Do You Waste Time Walking To The Printer?

workers in a factory i i

Efficiency experts try to make factories like this run more smoothly. Andreas Rentz/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
workers in a factory

Efficiency experts try to make factories like this run more smoothly.

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Are you one of those people who pour the cream into the mug before the coffee, so you won't have to stir it? Or maybe you alphabetize your spice rack so you can find the nutmeg easily. If so, there's a job you might be good at: efficiency expert.

Matt LeBlanc, an efficiency expert at a global shipping company, is a kind of special ops guy. His company drops him into its locations armed with a stopwatch, equations and a mission to save the firm hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Recently, he got sent to streamline the company's MP3-player delivery operation in Mexico.

"I have to spend a lot of time in warehouses looking weird, staring at people moving boxes," LeBlanc said. "I see a truck back up, and they open the door, and they have to take all these boxes out, and then they move them and pick them up and put the box in one part."

He timed everything, made some diagrams, put some numbers in equations. He saw that the workers were moving the boxes way more than they needed to. He figured out how to cut the labor costs — in half.

People like LeBlanc are one reason why things are so cheap. If he reduces labor costs, then the price of MP3 players can come down.

Sometimes, the fixes he suggests are pretty simple.

"We also move a lot of printers," he said. "I'm sure you guys have printers in your office ... have you ever thought about why that printer is there, and if it makes sense for it to be there?" Over the course of a career, you might walk miles back and forth.

Not surprisingly, people don't always like when LeBlanc shows up. They don't like to be told they've been wasting time. They worry he might find that their whole job is unnecessary.

"I've been physically threatened in a meeting once by someone because I moved their desk from one side of the room to the other," he says. The lesson: "You can't just move people's desk, staplers. You have to move people along."

The hard thing for LeBlanc about being trained to look at the world this way is that it can be hard to switch it off.

"There is a thing called 'five-s': it's sort, straighten, standardize, sanitize and sustain," he said. "I five-s my toiletries in the morning."

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