In the early days of being in business I found myself saying words or phrases that helped me relay a concept for how I wanted to build the business. Somewhere along the way, someone jokingly referred to them as Craigisms – things I always said. I have been known to say these things in order to condense a large or complex teaching down into a short memorable phrase. I still say them to this day – in fact they are now part of a series of statements called the “CK Way” and we run CablesAndKits by them daily.
Create capacity was one of the earliest Craigisms. In fact, it may be the FIRST. It originated from the idea that when implementing a solution to a problem, you should seek to not only solve the problem you see in front of you, but also create capacity to handle more volume or throughput while eliminating inefficiency. It is closely related to another Craigism, “Permanently Solve Temporary Problems“.
The early long days
When my wife and I first started CablesAndKits things grew rapidly; so rapidly in fact that I often found myself working 18 and 20 hour days. It was nuts. That obviously wasn’t every single day, but I do remember very well being up until 3 and 4 in the morning working on the website, going to bed, sleeping until 8 or 9, getting up and doing it all again.
Working ON the business vs IN the business
There was never enough time to both work IN the business and work ON the business. Working IN the business could be described as shipping orders, picking up shipping supplies, and any other repetitive task that didn’t create growth or solve a new problem. Working ON the business could be described as creating systems and efficiencies for handling customer orders, creating systems for scaling sales, forming new strategic partnerships, hiring key staff, etc.
Since I love working ON the business more than working IN the business, I always look for ways to reduce the amount of time I am required to spend on repetitive tasks. That usually results in trying to batch or automate tasks to be able to complete them in as short a time as possible. I also really love efficiency, and I tend to build processes that are sustainable, self perpetuating, and really easy to maintain.
Peanut Master 5000
Some of what I did in the early days were things like building a “shipping station”. I couldn’t find anything that was exactly what I wanted, so I built it. I hated dealing with the packing peanuts used in inbound shipments so the main work surface had a grate with holes big enough for the peanuts to fall through, and a box to catch them in. There was even a plan to add a vacuum system to suck them up and around into a hopper to be dispensed again. It also had box storage for easy access and a built in bubble wrap dispenser with tensioning rods to keep the bubble wrap from falling away when used.
I cut the handle off a tape gun and screwed it upside down to the side of the packing station so I could grab a piece of tape with one hand (to tape up the bubble wrapped devices I was shipping). It worked great, cost just a few dollars, and made things so much faster.
These things allowed me to process inbound and outbound shipments mush faster and easier, which kept me buying and selling, and working ON the business.
The first automation
Years later we had plenty of staff and it was no longer just me answering the phones, shipping the orders, picking up packing supplies, and my wife doing accounting and cleaning up my paperwork messes. We had 4 or 5 office staff and a handful of warehouse folks.
We were shipping about 70 orders a day and our one shipping guy was at max capacity. The realization that we needed more shipping capacity was obvious, but I really (REALLY) didn’t like the idea of a whole new full time staff expense just to be able to ship the 71st and 72nd orders! So, I watched what he was doing and how long each step was taking. I realized that taping boxes was a big part of what took time to compete a shipment. I started searching the web discovered the 3M-matic.
3M-matic Tape Master 9000
The 3M-matic is a machine that when connected to power and an air supply will “grab a box, suck it in, tape the top and bottom, and shoot it out the other side” (almost the exact words from the tour I give of our warehouse ;-). It’s like magic.
I bought one. $5k. Didn’t blink. Hire a whole person for $XX,XXX per year, or buy a machine for $5K that never calls in sick? (well, almost never). It probably doubled the number of orders that one guy got processed in a day. Well, maybe not doubled but he certainly got well over 100.
That was 10 years ago. That machine is STILL running in the warehouse today, and we have another newer model almost just like it. With these efficiencies and others, we can process about 250-300 orders a day (picked, packed, and shipped) with 2-3 people.
A lean approach to the value stream
I found myself constantly saying “How can we Create Capacity while solving this problem?“. Let’s not just throw people at it, let’s figure out what’s repetitive and see if we can streamline or automate it. I had no idea what “lean” was at the time but I was thinking and living it – at least in small ways.
Today, Create Capacity still gets said constantly. We can pile inbound shipments up in the floor as they are delivered and root through them looking for something, processing them as we have time – OR we can create a system for processing them efficiently that has the ability to SCALE and lays the groundwork for future improvements like prioritization, measurement of efficiency, etc. That’s exactly what we did.
We now have a well defined process for inbound shipments. The boxes go onto a roller system, get opened in order, and sorted onto rolling carts and staged for the appropriate people across different product lines to process during their work day. We measure how long this process takes and know that we can “process” about 15 boxes per person hour, and are getting better and faster all the time.
I now have an idea for a motorized roller that will extend to the dock door so the UPS driver can load the boxes directly on it. This will eliminate about 20 minutes of unnecessary “stacking and moving” that happens now to get them from the truck to the rollers. Adding the motorized rollers and extending the gravity fed rollers “Creates Capacity”. The current staff will then have 20 more minutes each day to do “value added” work. With this value added activity we can handle more work that generates more revenue and profitability, and people, over time, do less and less repetitive work and more and more “value added” meaningful work.
How about you?
We are finding ways to create capacity in how we approach work every day at CablesAndKits. Have you thought this way about your business? Your life? What could you to to create capacity in your own life or business?