch List” problem was solved, quality was up, many steps of the process were removed and although no metrics were taken, a fair amount of time and money was saved. My partners and I continued with small improvements to process and efficiency and were soon ranked the #1 Custom Home Builder in our region.

This type of thinking becomes a sickness (the good kind) as I continue to find myself looking at the smallest tasks and wondering “Is there a better, more efficient way to complete them?”. I find the saying “Work Smarter, Not Harder” a great fit in many aspects of life. This saying should not invoke a feeling that someone is lazy. I suggest you ask yourself why wouldn’t you want to find the “Smartest” and most efficient process for all tasks, and used the time saved to accomplish more!

I wanted to share these stories to show no matter what type of work you are currently involved in today, you most likely contribute to some sort of process. Take a minute and think what would happen if you could remove one or two steps in your overall process, yet accomplish the same goal in less time. Now if everyone in your work place did this and used that saved time to accomplish more, what would the increase to productivity and profit be? (READ: I SEE PROCESS IN EVERYTHING)

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