Climbing the Reopen Mountain…and Passing into a Strange New Land

by | Jun 22, 2020


Welcome to article #1 in my “Climbing the Reopen Mountain” series on using OpEx methods to help you face pandemic-driven changes. For more articles on this topic, see my blog list.

construction workers

Now that everyone’s thoughts are turning toward reopening, you’re probably thinking about bringing your people back onsite and ramping up operations. But let’s be honest, they – and you – won’t returning to the same work environment as before. Far from it.

Your business won’t be operating in the same sphere, either. I’ve been following The Economist’s coronavirus coverage and analysis and highly recommend it. They predict substantial changes in consumer buying habits, labor availability and world trade that could dramatically affect your business, both good and bad, very quickly.

Their view, in a nutshell, is that globalization is now over. The trend was there and the virus is the last straw. Countries are likely to further tighten immigration, promote domestic sourcing and quickly shut off countries that can’t adequately control viral outbreaks (the USA being one of them, btw).

So even while you’re reading this post about the tactics of reopening, keep your business strategy hat on at all times. Over the next few weeks I’ll be discussing operations strategy in this new environment, so stay tuned.

First and Foremost, the People Issues

Employees, contractors and vendors will need to learn new protocols for staying personally safe and preventing the spread of infection. These could include wearing masks or face shields, staying physically distant, disinfecting equipment/tools and avoiding cross-contamination. How will you know they can correctly perform these new procedures and understand what’s at stake if they don’t? How well has your training performed in the past and is it sufficient for this much greater challenge?

You’ll likely have fewer people returning at first, which means cross training will be vital to getting your business back up to speed and keeping customers happy. Are you familiar with the “one up, one down” concept?

People will be distracted by these and other changes and may even be fearful of coming to work. This will increase the chances of mistakes and accidents on the job. Are your processes “visual” enough to prevent mistakes or make them obvious when they occur? Maybe it’s time to start a mistake-proofing program in earnest?

Get More Articles Like this Right to Your Inbox!

Subscribe now to Todd Hudson's biweekly newsletter for new OpEx strategies, tips and resources.

Next, the Business Process Issues

You may be dealing with uneven customer demand and an unreliable supply chain for some time, so planning production and maintaining high levels of on-time delivery will be a real challenge. Have you considered radically smaller batch sizes to mitigate these disruptions?

No sales or lower sales over these last months means you won’t have a dollar to waste as you ramp back up. Reducing errors, defects and rework will be essential to improving your cash flow and profitability. How strong are your people’s root cause analysis skills?

You may need to rearrange work flows or production layouts to achieve more distancing, make up for fewer people or implement smaller batch sizes. How will you achieve the best flows and configurations for your work processes and spaces? Remember, you may only have enough money to do it once. Make it count!

And, Finally, the Equipment/Tech Issues

That new equipment/automation you were planning to install before the pandemic may not be possible now, so getting more out of the equipment you have on hand will be critical. You may think you’ve thought of everything, but have you tried powerful methodologies like SMED and designed experiments?

Or maybe you need to accelerate installing automation given that labor is less available or that the virus could come back in waves over the next couple of years. What’s your automation implementation plan and how will you execute it given current and future circumstances?

Ramp up is a dynamic time and you’ll need to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening every  day or even every hour, especially if a portion of your company is still working from home. Is performance data readily available and presented in a way that’s easy for everyone to understand? Is it clear how people should respond to it?

Overwhelmed? Don’t Bang Your Head on that Makeshift Home Office Desk Yet

This is a situation where Operations Excellence (OpEx) concepts and techniques really shine. Even just a few of these methods, properly applied, can work minor miracles to help you have a smoother ramp back to full productivity. And they can help you make solid decisions in the midst of all the coming uncertainty.

I’ll be writing in more detail about these methods – and also big-picture OpEx strategies – in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!


IF YOU NEED HELP NOW, pick up the phone or send me an email. I can help you with all the above and much more. Also, feel free to refer me to anyone you know who is struggling with reopening.

Todd Hudson, Head Maverick