In the 2020-10-15 edition of the XBE Horizon newsletter we discussed the value of doing daily "game tape" sessions to review job performance and identify opportunities to improve. As a follow up, the 2020-12-07 edition was about the importance of competing with what is possible instead of the estimate or past performance. Then, in the 2021-02-15 edition, we introduced the "trucking surplus" metric as a concise quantification of trucking efficiency. In this newsletter, we'll provide a case study from Superior Bowen that demonstrates the breakthrough performance improvement that results from putting all of those ideas to work.
For the past four months, XBE has collaborated with Superior Bowen to transform their job planning and adjustment process. These are our notes on what we've learned so far.
Clarify your baseline and goals.
Superior Bowen's strategy was to build on the solid logistics foundation that they'd developed from 2018 - 2020 to dramatically improve the efficiency of their 2021 jobs using the the planning, monitoring, analysis, and adjustment processes described in previous newsletters.
In 2020, their average trucking surplus was 25.9%. For 2021, the goal was set to 16%.
Maybe we weren't optimistic enough! For the 23 crew days in March, Superior Bowen's trucking surplus dropped all the way to 13.2%, almost 50% better than the 2020 average. And for the 20 days thus far in April, the trucking surplus has been only 10.1%. While the early season is milling-heavy (which is generally a bit more efficient), there is every reason to believe that the improvement will be sustained, and that it will correlate with improved crew efficiency too.
Educate during down time.
Key to the early season success was a concerted effort over the winter to train superintendents, project managers, plant managers, and the executive team on planning and analysis in XBE. We assumed nothing, and trained from first principles. While 2021 will be the fourth season of XBE's partnership with Superior Bowen, many capabilities are new, and plenty of old features are unfamiliar. Training built both the capabilities and confidence of team members. Software features were explained within the context of the company's overall strategy. It was also an opportunity to identify leaders that can be counted on help others along the way.
Study the details as a team.
Shared understanding is required to make progress as a team especially when we're mostly apart. To help build that collective knowledge, the executive team began meeting for 30-60 minutes every afternoon to review the day's results and the following days' plans. The meetings were slow and deliberate. Since the XBE platform makes all the information readily available, we didn't need to focus only on the summary and the exceptions. We had the time to review the details of every job and mull what we'd learned and what could be improved. The meetings were relaxed and fun, and helped to build camaraderie and shared ownership.
Maximize the production rate.
Uncertainty regarding the maximum production rate results either in under-production or over-trucking. We found that different team members would calculate production rates differently and that additional training, tools, and focus in this area will help output and efficiency. Stay tuned for more in this area soon.
Lean into the culture.
Bend the process to the culture. For Superior Bowen, it works best to lean into strengths, pursue excellence, build consensus, and respect functional lines of authority. Other organizations might be more command-oriented, or more matrix-managed, and that's fine too. Whatever the culture, go with it.
Seeing ain't seizing.
It takes practice to analyze performance accurately, and it takes practice to make optimal tradeoffs in the face of uncertainty and time pressure. It's hopeful to think that decisions will come naturally once performance is visible, but that's only step one. It takes discipline and humility to convert insight into action, and we can't take either for granted.
Celebrate the process and the outcomes.
Superior Bowen has taken care to celebrate the small victories along the way, both from a process and outcome perspective. For example, in the most recent "Meeting of the Minds" remote presentation for all salaried employees, Trey Bowen, CEO of Superior Bowen, provided an update on the "optimization" pillar of the 2021 strategic plan. During that update, he explained the importance of the initiative, described the work that had been done thus far, and reviewed the early results. He highlighted the success of specific people and jobs and even showed a handful of plan monitoring charts from XBE. The attention felt good for those that were celebrated, and provided positive motivation for the entire team.
Compete externally, collaborate internally.
It's tempting to make a competition out of an initiative like this, but you should resist. Internal competitions are status games, and there can be only one winner. We want to lift everyone together, not separate the haves and have-nots. Instead of creating a competition, praise good work specifically, point out general opportunities to improve, and encourage lateral assistance.
When the work seems done, start a new project together.
Don't see the frequent executive team meetings as a temporary step to improve performance, but as an asset that can tackle a continual stream of opportunities. For example, once the daily planning and adjustment process becomes second-nature and the trucking surplus is under control, it might be time to focus on demand-balancing, or incident analysis and remediation. The habit is hard to form, and you should be reluctant to break it.
If you have your own story to share, I'd love to hear it. And if you need help implementing a similar strategy and we aren't already collaborating with you on it, please be in touch.
Founder & CEO, XBE