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Insights from Seani Devlin, Abbvie

In this month’s SHINGO Forum we welcomed Seani Devlin, the brilliant and engaging Operational Excellence Lead at Abbvie, Ballytivnan. Seani shared with the group both the site and his personal insights on their Shingo journey. We invited Seani along to the Shingo Forum to talk about his employee engagement; tiered meetings and visual management.

Having visited Ballytivnan, it was fantastic to hear some of the back story to what enabled them to develop a World class manufacturing site. The site was founded in 1974 and is now a global centre of excellence for the development and delivery of drug delivery devices.  In  2018 the site was awarded the coveted Shingo Prize.  

At the heart of their Shingo journey was employee engagement and culture change. This was underpinned by the introduction of a Tiered Meeting structure.  Tiered Meetings are used widely within manufacturing companies and enable the ownership of problem solving at the source.  Abbvie have four Tiers and there is a process that ensures problem escalation and resolution occurs across the site. 

Some insights from Seani on the implementation of a tiered meeting structure:

  • It’s not easy, but don’t give up.  The implementation of an effective system requires persistence and courage.
  • Don’t underestimate the time it takes to set up the system and gain buy-in.  Abbvie’s system took around three years and constant iterations of boards and meeting formats.
  • Spend time preparing people – develop the skills required which will include listening and coaching skills. It’s worth discussing how to have difficult conversations.
  • Develop and encourage standard problem-solving approaches (Five Whys; Ishikawa etc)
  • Ensure the Tiers are connected and ensure that there is a clear escalation process for important issues.
  • Create an environment that is safe for people to practice having the conversations required for effective meetings.  KATA Coaching and problem-solving could help with this. 
  • Leaders need to walk the walk and practice the behaviours and conversations at their own level, so they gain confidence in themselves. 

John Quirke, our host for the session also had some thoughts:

“To be effective you need to ensure you understand the behaviours you want to enable (delegation, local problem solving, cross functional alignment) and ensure this is clear to leaders and managers. 

Learning to speak and listen does not happen by accident. Ensuring this is undertaken will enable individuals and teams to manage difficult conversations and hold more productive meetings.

Tiered Meetings area a pivotal system in the development of Enterprise Excellence. Their existence ensures that problems, solutions and accountability remain visible. They enable transparency of information and done well encourage ownership”  

At S A Partners we have been investigating the role of virtual boards for Tiered Meetings and whilst there are some great new platforms that enable this we really do believe the live boards will remain pivotal to creating open communication and the building of trust between teams.  To enable engagement of our virtual workers however it is definitely worth considering the range of hybrid solutions now available. 

Seani went on to talk about winning the prize and shared how much pride it had brought to every person on site, but that they were all passionate about the ongoing improvements, that SHINGO is part of an ongoing journey and they will continue to challenge the way that they think.

If you would like to join the SHINGO Forum please do email, if you would like further information on SHINGO or Tiered Meetings please do contact me