Through more than 30 years in this business, I can personally attest to one thing: Operating a collision repair center is a complex job. It's probably one of the most random businesses you can manage. No two repairs are the same; no two products match. There are different causes, materials, solutions and procedures. And with the introduction of new vehicle designs, alternative power plants and advanced materials, it just keeps getting even more random.
So how on earth can a collision shop realize true operational efficiency — and the profit-boosting benefits that efficiency offers — when the job variables keep changing?
One way our industry can realize greater efficiency in the operation is to stop focusing on the effectiveness of individual tasks that make up the process and start focusing on the process as a whole and the cause-and-effect relationship between everything we do.
Value stream mapping (VSM) is a key lean manufacturing technique that can help you analyze the current state of your operation. This tool offers valuable insight on improving the overall integration of information, materials, tasks and actions that are vital in getting that vehicle from your front parking lot quickly and safely back into the customer's hands.
Value stream mapping gives you the power to document, analyze and work on a set of actions designed to improve the entire workflow in your operation, thus making it more systemic.
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The importance of VSM
Why is VSM so important? Well, I'm sure you'll agree with me that, from an owner's perspective, the never-ending, day-to-day minute management details of the business often distract us from stepping back and taking a wide-angle view of the entire operation. As owners and managers, we fall into that habit (or trap) of assessing what individual items need to be accomplished on any given day, and working our tails off to accomplish those particular items.
VSM forces me to momentarily pause and ask myself and my team for better ways to get a vehicle through our process. It's the “continuous improvement” byproduct of lean manufacturing that helps to identify roadblocks, bottlenecks, redundancies and other restrictions that impact workflow.
Just as important, VSM shines a spotlight on the various forms of waste in the operation, which affects customer value, adds to stress and lack of predictability, and drains profit from the bottom line.