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By: Stacey Godbold

How to Perform a Step Study to Improve Operational Efficiency

The First Step to Operational Efficiency Is a Step Study

Operational efficiency is critical to the overall success of your business. That’s why in a recent survey of 1,300 CEOs, 77% said they plan to increase revenue growth by improving operational efficiency.

A critical first step in improving process efficiency is understanding exactly where your organization stands. Do you need to make a few tweaks, or does your entire operation need work? A step study provides critical insights and data to help you improve processes, which in turn contributes to organizational excellence.

Here’s what you need to know about step studies, how to document your processes, and how to harness technology to improve your operational efficiency.

What is a Step Study for Operational Efficiency?

A step study is a process in which each step in an operational process is observed and documented – basically an operational audit. Step studies can answer several questions for leadership, such as:

  • How many steps are involved in each process?
  • How long does each step take?
  • How many people are involved at each step?
  • What are the resources required for each step?

Leadership is often surprised by the critical work behind the scenes. You may think, “I don’t have time to do that.” Getting onto the operating floor, talking to the team, and observing, measuring, and documenting the current process to evaluate for potential changes takes time. However, pinpointing and evaluating inefficiencies gives you the knowledge and confidence to evaluate the process steps, team members’ time, and organizational resources required. This is the starting point for many continuous improvement programs such as six sigma, and very often the process leads to meaningful improvements in safety and efficiency.

Case Study: Manufacturer

Recently, we did a step study with one of our manufacturing clients. They produce large, sophisticated industrial units that are shipped all over the world. It is important that they document each unit during the build process to complete the user documentation and for quality assurance purposes. The process for preparing this documentation was:

  • During the manufacturing process, team members used multiple digital cameras to take photos of the product as each unit moved through the process.
  • At the end of each week, they collected the SD cards from the cameras.
  • They sorted through the image thumbnails to find images that correlated with each specific unit.
  • These images were then stored to the appropriate folder for each unit.
  • When completed, these folders were stored and organized on the server.
  • When each unit was finished and ready to ship, the photos became part of the documentation for the end-user documentation.

Before conducting the study, management believed this process was inefficient – the study not only supported that suspicion but provided a map from which to propose alternatives that would save time and improve the documentation quality, which was a win with the customers.

Management asked our Customer Success team to help strategize and implement a solution for this process issue using the Sospes software that was already installed. Our team designed a workflow using the Sospes app that allowed employees to take their photos with a mobile device, and matched the photos to the correct finished goods file in real-time. Employees now save time and effort documenting their operations, and the entire photo file is in one place, saving administrative time later. The new workflow is:

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  • Team members open the Sospes mobile app
  • They are prompted to record the unit number and take six pictures.
  • Each night, these images are automatically uploaded to the correct server file.

Processes often change. With new technology, new products, and shifting organizational models and expectations, keeping up to date on operations is critical. With the right technology, it can be done in a streamlined way to minimize disruption.

Improve Your Operational Processes with Step Studies

Operational efficiency improves the profitability of a company without raising product prices or reducing overhead. However, understanding current process flow details is a critical first step for making changes and monitoring improvements.

Step studies give critical insights and big-picture focus for a more productive workplace. With the right technology, workers can quickly and easily capture data and complete tasks without disrupting their flow. The information collected is It can also be organized efficiently so that leadership can get a detailed understanding of their current process with centralized, companywide, customizable dashboards and real-time performance reports

Curious how you can use technology to improve your organizational efficiency? Contact one of our experts today.

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