Startups: From Chaos to Success

How monitoring four things will guide you to go from Concept to Mass Delivery Faster and give you competitive edge!


I started to pay an interest in startups when I was approached to be an executive coach to a COO of one. This startup was having exponential growth at the time. Typically exponential growth means no time to focus on standardization, process design and stability. What stood out for me though, as different from typical corporate settings, was the fearless approach to running a business with little clue to what creates mass delivery excellence. They knew they had found a market need, they had decoded what makes their target audience tick, they had managed to attract investors and were still in a garage figuring out how to go from concept to mass delivery. Fascinating to see their commitment, their will power and their need to be learning while doing, not to lose their market share to any other startup/competitor. Outstanding pace and drive! Moreover, every concept thrown at them, they would convert into actions in a matter of hours!


From concept to fast mass scale delivery

Since then, I had the opportunity to meet several other entrepreneurs and see some common trends on some of the struggles and curveballs they all come across. In sum, they all face the same challenge: How to go from concept to a fast mass scale delivery!


According to CBIInsights, the main reason for Startups to fail has to do with running out of cash/failing to raise new capital. Again, missing the fast element of raising the foundations of mass delivery!


If you ever have the chance to visit a fast paced mass delivery site, it is a mind blowing experience: the sync of the production line with all moving parts, the perfect timing of raw material being serviced exactly when needed, the rhythm… everything was thought through in detail, in seconds.

The production line hardly ever stops, when it does, the sense of urgency is amazing to watch.


Dozen of man gathered around an information board analyzing what cause the production line to stop

I had the chance of witnessing a debrief meeting once where the line had stopped for 4 minutes and the support engineering team had 36 hours to come up with a root cause analysis and prevent it from stopping again! Moreover, when they failed to do so, all engineers from the factory were invited to help them consider other angles to analyze to prevent reoccurrence! Mind blowing!


So, questions are:

  • How do they achieve this?

  • How did they go from garage concept to this level of proficiency in a mass delivery scale?

Well, basically you should aim to create flow and spot wasteful activities that prevent flow. By flow I mean information flow, material flow, people flow and equipment flow.


“All we are doing is looking at the time line, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the timeline by reducing the non-value adding wastes.” — Taiichi Ohno

Where should you start?

Coming from a Japanese learning background, from early in my career I was shown that the customer experience is and should be at the heart of a business, from design all the way to delivery.

A production site to ensure flow, needs to have the right number of people with the right level of training (MAN), the right schedule and instructions so they know what is expected (METHOD), equipment that is ready and never fails during production (MACHINE), and material to be processed in the right quantities at the right time to be processed (MATERIAL).


Diagram with a summary of 4M's: Material, Method, Machine, Man
4M's Summary Diagram

This balancing act between material, information, people and equipment is what creates flow and is commonly known as the FOUR M’s. For delivery to go fast, to happen, all of these need to be in perfect sync. That’s it! Simple right?

When you visit a factory that has a customer centered design, they are constantly monitoring the 4M’s to prevent flow interruptions and a poor customer experience that could compromise the business.


Here are some questions that will help you to start monitoring the 4M’s and slowly create a plan to address the gaps you will find:


1. METHOD

  1. What do you need to produce per day to meet demand? Per week? Per month? Do you have that visibility?

  2. Does everyone have that visibility of the daily requirements? How does marketing communicate that to production?

  3. When running campaigns, chances are the production schedule will change. How is that communicated to production? To purchase? To suppliers?

  4. Have you studied and designed carefully what is the best and the fastest method of assembly? What is the fastest way to create your product ensuring quality all the way?

  5. Have you broken down that process method in similar time slots so every step of line has similar rhythms? This is important to ensure one part of the assembly process doesn’t create a half done product that will be there piling up only because the next part of assembly is too slow or is poorly dimensioned…

  6. Did you factor in typical flexibility worker arrangements, maintenance periods in equipment in order to minimize downtime?

  7. When the line is down, do you have an escalation process to ensure zero to no time is wasted informing the right decision makers and activating emergency procedures (to minimize customer impact)?

  8. When launching a new product, how is that scheduled in production to minimize disruption to the set customer delivery schedule?


2. MAN

  1. Once the process is broken down in a way that creates the right rhythm, are assembly areas with the right number of people at each step to achieve the schedule set per day, week, month?

  2. Have you created an expectation of how the day is going to be to all people involved in the process?

  3. Setting an hourly goal helps achieve a rise in productivity. Have you factor that in to help keep the set pace all the way throughout the day?

  4. If you have workers following a set delivery schedule, is all training to everyone involved carefully designed to ensure minimum to no downtime?

  5. What indicators do you use to monitor performance? Are those indicators customer driven?


3. MACHINE

  1. Equipment maintenance is factored in in all your production schedule needs?

  2. Preventative maintenance sometimes means changing of parts that have a limited lifecycle. Do you have those spare parts in stock to ensure you can follow through the preventative maintenance schedule?

  3. When production is down, do you have corrective maintenance procedures in place? Do you have a team accountable for every minute of when that process is down?

  4. How do you measure and log information to ensure analysis and prevention of reocurring issues?


4. MATERIAL

  1. How do you ensure the exact right quantity of material, per station of the line is delivered per month, week, day, hour?

  2. When raw material is consumed in the production line, how is that information communicated to the warehouse? The purchasing team? The suppliers?

  3. How do you ensure you have all you need to make sure the line doesn’t stop (customer experience never stops!) and yet keep the stock minimums to reduce operational costs?

  4. How do you control defective material coming in your production line?

  5. Do you have set contract clauses that protect you from defects with suppliers to be able to provide customer warranties without crushing your margins?


This list of questions can be overwhelming! So many things to consider, right? But the best companies in the world that have mastered flow creation started by recording the 4M’s and checking recurrences and preventing them…that’s it! Monitor what stops and why and prevent it from happening again!


The basis of everything written here is the Toyota Production System if you care to explore a bit more.


My last note on this is that you will maintain your success when EVERYONE in your organization thinks constantly of flow and creating flow.


“The slower but consistent tortoise causes less waste and is more desirable than the speedy hare that races ahead and then stops occasionally to doze. The Toyota Production System can be realized only when all the workers become tortoises.” — Taiichi Ohno
 

Even though this is more targeted at hardware /physical product startups, even software / digital startups can benefit from these approaches. In the end it's all about productivity.


 

Disclaimer: Apologies if some interpretations may offend a reader. I do rely on literal translation at times since English is a second language. My intention with this article is to spread awareness. I welcome your feedback to ensure I will not be constantly making the same errors in translation.


I also write about my own life ,professional experience and learning curve. I am a continuous improvement learner so I welcome you to share extra information and spread awareness with me if you have other ways of analyzing the same issues or you have value-added information to the readers of this article. Thank you for reading.