Sometimes new equipment is not the answer to increasing productivity, and simply rearranging the equipment you already have can make all the difference. Ken Rizner, vice-president of manufacturing at Hyde Tools, in Southbridge, Mass., walked through the steps of every process with teams of line workers. When they really understood all the steps it took make each hand tool, they were able to eliminate the steps that added no value to the final product. And they were able to rearrange machines and toss arcane reports.

The combination of two major operations cut out at least 30 steps, and Rizner estimates that Hyde sliced some nine-tenths of a mile from the production process. The new systems reduced the time--from more than 10 weeks to 15 working days--it took to turn raw material into finished product. Imagine getting the same results in your order processing or billing departments.