Efficient workshop processes delivering a happy Christmas

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When you stop to think about it for a moment, Father Christmas faces an enormous annual task. Millions of toys to make and deliver, letters arriving days before the gifts are scheduled to be delivered and a logistics plan to devise. It’s hard to believe that he does it, even if he is using Lean and Six Sigma.

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Father Christmas faces a seemingly impossible task.  Millions of children, the majority of whom have made it on the ‘Good list’ each with different tastes, needs and desires, increasingly complex production processes and a very limited delivery window.  A Six Sigma deployment looks like the only way forward.

The volume of the task.

Understanding how to implement a solution requires an understanding of the task at hand.  Before any business implements a Six Sigma solution an audit and review of the scale of the task is fundamental.  If we use data from the Population Reference Bureau and with a few healthy assumptions, we can estimate that Father Christmas has 91.8 million homes to visit on his rounds and with other assumptions added, somewhere near to 283,500,000 toys to produce.  This has to be done very quickly as the majority of children will not post their letter to Santa before 1st December

Running like clockwork

Father Christmas is, obviously, exceptional.  In reality, production volumes are never to this scale or in such a short timeframe.  The need to create systems and structures that keep your production facilities running smoothly is still important. 

Start by working with your floor staff (let’s call them Elves) to map out work processes and measure key cycle times, durations, and rejection rates. Put a Champion in place (Mrs. Claus maybe?) and develop a high-level flow chart to illustrate all the key functions necessary to satisfy your customers. With the data collected and summarised in a Pareto chart, determine that the most critical and time consuming work activity.

Knowing where your main problems lie provides a starting point for a solution.  You will be addressing the issues that make your customers unhappy so appoint a Black Belt to work on a Process Improvement Project.  The Black Belt, working with the Green, Yellow and White Belts, process owner and other subject matter experts will be able to review the working process.

Tools and techniques like SIPOC, Process and Value Stream Mapping and Root Cause Analysis identify the key processes and more importantly, the key variables affecting the capabilities and outcomes of your processes. Statistical analysis plays an important role at the task level of the processes, allowing you to analyse variation and capability. Tie the outputs of the processes directly to customers using Quality Function Deployment and House of Quality.

Get wrapped up in data

The more data you can collect, the better.  Once your Black Belt gets into the data they will be able to confirm or reject any suspicions that you have about your processes and productivity.  This will allow your project team to quickly develop an improvement plan and start to implement changes.

You might not have all of the production, logistical and physics defying challenges that Santa faces once a year but you can look to him for inspiration.  After all, Santa never disappoints anyone.

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