What has Lean done for you? Maria Pia Caraccia, Panalpina

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In this months podcast feature, we interview Maria Pia Caraccia who is the Regional Logistics Continuous improvement Manager for the America’s at Panalpina.

When did you first learn about Lean Thinking?
My first contact with lean thinking was a long time ago while I was still in University. Back then I learnt theoretical concepts and as I did not have experience, I thought of these as being related mostly to manufacturing. As time went by, I saw bits and pieces of this being implemented in different companies.

Why did you want to learn more?
I thought Lean was all about the numbers; cutting costs, creating dashboards. I was wrong, and it wasn’t until I joined Panalpina 3 years ago that I really understood what Lean was. I saw change happening…I saw purpose, people getting engaged… I saw commitment, teamwork and results improving as a consequence of the above. How could I not want to learn more after seeing all that? By then I had learnt that in truth, Lean is a way of getting to the minds and hearts of people, of aligning them towards a common goal – adding value. Lean is not focused on cutting costs! It is focused on adding value, focused on enabling growth by freeing up capacity and expanding the business. Lean is a mindset that drives effective behaviors in the organization. It is a way to reach every employee, to create culture; to drive change.

When and how did you first apply what you learned and what were the results?
I started by deploying a series of workshops aimed at raising awareness amongst the employees. I wanted to share with them my learning; I wanted them to see how I see. We had open talks about whether we really understood what our customers’ value, about focusing on the right things to deliver that, about working together as a team with no areas or barriers. I could see them thinking, I could see them questioning their old ways of working and fighting to break paradigms. After a couple of trainings the change in mindset was evident, there was now alignment between the customer and the service. After some practical workshops, they had managed to translate what we had studied into their daily jobs; they developed a new way of working, one that would make their lives and the lives of their customers better. There were no longer scattered thoughts, there was no more rivalry between areas; now there was one team working for one purpose, there was commitment and along with that came the results. A lean culture was being developed…

What have been your personal highlights during your Lean Learning Journey and why?
At the beginning I was skeptical to believe such a change was possible. At the time we started with Lean in Panalpina, I was helping on the turnaround of a warehouse of 300 employees. I thought changing the mindset of all that people would require a tremendous effort, especially since they had been working under the same conditions for over 7 years. Sometimes we underestimate people’s will to change…. After just one workshop I already had a team of 5 multipliers. After a year, a 15% of the warehouse had been certified in lean awareness. A major turnaround…From being the worst warehouse in the world, in a period of just two years it became the very best showcase at Panalpina.

My highlight of this journey? There’s lots of people out there who want to change…in some cases they need guidance, in others WE just need to listen!

What is next on your Lean Learning Journey?
My next journey is all about sustainability and scalability. How can we ensure that the culture that we have created over the past 3 years is sustainable and how can we spread it across the organization. In order to do that, we are developing a Logistics academy aimed at keeping Lean as part of the DNA of our organization. We are creating an open source of Lean knowledge within Panalpina that everyone can access. We are developing trainings for different levels, encouraging cross-regional trainings and coaching people to become multipliers of the Lean culture.

What advice would you give to anyone considering applying Lean in their organization?
Along our lean journey our key learning was that the focus should not be on the tools but on the people. We used to develop these very complex tools when the truth is, we are simple people. If you intend to engage everyone, then make it for everyone. The best ideas come from the people that are working on the process every day. They hold the knowledge to improve. It is a matter of listening and enabling them to get better.

It takes time and effort, it is not an easy journey but it pays off when you see the change in your employees, when you see them smile. I would say GO FOR IT!