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What has lean done for you? Phil Shelley, Becketts Foods

In this new monthly feature we interview a Lean advocate who has travelled along a personal Lean learning journey. It covers when they first learned about Lean Thinking, what happened next and how their career has changed. In this month’s edition we focus upon Phil Shelley, Lean Enterprise Director, Becketts Foods, ‘Meat & Poultry Manufacturer of the Year’ winners.

These interviews are in written and/or audio recorded format. If you would like to be interviewed, why not contact us via our Contact Page – we’d love to hear about your personal Lean learning journeys …..



When did you first learn about Lean Thinking?

In the late 90’s I was working for an international packaging manufacturer when one of our key customers invited us to participate in a supplier circle.  My MD asked me to head-up our team.  The overall objective was to enable our customer to remove a third-party warehouse for packaging and raw material storage, by developing and implementing lineside Kanbans, into which we, and other suppliers, would deliver our goods, at their pull signal.

Why did you want to learn more?

Firstly, the project was completely successful, saving our customer £2M pa in storage costs.  However, in order to effectively support our customer, yet avoid potentially massive costs to us, we had, supported by consultants, mapped our own processes, deployed Lean tools such as 5’S, measured, understood, and controlled the demand amplification in our supply chain.  I began to realise that I had a flair for engaging people in the processes of transformation, from raising awareness to implementation, but didn’t yet have the expertise in Lean Thinking to stand alone.

When and how did you first apply what you learned and what were the results?

Pretty much as I’ve already described.  It wasn’t all plain sailing, of course, and I encountered barriers and blockages along the way, and still do.  Overcoming them is part of the fun.

What have been your personal highlights during your Lean Learning Journey and why?

I’ve achieved some great financial results through Lean (£2.5M pa saving in process losses, for example), however, the people-related successes are the ones of which I’m most proud.  Take Tomasz, a burly warehouse operative, who flatly refused to take part in a stock management project.  After we’d implemented 5’S, Visual Management, and Kanbans in his work area, I became his best friend, because his work had become so much easier.  He wasn’t spending so much time in the refrigerated stores, and he could easily find the material he needed – every time.  Tomasz is now a convert.

What is next on your Lean Learning Journey?

Six sigma?  I am not a figures person, so I have always ensured I have team members with complementary skills.  However, it is an area in which I would like to progress, although at the back of my mind remains the thought that when it’s my last day on earth I will spend it with a statistician; they will make the day go so much more slowly!

What advice would you give to anyone considering applying Lean in their organisation?

Go in with eyes wide open and be fully committed.  I am relentless in the pursuit of perfection, so if any member of your top team is not up for Lean, don’t start until you’ve convinced them, or be prepared for potential casualties.  And finally, on a lighter note, use humour as a pathway to engagement, and never stop having fun!

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