Chapter 2: You Can Only Manage What You Measure

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tape measures
(Photo: © iStockphoto.com/Stephan Zabel)

Eric Frederick |

Basic tenet is to track as many key factors as possible

ROANOKE, Va. — You can only manage what you track, measure, study and evaluate. A basic tenet of management is to track as many key factors in your operation as possible.

When I first started in the laundry business, the main measure of how efficiently you ran your operation was pounds per productive hour. It was a figure that showed up in a number of benchmarking studies and was an attempt to both compare your operation to others around the country and to yourself over time.

As a national benchmark, the figure is almost useless. There are far too many variables that need to be accounted for that do not show up in the statistic. How many products does Laundry A produce compared to Laundry B? What is the difference in quality standards between the two laundries? How does each laundry define productive hours versus non-productive hours?

Does Laundry A use the total hours actually worked in the laundry (excluding sick pay, holiday pay and vacation pay) while Laundry B excludes hours not directly producing linen (such as those worked by truck drivers, maintenance men, supervisors, manager and office staff)? What about the processing of reusable surgical packs and cubicle curtains? What type of equipment (degree of automation) does one laundry have versus the other?

I found that pounds per productive hour was best only when used to compare your own current vs. past performance. Doing this puts you in control of all the variables. Unfortunately, even used in this manner, the information is of limited use. The trackable production figure is laundrywide in scope and does not give the manager any idea of where in the plant he should place his/her efforts to improve. A figure that is overly broad may make you feel good or bad about your operation but it cannot give you needed direction.

Thirty years ago, I worked with my father-in-law, Louis A. Barnett, to develop a measuring system that would report production for each employee regardless of where they worked in the laundry. The system was based on establishing a standard number of pieces to be produced by product per machine per hour. Each employee recorded their production by hour, and when that information was fed into the computer, it created a standard hours of production that could be compared to their actual hours of production. This tracking was essential in improving productivity in the laundry.

When I worked in Alabama, I was introduced to an updated program that did the same thing but had a much better reporting package. It allowed me to monitor downtime, both employee and machine productivity. I have been working with that system for the past 15 years. Its major shortcoming is that it does not run in real time: results for Monday’s production are posted on Tuesday, for example. If an employee needs additional motivation or training, you are finding out about it a day after the fact.

Today, numerous systems on the market can provide real-time feedback to laundry staff members as to how they are doing right at their workstations. Some of these systems use color lights to indicate whether they are at standard (green), near standard (yellow) or below standard (red).

I do not like this type of reporting, because it does not indicate the employee’s current production level and thus how much they need to improve. Several of my employees are driven to be the very best they can be, and having only a green light does not give them the motivation needed to excel. I prefer systems that make use of screen graphics that resemble a speedometer. It gives the employee a clear, easy-to-understand representation of how they are doing.

The advantage of real-time systems is that production is automatically captured off the machine; there is no data entry required. Supervisors can review productivity in real time and make adjustments as needed. Labor is the largest single cost a manager must control, and being able to accurately measure how effectively it is being used is the basis for improved production.

In my first chapter (Chapter 1: Welcome to the Laundry!), I discussed being on the lookout for the unintended consequences of changes we make in the laundry. Having real-time productivity data would help a manager identify some of those created by changes in the type of textiles purchased or in wash formulas.

Next month, I plan to discuss other key items that should be tracked regularly.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Eric Frederick served 44 years in laundry management before retiring and remains active in the industry as a laundry operations consultant. You can contact him by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 540-520-6288.

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