This year has been an exciting year for Simple Mills. As I stood on the line this week for my last time of the year, I couldn't help but feel a little sentimental. It was less than a year ago that we launched our line of crackers, a line that has become a practically an overnight success - going from nonexistent to the third largest natural cracker brand in under a year. I can't say it hasn't been interesting.

At a distance, it would look simple, but under the surface, there are so many lessons that have contributed to where we are today. The first time I stood on the line, launching our cracker line looked impossible. Today, the product is humming along at exceptional speed.

What I've Learned:

  1. The more times you hit something, the more likely it is to break. This can be good or bad. Hit a problem more, you can "crack it". Hit a cracker more... well, you can crack it.
  2. A single ball bearing can bring down your entire line when you least expect it. Sometimes it is the smallest things that bring you down.
  3. Always watch for forklifts that come out of nowhere. It's worth looking around every corner with trepidation.
  4. Every single person in the supply chain makes a difference in the product. You can't operate a line seven people short and you can't make an exceptional product without a terrific mixer or engineer.
  5. Ovens are really hot. Look with your eyes, not your hands.
  6. "Rework" is the enemy of efficiency. Do it right the first time.
  7. The only way to truly innovate is to ignore the logic of "other products run that way." If you use the same solutions, you'll end up with the same end product.
  8. The line operates best when everything moves at a similar speed. If not, product is bulked off to process later, which decreases product quality and increases cost.
  9. It's worth yelling "clear" before you do something that could chop someone's finger off. If you must do something that puts someone else in danger, let them know first -- no surprises.
  10. The smallest recipe changes can have the largest effects. Never underestimate the difference 3g can make.
  11. The best partners are the ones who value your company's mission and are willing to take the time and effort to support the mission - even when it requires more work.
  12. Things will happen in your business. Whether it is a burned cracker or a box with too little glue. The question is - will you know it when they do? Making sure you have the right controls in place to catch errors can make all the difference.
  13. Data is not good if it is not shared, assessed, and acted upon. On the other hand, setting process parameters that the full team focuses on determines the quality level you receive.
  14. Efficiency comes from tiny incremental changes. It is one tiny recipe tweak here, swapping out that troublesome belt, or adding a fan in a sticky spot. Little things add up.
  15. When you're at your wits end, it's worth having a partner there to help you -- or at least to get a drink with at the end of the day.
  16. The faster you can measure product quality, the faster you can react. Long lag times decrease your ability to respond.
  17. What seemed impossible yesterday is a breeze today.

It's never a dull day at the plant. What lessons did you learn from your business this year?