This year’s LPAS Gemba Tour Event took place in Saskatoon. Our group of Lean practitioners, representing the healthcare, government and manufacturing sectors, had the privilege of experiencing, first-hand, just what can be accomplished with training, hard work, persistence and a commitment to continuous improvement. All three of our tour sites might be considered high-mix, low-volume manufacturers. But that’s where the similarity ends. Each provides their customers with highly individualized and, in most cases, one-off products and services. The materials used, and subsequently the supply chains are completely dissimilar. No widget builders here!
We began the day at Superior Cabinets where our hosts, Michael Kuchar, Continuous Improvement Leader and Brent Boechler, Plant Manager, shared a short presentation describing the chronology of Superior’s Lean journey to this point. Over a five-year period, operator lead and implemented quick kaizen improvements grew from just 20, in the first year, to 1000 in the fifth year. To help sustain these gains a simple, yet highly visual, point of use, system of SOP’s is deployed.
On the production floor several key factors became apparent:
1. A distinct lack of raw materials inventory. Sixty turns/year in most cases, made possible through advanced strategic supplier alliances. Making possible, for instance, 2-3 deliveries per day from local suppliers.
2. A highly visual daily production plan is posted and updated on the production floor.
3. Flow – In most cases each order, whether a complete project or a single cabinet, is processed, in FIFO sequence through the plant, from raw materials, to being palletized and finally loaded on a delivery truck.
4. A significant focus on people development. Two Lean Black Belts, six Green Belts and 99% of team members receiving, internally developed, basic Lean training. An internal designed Lean mentorship program is also under development.
Next, we visited International Road Dynamics (IRD) where Trevor O’Byrne, Manufacturing Services Manager and Lean Specialist, welcomed the group and shared a short overview of who IRD is, and what products and services they provide to customers world-wide. We also learned about IRD’s journey, so far, towards operational excellence and how Lean has helped expand both internal and external capabilities.
The actual gemba tour illustrated just how prevalent continuous improvement thinking is throughout the company.
1. We heard about the significant reductions to production area inventory levels at every stage of the manufacturing process, from raw materials to finished goods. With the obvious benefits to increased operating capital and freeing up valuable floor space.
2. Huddle boards were in use in multiple departments. Interestingly, these are not standardized, but rather, individualized to match the requirements and preferences of the users.
3. A mature and highly visual 5S program is evident. Particularly on the production floor and the related administrative offices.
4. Organization-wide engagement with the Lean initiative is displayed in many non-production areas. Such as engineering, procurement, product development, and equipment installations and repairs.
We closed out our day with a stop at Supreme Group. Although, in this case, we didn’t visit the production floor, David Fritz, Director of Project Solutions, shared his team’s journey to collaboration and improvement. Dave heads up the individuals responsible for estimating, virtual design and construction, and proposal submissions to potential clients. Basically, if these folks don’t get it right often enough the company has no work. Oh, and just make things a little more challenging team members are dispersed across multiple facilities, including Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Acheson, Vancouver, and Portland OR.
What we learned about this journey:
1. A “Project Solution Summit” brought together the entire group in one location. In
addition to some fundamental team building they gained consensus around an initial set of process standards that included shared work templates, computer-based folder structure, terms and conditions, CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE, etc.
2. Daily, online huddles bring together all team members to review the key performance indicators that drive continuous improvement.
3. Developed a Project Solutions team playbook that documents guidelines for the agreed upon standards.
4. Implemented four guiding principles; #1 Understand and Focus on Customers. #2 Leader – Leader Principle (see David Marquet – Turn This Ship Around) #3 Bird in The Hand – Completing current quotes trumps new work. #4 Flag it Up – Focus every day on fixing and improving things.
Although each organization handles it in their own unique way, there was one consistent theme observed at all three companies - An inherent respect for their people. Company goals, business objectives and, in some form or another, a planned roadmap to achievement is openly shared with team members. Information related SQDCM (insert your preferred acronym here), both for targets and results, is openly visible. And, just as importantly, numerous examples of encouragement for everyone to get onboard and engaged.