The factory where I worked as a planning manager was closing down and moving operations to Derby. As a single parent, with a son doing his A levels, this was too big a move for me and so I started looking for a new job.
At the same time the energy market was becoming more competitive and so they were looking at how they could become more productive.
And thats how we met. Knowing the dynamic nature of the automotive industry, the consulting firm had suggested that the newly created supply chain would benefit from taking on a number of automotive staff.
One of my first jobs was working as part of a continuous improvement team going to each of the business divisions and analysing the supply chain processes and helping develop more effective systems to drive efficiencies.
The utilities industry is very different from automotive, so it was a huge learning experience at the start and in the beginning I felt totally out of my depth, but I’m quite determined and do love a challenge.
You’ve got to start somewhere!
I had been involved in a number of kaizen projects while working in automotive, so used that experience to underpin my thought process
Plus working in the automotive business had also helped embed a culture of continuous improvement into my psyche, so I knew what I needed to do to start
At first the supply chain teams were suspicious of our being there. They assumed it was about losing jobs, so we had to explain that we wanted to make the work more efficient and to make their lives easier.
That continuous improvement was necessary to remain competitive in the industry and that if we didn’t embrace change, that the company may not be sustainable in the long run.
Relationships between them and the maintenance department had been historically quite poor. Operations would insist on having all the materials just in case and kept local stocks of things that they might need.
There were problems with supply of raw materials and issues where we were throwing things out due to degradation of the materials
The systems weren’t being used properly to order materials and maintenance staff would walk into stores during out of hours and help themselves to the stock.
There were others, but we decided to tackle the issues with the highest ROI first.
Thats the great thing about continuous improvement. You don’t have to try to do everything at the same time.
You can decide to look at your lowest hanging fruit or the things that will save the most money or perhaps the things that will have the quickest impact on your customer relationships
Then once, you have implemented those things, you can move onto the next set of problems. Its an iterative cycle of improvements, where you scan your environment for best practice, you research and learn, then you implement those things that will make your life easier, your customer happier, or enable you to grow your business in a sustainable way.
So we decided that our immediate objective was to decrease stockholding, without stopping the plants running.
We needed to introduce better stock control systems in order to manage demand without excessive waste
And we had to make sure that there were systems in place to support the supply chain staff in managing the processes effectively
We started from the beginning, spending a lot of time educating both the maintenance teams and supply chain on planning maintenance activities, materials ordering and shelf lives for particular products.
Then we introduced an ABC classification for the materials, based on shelf life, maintenance priority and substitutability.
We involved the teams at all times, so they understood the benefit of the change. We designed simple how-to guides, so at the beginning they had something to reference, as well as use to train new members and we made sure they were happy with the new processes before we left
It can take time to embed change, and involving all stakeholders in the process helps them to understand the need for change
Often, because they have experience of the problem, they know how to fix it, or at least have ideas on the things that will and won’t work.
You do need to be careful that they aren’t resisting the change covertly, by pretending to go along with the change, but behind the scenes are undermining the need for the modification
While we were there we had regular chats with the staff, sat in their office and built relationships with them. We demonstrated the improvements as we went along and discussed any resistance as it came along.
We always listened to their opinions and changed our approach if their comments could be validated.
This way the change wasn’t seen as one big bang, where everything was changing and they had a bow wave of learning to do to be able to work the new systems.
It was a process of continuous improvement where everyone become more experienced as the changes were introduced and people adapted as the improvements were made
So many changes are implemented, then 12 months later you go back and find that they have reverted to the old way of doing it. They didn’t see the benefit and they just fell back into old habits.
Making these changes in a structured manner, meant that the foundations could be set, that the change was embedded into the organisation and that we got buy in from the different stake holders.
Making the changes in one division, also meant that we could take that learning and introduce it much quicker in other divisions, as we could demonstrate how the improvements had impacted on the business.
They could also talk with their peers to set their mind at rest, that we weren’t just here to reduce team sizes, though in time, we were able to reallocate work, so that the supply chain were able to add more value to the business.. But thats a story for another time 🙂
We were also able to hit the ground running, without having to spend some much time research and learning the fundamentals.
If you have areas of your business you want to improve, but don’t know where to start have a look at these other articles I’ve written on different ways you can implement change.
And if you think you might need some help, drop me a line and we can discuss how we can work together to grow your business.