CHICAGO — Peter Drucker, who wrote 39 books on business management, produced the following, well known quote: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
Jon Witschy sales manager for Spindle, a technology company that builds infrastructure for operations to measure and improve productivity, puts a little different spin on that quote: “What gets measured gets managed.”
Performance measurement is critical in all phases of a laundry/linen service operation—staff productivity, equipment efficiency and utility consumption—says Brendan O’Neill, general manager of London Hospital Linen Service Inc. in London, Ontario.
“Understanding where the operation is running effectively, and where there are opportunities for improvement, is the basic function of management, and without the measurement of key performance indicators in each phase, these decisions are a ‘shot in the dark,’” he says.
P.J. Dempsey, president and CEO of Dempsey Uniform & Linen Supply Inc. in Jessup, Pa., agrees that performance measurement and improvement are critical for laundry/linen services today.
“In a business as competitive as textile rental, with customers demanding higher quality at a lower cost and Dempsey’s mission of paying the most competitive wages with the best benefits we can afford, it is imperative that we achieve the highest levels of productivity that we can sustain,” he shares. “Like most businesses, we believe you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
“You improve profits by maximizing output (pounds or pieces) while minimizing input (labor, machine and process hours), thus lowering operating expense,” shares Michael Dodge, production consultant for Gotli Labs (GLOBE), a company based in Switzerland with an objective to create a new system that can manage all resources in a laundry. “Measurements are needed for these output and input operations.”
Tools to measure performance have been in place since the beginning of laundry operations, says Dodge. As technology improves, so do the tools to record productivity results.
“We have recorded production results manually in the past, then inputted this manual data into spreadsheet reports to identify historical data,” he says. “Now, we can automatically collect production data using various methods. Laundry equipment can now provide data into reporting tools.”
Witschy adds there are all types of measurement tools available within a laundry operation.
“It’s everything from meters on gas and water systems, temperature probes on boilers, even on washers and dryers, those items are becoming more advanced, and it allows them to interface more readily with other systems,” he says. “They’re digital these days, and that can interface with any kind of software package.
“That’s where our team gets really excited; the more information we can pull from any type of equipment in the plant, the more excited we get because any software package can interface with those types of things and get those signals to be able to collect and compile the numbers that you need to measure your efficiency.”
Dodge echoes the fact that there is a lot of data that can be (and needs to be) collected in a laundry operation. Pieces and pounds processed need to be gathered in the soil, washroom and finishing departments. Labor hours needed to process laundry products is collected. Productivity levels (efficiencies) of operators and equipment can be gathered.
“We can ‘deep dive’ into low-productivity-level data, such as idle time, delay time and day work (non-productive) time,” he says. “Overall process time of equipment and operators (employees) for products and customers can also be provided. This is the data that needs to be analyzed and improved upon.”
However, Dodge points out that laundry/linen services have become immersed in data.
“We need to have real-time reporting simplified so that our production managers can be proactive with immediate solutions to keeping production levels on track,” he says.
The “big picture” and ultimate goal of performance measurement is to know what needs to be produced every moment of production time, shares Dodge. This means that there should be a link between the route accounting system and production data collection system.
“Production should know the needs for the day and schedule production time for employees and machines,” he points out. “Again, today a lot of this is done manually. This should be automated and shown in real time if the production planning is being achieved and on time.”
Utilizing data to analyze performance is not new, O’Neill points out. However, getting real-time data points for analysis, in a mobile environment, is.
“With all this new technology in the market, laundry managers are equipped with the critical decision-making infrastructure to make the best decisions possible for their respective operations,” he says. “With today’s technology, we now have a platform to receive the data in real time, using push reporting technology, which allows the laundry manager to make solid decisions, in real time.”
The key is to use the data to improve operations, not just gather the information and file it away. Dempsey says his operation prepares scorecards for managers to review with staff to recognize achievement and give feedback where improvement is needed. They also review an equipment scorecard showing downtime in a weekly maintenance meeting.
“Each piece of laundry data that is collected provides an opportunity to better understand your operation,” O’Neill points out.
Whether the data validates that the work being done and resources allocated is appropriate, or if it identifies a piece of equipment that in underperforming, or an employee who is not meeting the standard, laundry data provides the laundry manager with the critical information needed to make an informed decision.
“Without data, we are simply making decisions based on gut feelings, or someone’s perception,” O’Neill says. “Data doesn’t lie, and it is unbiased.”
Miss Part 1 about measuring performance in the plant, of employees? Click here to read it.