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Like a Grandparent with a Grandchild, “Grey Haired Gurus”™ Know How to Tell a Good Story

A Performance Drivers’ Case Study in Business Process Improvement using Lean (and plenty of practical wisdom)

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THE CLIENT

LaserBond started as a family venture in the early 90s. The engineering firm identified and nurtured their niche, managing very successfully to educate a sometimes reluctant target market about the benefits of a pioneering approach.

LaserBond’s customers operate in capital-intensive industries, including mineral and food processing, mining, agriculture and manufacturing, and they rely heavily on equipment running at peak performance over long periods of time. Operating from sites in Sydney and Adelaide, they specialise in the manufacture and reclamation of components and assemblies, often for critical applications that require optimised surface properties.

The company’s vision is to be a global leader in the research, design and implementation of advanced surface engineering technologies and innovations. They tangibly reduce unit operating costs by extending the wear life of production-vital equipment. These technologies and applications result in increased production yield, reduced downtime and maintenance costs. It’s all about improving productivity.

The Myth of Greater Capacity

Over the years the business expanded to match the growth in demand for its products and services, but management quickly learnt that there is not a direct correlation between providing your team with more space and improvements in efficiency.

The notion that more capacity will of itself lead to greater efficiency is a myth.

Storytelling as a Stratergy

Much has been written about the benefits of adopting storytelling as a strategic component of change management initiatives. There are consulting firms which go to great lengths to craft good stories for a project and train senior managers at client sites in the art of being good orators and listeners.

The same benefits can be realised by positioning a calm, mature and highly experienced individual at the frontline of your initiative without the risk of coming across as contrived.

This achieves a number of things, which management would probably struggle with (and which interestingly correlate with the essence of grandparenting):

  • Listening attentively and patiently
  • Many practical solutions, packaged as true stories
  • A culture of ‘let’s keep trying’, pride, applause and sharing the successes
  • Respect and tolerance for mistakes (“Thank you Joe for admitting your mistake! If someone as experienced as you could make that mistake, can you imagine how often it must be happening? Let’s figure out a way to fix that.”)

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Growing Pains: 1993 - 2014

THE OBJECTIVE

As part of a strategy to optimise the capacity and capability of their facilities and staff to deliver innovative services and products and to diversify and grow their business, LaserBond decided in June 2014 to embark on a Lean transformation. The move to a larger facility had not brought instant solutions to old problems.LaserBond found that margins did not keep pace with the increases in sales revenue and the company decided to implement productivity measures at its Smeaton Grange facility. The issues that required immediate attention were determined to be:

  • reduction of lead times, improving the layout and organisation of the physical work environment,
  • reduction of ‘work in progress’ and
  • improvement in overall organisational culture.

LaserBond sought external support to address these issues. Brian, one of Performance Drivers’ Principal Consultants was employed to facilitate the transformation program. With decades of experience across multiple industries, this “Grey Haired Guru”™ was armed with tried and tested tools and methodologies, and a multitude of success stories.

THE APPROACH

Performance Drivers generally employs one of three options when tackling a Lean initiative, each with a slightly different focus. LaserBond opted for a pilot program and a plan to upskill the workforce. The approach involves expert facilitation of a proof of concept, followed by ongoing mentoring.

Building internal capability is critical to establish a solid foundation for change with a sharpened focus and cultural shift geared towards ongoing continuous improvement.

Apart from subject matter expertise, the “Grey Haired Guru”™ brought, by virtue of a very long and successful career, a plethora of compelling true stories. He started off inviting storytelling to get to the root of daily frustrations and then encouraged the sharing of success stories as the pilot and subsequent initiatives rolled out.

The purpose of a pilot project is to allow for ‘quick wins’ and the opportunity to demonstrate real success. With a proof of concept story of their own to tell, the pilot team was able to spread the word. They shared the Guru’s stories, validating them with their own experiences. There is something very empowering about visible and recent proof of your own successes – it makes story time that much more enjoyable.

Whilst the CEO was present at the awareness briefings to show support and encouragement, LaserBond chose to actively avoid presenting a top down approach. The critical success factor for the organisation has been the direct involvement of all the folk on the shop floor team. This has ensured that workers themselves understand, believe in and own the transformation. They hold the copyright to their own stories, as it were.

Selecting a few pilot areas enabled staff to get their feet wet. They effected dramatic improvement in a small area in a very short time (literally days) and customised the Lean tools into a ‘LaserBond Way and Culture’.  After the pilots were successfully deployed, the scope was expanded to the rest of the production, scheduling and warehouse areas.

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A common challenge with projects of this nature is allocating time for all staff to undertake improvements, whilst still keeping up with business as usual. LaserBond’s Financial Controller arranged for account codes to be created for staff to allocate both time and purchase expenses to the Lean project. 

The time gained by implementing Workplace Organisation was measured against the time spent on making the improvements, and articulating the net gains. After three months, during which various carefully selected Lean techniques (Workplace Organisation, Kaizen (improvement suggestions from reducing wastes) and Visual Workplace) were deployed, considerable improvements and benefits were realised in terms of:

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  • lead time reduction
  • inventory reduction
  • estimated vs actual operation times
  • greater employee and visitor safety
  • percentage time spent actually working on jobs.

Financial results have shown a sustainable 7% improvement that can be directly related to the efficiency improvements achieved as a result of the Lean manufacturing techniques and other shop floor efficiency improvements.

                                                     "We expected pushback from a team of people set in their ways, but they embraced the change with a response of, “Why didn’t we do this years ago?”                                                         
 

The second phase of the LaserBond project started looking at machine performance (TPM / Total Productive Maintenance) and scheduling. Log books were kept at each work centre, and ongoing improvements effected to machinery to restore to initial conditions, improve reliability and performance, and perform preventative maintenance.

Examination of the log book for one of the machines showed that the number of issues, stoppages and breakdowns reduced from an average of 20 per month, to one every 2 months.

During this period staff were trained in Lean tools such as Quick Changeover, Structured Problem Solving and Mistake Proofing. The next phase is a project in progress to reduce rework. The Lean thinking program is also being expanded into Sales, Finance, and Administration.

Continuous improvement is, by definition, never complete. The LaserBond team has had the foresight to ensure that their team sustains a culture of pride and confidence building. 

                                                     "The major culture change and imperative of the transformation was the empowerment of operators to own their processes, and come up with ongoing continuous improvement suggestions"                                                         
 

LESSONS LEARNT

Actively avoiding a top down approach can be very empowering for workers at the coalface, in that it makes the successes entirely their own.

Choosing pilot areas wisely can provide authentic success stories within days.

An account code/ cost centre for project time and resources to be billed against provides data for articulating net gains in real financial terms.

This case study was written by Debbie Tschepen with contributions from Matthew Twist and Brian Levitan.

At Performance Drivers our business model allows us to:

  • Provide interim contractors for standard roles or subject matter experts for consulting projects;
  • Hand pick a team with the maturity to model a solution to each client’s unique situation;
  • Include subject matter experts with diverse backgrounds;
  • Build internal capability to retain knowledge and realise benefits sustainably for the long term;
  • Scale the team up or down, and enhance the skillset as the project unfolds.

Our core team, respectfully known as “Grey-Haired Gurus”™ have decades of hands-on real world experience, successfully delivering results across public and private industry sectors.