The Holy Grail of running most businesses is to generate the greatest profit possible without sacrificing quality. However, often firms lose direction over time or as they expand, and inefficiencies frequently creep in that can decimate turnover.
When it comes to an engineering firm, these problems can become all the more magnified with the assembly of inaccurate or faulty products caused by sloppy manufacturing leading to potentially significant losses – perhaps little wonder when you consider engineering tends to lie at the sharp end of the innovation and production process.
Tips to reduce waste and inefficiency in engineering
Whether you run a dedicated engineering company and want to eliminate waste and streamline your processes or just have an engineering department that you feel could be performing better, below are some tips you could employ that should help improve productivity.
Don’t cut corners in the planning and design phases
If your company is like most, it will seem like there are never enough hours in the day, and it can often be tempting to try and cut corners to reduce production time – particularly in the planning and design phase of a job. However, when you consider that every subsequent stage of a project will be reliant on getting this phase right, you’ll quickly begin to realize just how big a mistake taking shortcuts in the early days of a job can be.
Many seasoned engineers would argue the project design and planning stage is the most crucial of all to avoid far more significant errors further down the line. Just like a software programmer sits and meticulously studies every possible outcome of their work at the start of a job, so your company should do the same to try and mitigate the risk of potential problems later.
Few projects ever go without the occasional bump in the road or unforeseen issue, but planning will;
- At best, eliminate potential problems at the source and avoid them completely
- At the very least, this means you’ll have anticipated the complications and will have a sufficient contingency plan in place
Taking the time to plan a job, source the right materials, agree on processes, and nail down production mechanisms will pay significant dividends later in the lifecycle of a job.
Agree on a hierarchy in your firm – and stick to it
In larger firms, this is likely less of an issue, but in smaller companies (as many independent engineering firms are), it can be quite common for teams to be quite small – to the point the natural hierarchy needed by all companies can get lost.
From an owner’s point of view, your role will likely be clearly understood by your staff, but the boundaries can get considerably more blurred the further down the chain of command you look.
Team spirit is a good thing and should be encouraged, but you should still ensure that everyone in your team knows their place in terms of superiority and control.
Foster a culture of good communication in your company
They say good management starts from the top and works its way down, and the same can most definitely be said of company culture. If you want your staff to work as effectively as possible, you’ll need to ensure you facilitate an ethos of good communication within your firm by encouraging discussion and giving as many channels as possible for debate and team working.
One of the easiest ways to foster a culture of communication is to lead by example and give your team the tools they need to work more collaboratively. In today’s uber-connected society, there are now a variety of business tools that can make project management and team-working a breeze by allowing your staff to work on projects online together, regardless of geographical location.
These cloud-based platforms feature virtual offices where teams can discuss and debate every aspect of a project – plus update documents in real-time and work together. Indeed, the best collaborative work platforms even feature video and voice conferencing systems – all of which can be logged for later review should you feel you missed any important points. Email, messaging, calendars, project milestones, and alerting systems also come bundled as standard with most software – meaning you’ll never lose track of the progress in a job again.
Once you’ve installed this type of collaborative software, you should encourage staff to move their communications to the system by taking the lead and actively contacting them over the app. Another good tactic might be to arrange weekly (or even daily) team meetings in the virtual office to make your staff aware of the awesome potential these systems can offer.
Realize your staff are your company’s most important asset
Ask pretty much any successful businessman what they consider their firm’s most important asset to be, and you will, almost with exception, get the same reply – its staff. Your employees are the lifeblood of your firm – perhaps even more so when it comes to an engineering company that exists to design and innovate new products.
Not valuing your team will only lead to employee apathy and poor performance. Indeed, in extreme cases, you may even lose staff to rivals that offer better conditions.
It’s also worth remembering that, while money is important to most employees, feeling valued at work frequently takes many other guises – anything from feeling respected to having the sense of being part of a larger purpose.
There are too many ways you could demonstrate how much you value your team to list here, but, as a starter, why not try some of the following:
Pay at least the standard rate: In the internet age, it’s easier than ever to work out your value and check competitors’ pay rates. One sure-fire way to decimate employee morale and make staff think about working elsewhere is to pay substandard wages. Always ensure you’re aware what your competitors pay and try to match (if not exceed) their rates.
Offer bundled extras and incentives: Incentives can take many forms, from bonuses for meeting targets to bundled health insurance or even offering shareholdings in your firm. The biggest advantage of offering this type of extra benefit is the tangible advantages they bring for both parties without breaking the bank from your firm’s point of view. Even just giving an afternoon off as a reward for hard work can work wonders for making staff feel appreciated.
Remember to show thanks and appreciation: Often, a simple ‘thank you’ can go a very, very long way in terms of changing how your employees feel about work and letting them know they’re valued. Moreover – and coming back to the idea of company ethos noted above – developing a culture where staff thank fellow employees for their efforts could transform the sense of belonging, enthusiasm, and loyalty in your firm.
As mentioned, there are many, many ways you could show your staff you appreciate them – but the key is to start right away. Not only will you have more engaged, enthusiastic, and dedicated employees – you’ll also considerably reduce staff churn in your firm and increase the chances of workers staying longer with you.
Invest in educating your team
Linked the point above about valuing your team, investing in your employees is one of the best ways to build company loyalty, reduce staff turnover and ensure you remain at the cutting edge with the best employees in the business.
Perhaps more importantly, if you don’t invest in the education and training of your staff, you run the very real risk of employing workers with outdated skills that simply aren’t applicable in today’s rapidly-changing engineering markets. It could easily be argued engineering is one of the fastest-developing industry sectors (particularly if you’re involved in electrical, electronic, or computer-related engineering) so keeping abreast of emerging tech is essential to keep a tight ship. For example, putting your team on a masters in lean manufacturing could result in considerable benefits and savings further down the line as they learn the latest production techniques.
Educating your team will help them feel valued while also having the added benefit of increasing their worth and input to your company.
Today’s tech makes it easier than ever to develop and test materials and designs without even spending a dime on components or production. Using modern CAD systems and Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) techniques as part of your manufacturing process could save your firm a fortune – plus also speed up production and reduce errors.
Establish agreed and recognized workflows
This problem becomes particularly apparent in larger firms – although even smaller companies can suffer from employees taking their own path with little regard for the team ethic that should be at the heart of your firm.
To maintain cohesion within your employees, all your staff should be aware of the stage other team members are at and what particular facet of a job they’re working on. This again largely comes back to the idea of building a sense of belonging and working as a team towards a greater goal – and one of the best ways to do that is to agree on a standard workflow for approaching new jobs.
All companies are different – as is the work firms take on – but you should try taking a step back from your firm to better understand your current processes and identify/isolate areas where you might improve operations.