Fiona Buttrey, Technical Manager at Vale

Image if Vale refinery

In this podcast we talk to Fiona Buttrey, who is the technical manager at Vale in Swansea. Fiona has been at Vale since before they started their CI journey, and has seen the progress made within the organisation which resulted in Vale winning a Shingo medallion.

Below is a transcript of the interview:

When did you first learn about Lean Thinking?
I started getting interested in Lean while studying for a part-time MBA at Cardiff Business school. My dissertation was around operations management, looking at how we could optimise our supply chain at Clydach Refinery. I was not able to implement all the ideas at the time, but as I progressed into a management role I had more opportunity to make changes. I later attended some training with Peter Hines at LERC which built on those foundations.

Why did you want to learn more?
I saw huge potential to make our work safer, easier, cheaper and more effective. Who wouldn’t want to do this?

When and how did you first apply what you learned and what were the results?
When Mike Cox took over as General Manager at Clydach, we both shared the same ideas. Mike had learned about lean from his visits to customers in Asia. We started implementing some lean tools in 2008, and really started our strategic lean programme in 2009.

What have been your personal highlights during your Lean Learning Journey and why?
Finding out that the Refinery had won the Shingo Silver medallion for Operational Excellence. This was truly a team effort, with virtually everyone on the site speaking to the examiner team during their visit. All our employees were tremendously proud of what we had achieved, and the process also helped everyone to see how far we had come. Everyone did a brilliant job explaining what we do, why we do it and how we’re making it better every day.

What is next on your Lean Learning Journey?
I have trained as a Shingo Examiner, and I’ll be travelling to Ireland on a site visit later this month. It’s a great opportunity to gain a deeper insight into the Shingo model, and to see best practice in action. I’m sure I’ll pick up some ideas that I can bring back and implement at my workplace too. There is always something to learn.

What advice would you give to anyone considering applying Lean in their organisation?
The biggest mistake people make is in thinking that lean is all about tools. Tools are simply a means to help you to achieve whatever you aim to do as an organisation. You need to select the right tools to accomplish your goal – and you need to get everyone behind your strategy. You also need to engage and empower your people, and ensure that leaders really drive the change. Ultimately you need to create a culture in your organisation which supports this new way or working. It’s easy to sustain the change for a short time, but it’s difficult to keep it going over months and years. It takes a lot of time and effort. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it! Stick at it!