When thinking about a concept like “flow,” I like to look of the definition of the word. Webster defines "flow" as “to move in a continuous and smooth way.” How does flow relate to body shop operations? My next research step was to look up the “Lean definition” of flow: “Flow means to move along in a steady, continuous stream. The ability to visualize and manage flow is essential to achieving faster and more consistent delivery. It allows you to understand your capacity, easily identify problems and improve that flow.”
I am an old technician. For me to understand these concepts I have to be able to visualize the process. Several years ago I attended a NACE seminar on the subject. The instructor described flow as a river that ran through the shop carrying the customer and the vehicle through the repair process. That image gave me the visual that I needed to understand the concept and really made sense to me.
When we look at rivers there are two types: controlled and uncontrolled. Uncontrolled rivers have rapids, snags, sandbars, fast flow, slow flow and natural dams where flow stops.
The controlled river flows consistently in as straight a line as possible. Rapids have been channeled around. Sandbars are marked or dredged. Snags have been removed. Dams are in place, but they have locks so that travel is not impeded.
Now let’s picture your current shop river from front to back. How do the customers and vehicles flow through the process? Do you have a controlled or uncontrolled river? Where are your sandbars? Can you eliminate them or at least identify and mark? Where are your dams? Do they have locks so that you can move the vehicles and customers through the repair process with the least delay?
Sand bars and dams are the easiest to identify and eliminate or control. The tough ones are snags as they can pop up anywhere and tear the bottom out of your process. If you have good systems and processes in place then snags can be identified quickly and removed.
There are a couple of key areas where lakes and sandbars form. If there aren’t good processes in place, they will take over your production river.
The first lake is scheduling. By not having a good, consistent scheduling process you will have an uncontrolled lake full of customer vehicles.
Scheduling affects all aspects of the business. Without good best practices in this area, sandbars will form and the customer and vehicle stops moving.
If estimates aren’t scheduled, then the customer can get hung up on the waiting room sandbar. This negative customer experience will affect your CSI. By not scheduling drop offs, the customer can get stuck on the waiting room sandbar or the waiting for a rental car sandbar. Unscheduled drop offs also affects the CSR and appraisers’ capacity to check in the customer and follow all check-in procedures correctly. If scheduling procedures aren’t followed then a snag could come up later, negatively affecting the downstream flow. Scheduling drops also controls flow into the next lake, which is the disassembly or blueprinting lake.