There's a wonderful atmosphere in a big plant when not much equipment is running. You can hear yourself think. You can savor the smells and sounds of the plant, itself. The place feels almost alive, even when it's resting.
Downtime gives us an opportunity to savor the plant as it is and to consider what it could be. If we use the time wisely, we can set the direction we should travel, as individuals and as organizations. Later we will work to build the energy that will drive our plants to the next level.
Some years we can make big changes and sometimes we must be satisfied with smaller improvements. But if the direction is right, the year won't be wasted, and it won't be abandoned to the kind of slippage that happens when we don't plan.
Maybe you are already swamped with ideas for improvement, but if you’re not, here is an exercise that might help you find some good ones. It might also add the inspiration to make the next year a game that you enjoy playing, hopefully as a team member, on your home court.
Find the areas where you can make a difference. You'll have your own areas of influence and personal strengths. If you're in a plant, a good list might be something like this – energy savings, productivity growth, quality improvement, use of material, people development. You'll have others, but I don’t have your list, so let's take a look at the first steps we might take to address the items on this list:
Energy Savings – While the plant is quiet, how about taking a walk around and listening for waste. Compressed air and other leaks will be easy to hear while the equipment is quiet. Are there hot and cool spots in the plant that could be used to balance air temperature and reduce HVAC cost? Is there machinery that runs around the clock when it doesn't need to? Compressors and central coolant systems are often standouts in these areas. It might also be a good time to look at power factor and distribution of electricity consumption around the clock. It isn't hard to have a few ideas in this area that will pay your salary for the year. Better still, get a relevant person, either a peer or a subordinate, to join you on the tour and pay two salaries.
Productivity Growth – This one is more process-specific, but you still know about bottleneck operations and where the work gets hectic. There might also be places where the equipment doesnt quite measure up. If you don't know where they are, it might be a chance to combine forces with someone closer to the operations where productivity is determined. Again, a brief team effort might yield some great ideas.
Quality and Use of Material – What do you throw away? What do you do twice? Find out. Get help. Stop it. Don't forget to include oil and process supplies in the review.
People Development – How's this for an idea? Find your best performer. What could you do for him or her to simultaneously provide a reward and an opportunity to increase effectiveness? Training and/or equipment might fill the bill. Next, find your weakest performer and arrange for tools, coaching, and/or training to help him or her achieve solid performance within a reasonable time or seek success elsewhere. For those in the middle, find a training or development program that will help them grow where they are currently planted. A feeling of justice and interest from the organization doesn't have to cost a lot, and it can pay off handsomely.
These are comfy things for an editor to say from a desk, but if they ring true for you, they can point to the foundation of an exciting new year. They might even suggest some high-potential plays to run when the team gets back from the holidays.