Developing a continuous improvement culture

Getting started with operational alignment and improvement by engaging employees and developing lean foundations.
This leading insulation manufacturer is now confident and capable of making its own way to Enterprise Excellence after The Manufacturing Institute helped get it started.

Introduction

Our client is part of a global family-owned business, with manufacturing operations organised around global regions. The business is highly successful, but the recent recession and the anticipated impact of government subsidy cuts to schemes to insulate homes and businesses have dampened market demand.

In response, one of the UK manufacturing sites has worked with The Manufacturing Institute to make the transition from management directed continuous improvement to a continuous improvement culture that involves and connects with all employees.

The Challenge

The manufacturing site, which is one of many worldwide, had tried several times to find ways of developing continuous improvement with its workforce.

Previous approaches had been to use external consultants to train employees in a technique and then leave them to it.

Without management support or changes to working practices and standards, sustaining these well-intended approaches was too much and they eventually fizzled out.

The client worked with The Manufacturing Institute to build continuous improvement capability into the organisation through a process of employee engagement and hands-on practical activities to develop operating standards that form the foundation of any successful improvement culture.

Enterprise Excellence Framework – Operational Alignment

The Manufacturing Institute practitioners initially conducted a pilot project in the bagging area and then worked with the management team to develop an understanding of what ‘good looks like’ by hosting a best practice visit and facilitating workshops to develop understanding and commitment.

Subsequently, a programme to roll-out the standardisation programme to the whole site was developed and implemented area by area.

Before work started in each new area, operators and shift team leaders were trained in continuous improvement techniques.

This often included the participation of operators from other areas in articulating the benefits of their previous training and interventions. Teams were created consisting of process managers, shift team leaders, operators and trades.

By training and empowering the team to find their own solutions, the improvement effort multiplied. During one Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) activity a couple of team members got together and completely redesigned a conveyor diverter that was constantly snagging and causing product to spill on to the floor – requiring manual return to the conveyor later.

Over a period of eighteen months all the key equipment had been ‘touched’ so that the basic methods and standards of operation and maintenance were agreed, documented and understood. In the process of doing this, countless changes and improvements were made by the teams, often requiring little or no cost to the business. Equipment performance became more reliable and the incidents of operators having to manually intervene by putting product back onto conveyors have gradually reduced. Operators were particularly proud of their achievements in reducing plastic packaging materials. The financial benefits of this improvement alone ultimately paid for the cost of the programme.

The programme was managed by the continuous improvement manager who introduced a governance process to track all the outstanding actions from all of the improvement activities and training. A weekly review process was set up to identify hold-ups and bottlenecks to getting things done and to manage and support resolution as required.

As the practical activities progressed, a parallel programme of ‘Effective Behaviours’ was rolled out to develop leadership capability in the management team and shift team leader cohort. Over time, reliance on The Manufacturing Institute’s practitioners reduced as internal capability grew. Now the client is largely self-sufficient and is plotting its own way forward – using The Manufacturing Institute where specialist intervention might be required.

Results

The main benefits of the programme have been the increasing levels of ownership and accountability so that the site leadership team can focus on aligning the whole organisation around meeting its demanding objectives. The site manager said: “We used to rely on the 11 members of the management team for improvement, now we have all 179 employees contributing to continuous improvement”. Essentially this means “all of us working together to get the results we need”

There have been hard savings in reduced packaging waste which has more than paid for the overall costs of the change and consultancy support. Processes and equipment are more reliable and less fire fighting is now required – releasing people at all levels – from operators to managers – to spend more time on continuous improvement and in supporting the business objectives.