Apply the “Touch It Once” Productivity Principle to Manufacturing

I often hear about the “Touch It Once” principle from productivity experts. The idea is that as soon as you pick up an item — say, an email or a piece of mail — you deal with it immediately. You don’t set it down to do later, you deal with it at that moment.

That means, if you open an email, you respond. If someone calls you, you answer the phone rather than sending it to voice mail. And if someone stops by for a “got a minute?” meeting, take the meeting.

On the surface, it seems like a tremendous time waster. After all, you get emails at all times of the day. Phone calls happen all the time. And people will stop by for “just a minute” on an ongoing basis.

Some of these you just have to deal with on an ongoing basis. Take those short meetings, but work to keep them at just a minute or two. Be firm in saying you need to get back to work. Do the same with your phone calls. Take them, but tell the other person you only have a minute. If either of those takes any longer, schedule a meeting or phone call right then. Yes, you’ve put it off, but you handled it one time. You didn’t just send someone away to return again and again to find that missing minute. You didn’t duck call after call before finally answering in exasperation.

And when it comes to email? Who made the rule that we have to answer our email every minute it comes in? Set a few times to answer all emails at a certain time of day. For example, take 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes after lunch, and 20 minutes before you leave to deal with emails. Otherwise, close your email program and turn off all the alerts.

How Does Touch It Once Apply to Manufacturing?

A factory worker modeling the touch it once philosophy in manufacturingManufacturing facilities can be inefficient places. The machines are so big that moving one is a major undertaking. You’ll shut the line down for several days, bring in the heavy moving equipment, shift it to the new place, and then work to return the machine to its previous specs.

That’s such a disruption that even when you bring in a new machine, it’s easier to find a new place to put it rather than shifting everything around. As a result, you might start with raw materials in the middle of the floor before transferring the product-in-progress to one end of the floor, and then transport it all the way to the other end for the finishing touches and shipping.

We had this kind of setup at our Duoline factory many years ago. We made fiberglass oil field tubulars (liners for the steel pipes). During production, as the tubulars were being made, they had to be transported to different parts of the factory for different steps of the process.

One of the problems we had was that we often had lengths of conduit that were so heavy, it took at least two associates to move them — GRE Tubulars come in 32- or 45-foot lengths and are available up to 13” in diameter. Invariably people frequently got hurt moving the tubulars around, which did a number on our worker’s comp costs. Pieces would also get bent or damaged during transport, and we had to scrap them completely.

So we decided to knock down the entire factory, and start over. One of the things we did was to create a straight line out of the production line. We put loading docks on both ends of the building, one for incoming, one for outgoing. The raw materials came in on one end, and the very first machine it encountered was the first machine in the manufacturing process.

When it was finished with that step, it was transferred to the second machine, which was right next to the first one, and so on. Each piece was moved automatically with machines, so people didn’t have to move anything or lift anything. It cut way down on injuries and on damages.

We not only reduced our total headcount by doing this, but we reduced the risk of injury. And we ensured that the product would only be touched once at each stage of production. Nothing had to be transported to a different part of the factory, we didn’t have to bounce around from point A to point B, all the way in the corner of the building.

There was a single logical flow to everything. It came in one door, left out the other door, and we put the Touch It Once principle to work to great effect.

I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business, including pivoting within their industry. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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Author: David Marshall
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.