S A Partners Gain Investors In People Recognition

We are pleased to announce that after carrying out the IIP Assessment in accordance with the requirements of UKCES, the Investors in People organisation have confirmed that S A Partners have been awarded Investors in People Silver Standard, and thus recognised as an Investors in People organisation.

This is a significant achievement for S A Partners after a year of change, and one that demonstrates the strengths in the organisation and its commitment to continuous improvement for itself and its clients.

Their prestigious accreditation is recognised across the world as a mark of excellence, and is based around optimising performance by championing best practice in people management and equipping organisations with the tools to succeed. Organisations that demonstrate the Investors in People standards achieve the accreditation through a rigorous and objective assessment to determine performance.

Investors in People is owned by the UK government, managed nationally by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).  Investors in People provides a best practice people management standard, offering accreditation to organisations that adhere to the Investors in People framework. Investors in People assessments are conducted locally through seven local Delivery Centres.

IIP was formed in 1991 to protect the integrity of the Investors in People framework. It was a non-departmental public body and received funding from the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Certified Shingo Training – Discover the Principles of Enterprise Excellence

SHingo Discover excellence badge

The Shingo Model™ is not an additional Lean program or change initiative to implement. Rather, it introduces the 10 Shingo Guiding Principles on which to anchor your current initiatives. It fills the gaps in your efforts towards ideal results and enterprise excellence.”

We offer the full range of Shingo courses both online and in-house, and have been for many years. However, for the first time in New Zealand we are excited to be able to offer the foundation workshop, Discover Excellence and two of the follow on workshops, Enterprise Alignment and Cultural Enablers, for those who have already attended Discover Excellence and want a deeper understanding of the Principles.

Successful businesses have a shared vision, they are great places to work where performance excellence is deeply embedded in the organisations culture.

In these workshops developed by the Shingo Institute you will learn about a behavioural based approach to improvement that encompasses the whole organisation in what we call Enterprise Excellence.

“Lean leaders around the world invest substantial time and money on change initiatives that achieve positive results. Most often, they find it is hard to sustain momentum. Each new Lean tool becomes another possible solution or “best practice” only to create a temporary boost in results and a small taste of victory. It doesn’t take many such cycles for associates to feel jaded, frustrated and even burnt out.

Japan Lean Experience – Tokai-Shin-ei Electronics

Back in 2009 I  kept a diary of my Japan Lean Experience and I recall that on our 4th day on the road, and after another great lunch at the Gozarase restaurant we travelled for about an hour to Ena-shi Gifuken, the home of Tokai-Shin-ei Electronics.

Tokai-Shin-ei design and manufacture printed circuit boards their factory is located in a small town in the foothills of the central ranges around Nagoya. Tokai-Shin-ei ‘s long standing President,  Yoshihito Takanaka, gave the initial presentation; he informed  us of his corporate philosophy, based on self discipline, employee involvement through Kaizen and a focus on customer value through Total Quality Management primciples.


During the Gemba tour it was fascinating, to see the high levels of workplace organisation and cleanliness. The 5S program was adopted in the early nineties, as part of Takanaka’s unique philosophy of developing self discipline across the entire work force which encouraged and sustained a highly clean and organized workplace.

TSK’s market is extremely competitive, and due to its remote location, they had focused on minimizing operating costs, by carefully maintaining and even improving the plant and equipment, to maximize the investment. The adoption of Autonomous Maintenance (TPM) has enabled machinery to last well beyond the normal expectations, hence maximizing the assets and return on capital.

One particular example highlighted during the tour was of a 19 year old machine, which has a normal life expectancy of 5 years!

The overwhelming impression of TSK is that of a dedication to Kaizen, they truly believe that everyone has a part to play in improving the operation for their customers on a daily basis. It is also important to remember that employing just over 100 people in this small town is a significant factor, they seemed proud of being able to withstand the years of fierce competition with one of the best reputations for quality and reliability.


5S is certainly a major contributing factor, and without doubt some of the best examples that you will ever see. This must see factory is an absolute highlight, and we are hoping to include a visit in our 2018 Japan Lean Experience tour!

S A Partners will be running a one week study tour to Japan next April.


Lean Leadership Workshop – Update

In the same week as our Continuous Improvement conference hosted at Massey University, Chris Butterworth, MD Asia Pacific, led our world class, Lean Leadership seminar in Auckland.

This two-day workshop is designed for business leaders and senior managers looking to embed continuous improvement practices in their organisations, and Chris shares how to create a sustainable continuous improvement culture in addition to the tangible benefits from Lean.

Chris brings a wealth of experience and case studies relevant to NZ organisations who are starting the Lean journey and wish to understand the role that leadership plays in embedding continuous improvement principles as part of the “way of life”.

Many thanks to Chris for bringing Lean to life and sharing his expertise and we’ll look forward to Oct, when he’ll be back!

Workshop Outcomes:

Learn how these results are built upon and sustained also how to engage the workforce and create a sustainable Lean culture.

  • Understand how Lean thinking provides the basis for a profitable, growing and customer focused business
  • Understand the key elements of creating a sustainable culture of continuous improvement
  • Identify the priority actions to achieve this vision and start developing a roadmap to get you there
  • Understand the role of the senior team in creating a Lean enterprise

Welcome – Tenison Maingay

It is with great pleasure to introduce our latest team member at SA Partners NZ.

Tenison is a recent Massey University Graduate who studied a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons), Majoring in Product Development and minoring in Mechatronics.

Over the past 15 months he has been working for S A Partners New Zealand on a number of business improvement projects. The practical and technical skills learned at varsity have been the foundation for assisting CI specialist teams and client projects with data analysis outlining key opportunities with mathematical reasoning.

Tenison’s specialties are in Total Productive Maintenance and Sustainability.

Tenison began lean education in 2015 and is developing skills through as a Lean Coach the Lean Competency System and practical improvement projects working alongside Richard Steel.

Guest Speaker at the Asda Sustainability Conference

Jeff Williams, Head of our Food & Drink Sector at S A Partners, recently presented at the high profile Asda Supplier Sustainability Conference to an audience of 300’ food manufacturing companies/leaders.

Jeff’s session urged food manufacturing companies to consider lean as an holistic approach to Continuous Improvement of the whole business, rather than a tactical, short-term activity limited to shop floor operations.

Audience feedback on Jeff’s presentation: ‘a great prompt into asking some tough questions when back on-site re how we’re approaching lean’

If you would like more information on how Jeff and his team work with Food & Drink companies, please contact Jeff directly.

Jeff on stage at the Asda conference

You may also be interested in the Lean Scorecard Maturity Assessment article.

Shingo News

S A Partners have been the European Affiliate for the Shingo Institute, who have their annual conference this coming April from the 25th to the 29th, since 2014.

This year, Simon Grogan (MD Europe), John Quirke and our colleague at S A Partners Pty Asia Pacific, Chris Butterworth are to go through the challenging process of becoming Shingo Assessors, but currently are all Shingo 4-Core Facilitators .

Simon works with clients all over the world in Life Science, Utilities, Distribution and Manufacturing, while John heads up our Ireland operation, the Life Science sector  and is the lead for our Total Productive Maintenance programme (TPM).

Chris supports our team in the Asia Pacific region working with a wide range of clients including Financial Services, Insurance, Education, Healthcare and Defence. One of our clients, Commonwealth Bank of Australia were recently awarded a Shingo Silver Medallion – the first in the world in financial services.

Focus on the Food & Drink Sector for February

Head of the Food & Drink Sector, Jeff Williams, is in demand. He’s been interviewed for Snacks magazine and is also speaking at a prestigious conference.

Could your operations reduce costs by 10 to 15% at the same time as boosting productivity, improving customer satisfaction and creating a healthier, safer working environment for employees? Welcome to the world of waste reduction through lean manufacturing. Jeff Williams, Partner and Head of the Food & Drink Sector for S A Partners covered this subject in his recent interview as a recognised ‘Thought Leader’ for the prestigious publication ‘Snacks Magazine’ – the official journal of the European Snacks Association (ESA). https://thesnacksmagazine.com

Snacks logo

This resulted in an article published in the Winter Issue of Snacks Magazine entitled ‘Lean Thinking’. In the article Jeff describes how the application of a sustainable approach to ‘Lean Thinking’ can help improve performance, eliminate waste and reduce costs by understanding what customers value.

The magazine is published quarterly. It is one of the industry’s leading sources of news and information about the European savoury snacks and peanut markets and is one of the Association’s prime vehicles of communication with its members and the international snack food industry.

Membership spans the European Union and beyond and reaches top managers throughout the world. The core readership within the EU today includes the growing markets of Central and Eastern Europe although and the magazine is also read as far afield as North and South America, the Middle and Far East, Pacific Rim, Africa, Asia and Australasia.

Jeff is also a guest speaker at the prestigious National Skills Academy (NSA) for Food & Drink ‘Skills Conference’ in February 2016.

He will share his experience on the importance of end to end improvement systems that deliver real benefits.

If you want to know more about our services to the Food & Drink sector, contact Jeff Williams.

The Power of the Pen in a Digital Age

We’re a process manufacturer and have worked hard on involving our shop floor guys heavily in process improvements. Until recently, this was all done using the good, old-fashioned whiteboard.

The team kept regular notes on cycle times, identified and noted down quality issues, and regularly made suggestions about how to tweak both in order to improve them.

They did all this on handwritten boards. Indeed, you couldn’t walk down the line without encountering a sea of green, red and blue ink on the boards.

But then we had an edict from our European headquarters to move into the digital age. They wanted to ensure we were capturing all relevant manufacturing and production data as a group, and digital data capture offers a far more accurate and convenient system than pen and paper.

However, the effect on the shopfloor has, to put it mildly, been unenthusiastic. There’s been a discernible mood change ever since the new system was announced. I mean it’s not open mutiny, but the guys just don’t seem to be as up for process improvement as before. The spring has gone from their step and we’ve seen some signs of disengagement with data capture.

I asked some on the shopfloor why this is and they said they liked the manual methods we used to employ because they were simple to comprehend and easy to implement. They said they felt less comfortable working with digital technology because it is unfamiliar and tough to understand.

There is clearly a power to the pen and being able, quite literally, to make your mark, at least partly because manual systems are tangible and immediate. In fact, I believe even the best lean manufacturing practitioners are fans of manual systems – at Toyota, plant managers read from a hand-updated whiteboard at each station.

Having said that, as a business we simply can’t afford to stand still, and tracking and traceability are certainly improved by using digital methods.

So we face a predicament; my question is how do I stop the negative attitude among the workforce taking root without defying HQ?

Kevin Eyre of SA Partners gives the expert view…

Not so much a predicament as a dilemma, by which I mean that any path you choose will present you with a downside – a disappointed HQ or a de-motivated team. Dilemmas are matters for leaders; problems are issues for managers. You therefore face a test of your leadership, not so much of your management, as if the stakes weren’t high enough already.

I could offer you my sympathy, but you’d be better off with some options. Churchill once quipped, ‘keep your experts on tap, not on top’. I’ll provide you with some options (which you can adapt), but the decision is yours.

Option 1 – Hold firm. The gains you have made have been considerable and you have clearly brought about the engagement and the enablement of your workforce. There are a number of ways to protect this.

Firstly, appoint a small number of numerate graduates looking for an internship opportunity and have them collect, collate, analyse and report the numbers to HQ making sure that they are consistent with the workforce numbers.

Secondly, extend the role of the most personable of these graduates to see if the workforce might get interested in the use of the HQ system. If so, move towards a hybrid approach of chalk and gadgets. If not, leave it well alone.

Thirdly, increase the communication to HQ advising them of the benefits to be gained from ‘handwritten boards’. When you come under pressure, stand your ground. You may experience some negative reactions.

Option 2 – Embrace the future. You have built a reputation for progressive thinking and action. There are ways to cement this. Run an experiment in which a small part of the workforce is invited to use the HQ system following detailed training and compare the results of this experiment with the handwritten boards approach.

Ensure that there are measures of effectiveness and efficiency in evaluating the result and invite the teams to decide how the best of both worlds might be accommodated. Where there are signs of enthusiasm for the new approach, push hard for more extensive use. You may experience some negative reactions.

Option 3 – Take the agenda to HQ. Alert HQ to the threat faced by the adoption of the new system and seek their involvement in helping to overcome the obstacles faced.

Explain to the team the approach you plan to take and seek their support and involvement making clear that your advocacy of their approach may ultimately fail.

This is a complex position to hold and you might easily be accused of seeking a messy compromise. You will experience some negative reactions.

This ‘expert’ may have helped to stimulate some better ideas. That is what experts do best. What leaders do best is to assess the art of the possible while holding firm to core believes.

Which option will you choose?

Your opportunity to join the newly formed Lean and Sustainable Industry Consortium

A unique opportunity to collaborate with like-minded organisations and leading thinkers on Lean and Sustainable issues has emerged.

The next GEMBA exchange is being held at the Vaillant group on the 3rd March. The Vaillant Group were the winners of the best Factory Award for 2015. They are at the forefront of sustainability management and have set a benchmark in the areas of ecological, economical and social sustainability. The agenda for this meeting can be viewed by opening the agenda PDF.

Membership in this network provides you and your organisation the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded individuals in a safe, engaging and open environment. The consortium’s vision is to form a selective group of senior industry players who are currently leading the creation of leaner and greener business practices within their companies. This will be a small group of around 15 leading edge organizations, coming together regularly to build a global lean and green community. There are a number of key benefits for the members:

  • Participation in the consortium events such as quarterly facilitated “Gemba exchanges”, online forums and regular seminars.
  • First hand observation of how other businesses, from diverse sectors, create lean and green and how they sustain the results.
  • Facilitated “lean and green maturity assessment” for your selected sites and creation of your own bespoke lean and green business roadmap where needed.
  • Credibility of thought leadership and university collaboration.
  • Opportunity to influence the direction of your own business as well as being directly involved in shaping the direction of “lean and green business” on the global stage.
  • Staff training and Gemba coaching opportunities. All members will be offered to go through the Lean & Green training programme accredited through Cardiff University.
  • Access to lean and green experts and facilitators, expert trainers and training material, tools, and cutting edge of knowledge.

The Lean and Sustainable Industry Consortium is owned by its member organisations and will be governed by a board directors consisting of the ‘Lean and Green’ Shingo award winning authors, Andy Wood (Chairman), Hunter Lovins, Keivan Zokaei and Prof. Peter Hines.

To find out more about this opportunity, download the PDF benefits document.

You can also contact Keivan Zockaei at keivan.zokaei@sapartners.com, or call him on +44 (0)7966 299598

Peter Hines to Speak at the Manufacturing Leaders Forum

Our chairman, Prof. Peter Hines will be speaking at this years Manufacturing Leaders Forum which takes place on the 25th and 26th June 2-15 in Barcelona.

The Manufacturing Leaders Forum brings together the manucoreCONNECT community for two days to meet face to face. Their members spend two days together learning from the best; original case studies. interactive workshops AND take part in our specialist working groups.

The whole event is put together with our Advisory Board, who between them have worked on every topic and issue, and provided input at every level.

On any journey towards Enterprise Excellence there is a point when most of us get stuck. Based on 25 years of experience, Professor Hines will show that there are two courses: Evolution and the Shingo Revolution. So which is better? Well, come and find out.

  • Understanding your own Enterprise Excellence maturity
  • How to identify if you are stuck, or about to get stuck
  • What great Evolution and Revolution journeys are like
    • Evolution: Identifying the issues that are likely to occur, planning for them and creating sustainability
    • The Shingo Revolution: A radical look at the organisation and a review of its Principles, Behaviours, Systems and Tools
  • Which one is right for you?
  • Plotting your own Enterprise Excellence journey

The challenge of coaching the coach

Put your lean know-how to the test in this continuous improvement dilemma

We are what I believe to be a successful and forward-thinking manufacturing business. We’ve been implementing our own form of CI over the past two years with good results; we spent a lot of time researching successful lean implementations in other organisations before we began our journey and believe that we profited from that investment.

The process is led from the top. We make every effort to incorporate continuous improvement into the normal way in which ‘work works’ so that we avoid the idea of it being a ‘project’.

We’re scrupulous in our use of the plan, do, check, act (PDCA) cycle and have understood how well we learn when we use this simple tool well. I could go on, but you get the point; we’re serious about it.

Recently, one issue has arisen for which we don’t have a straightforward answer. Some time ago we developed coaching skills in our managers and we’re also trying to introduce the idea of ‘coaching the coach’. Coaching as part of CI makes sense to us; how else do people learn to tackle their own issues? We recognise it as a key part of sustainability. We’ve trained our people very thoroughly, but despite this we notice big variations in the quality of both direct coaching and in ‘coaching the coach’.

In particular, we notice that while managers can be reasonably good at coaching in highly structured situations, like in front of the metrics board, they seem to revert to old habits when they are operating outside of these ‘highly cued’ situations. Direct reports of these managers report inconsistent behaviour. Offering more training has had some impact on coaching and on ‘coaching the coach’, but not enough to make a real difference and we’re losing faith with one or two people. We’d rather find a way of sticking with them. What do we do?

Kevin Eyre gives his view

First of all, let me congratulate you on a job well done. Not all organisations have understood the critical importance of coaching in CI.

The variation you notice in the quality of coaching provided by your managers is quite normal. It’s like any type of variation. Why would we expect uniform coaching performance of diverse people after the same training input? Some people find it harder than others to adopt a coaching style of leading and a few of your people are falling into this category. The tendency to fall back on more directive and solution-oriented styles of
managing is strong, remember this.

I like your term, ‘highly cued situations’ for this is what they are. The structure helps people to realise new behaviours, but it doesn’t necessarily make them habitual – we all stop at a zebra crossing, but few of us stop for so long when we cross the road in its absence.

Unless coaching behaviour becomes a natural way of operating it will only operate in certain situations. That, as you state, risks default and more directive behaviour having free reign and people seeing the coaching of their managers as sporadic and inauthentic.

So what should you so? In all probability, your strugglers are good people, technically strong and believers in the benefits of coaching; they just can’t do it very well. The likely reason is that they lack the necessary patience or tolerance and experience a strong sense of frustration when their coaches fail to get to an answer fast. The solution to this lies in an examination of the reason for this impatience and the development of an ability to manage the emotional trigger that causes it.

This needs close work with very regular feedback and lots of practice, but it doesn’t need more skills training. Stick at it and the people will pull through. You should expect them to need sustained support for as long as nine months; it’s probably taken 30 or 40 years for them to have developed their preferred styles of operating and these won’t be coaching oriented.

‘Coaching the coach’ is a tougher challenge still, but it follows the same principles as coaching and demands at least the same investment. Its purpose is to focus on the quality of the dialogue within the organisation and to make sure that the quality of coaching improves. In this sense it’s little different from focusing on product quality.

Only managers who are competent coaches should ‘coach the coach’ so keep your slower learners away from this in the short term, but make clear that this will be an expectation of the role. One way to speed the development of your less capable coaches is to have your better coaches ‘coach the coach’ with the strugglers. In this way everyone benefits. Keep the faith.

Dodging bullets in a scattergun approach

I am a factory manager of a medium-sized engineering company (with around 250 employees). We started down the road to lean manufacturing two years ago after our managing director and operations director went on a course about continuous improvement. However, this road has proved decidedly bumpy.

They came back fired up with enthusiasm for CI, seeing it as the answer to all our problems. Until that point, we had been in the doldrums as a business for three or four years and seemed to be drifting, with no clear vision or direction.

The trouble was the senior managers got carried away and became obsessed with the tools and techniques associated with CI. As a result, I was told to implement 5S, quick changeover, value stream mapping, and a host of other initiatives without any preparation or forethought.

The operations director did nothing to prepare me personally for the CI introduction and so I was in the dark when it came to most of the tools and techniques; my boss simply gave me his training notes and expected me to work out from these how to implement what was demanded. Our employees were as ignorant of CI as I was; it was the blind leading the blind.

And the implementation proved to be a scattergun approach that caused disruption and confusion on the shopfloor. This, in turn, led to cynicism among almost everybody, even those who were initially enthusiastic.

Hardly anyone is now prepared to buy into the notion of continuous improvement so I know it will be an uphill struggle to bring in even the simplest CI initiative – the kaizen ground has effectively been poisoned by the cack-handed approach to introducing the process in the first place.

Is there anything we do to retrieve the situation and quash the scepticism and distrust of CI initiatives among the vast majority of our employees?

I would also like to know what sort of preparation should be done to ensure, as far as is possible, we achieve a successful CI implementation?

The Solution

Before I answer your two questions I’d like to be a little provocative and discuss the general sense of ‘dereliction of duty’ that I read in your letter.

First, your elders and betters have evidenced not so much delegation as abdication. What were they thinking? In fact, what, if anything, had they learned from attending their course on CI? Do they not have a duty of care towards their staff? Are they not responsible to shareholders for business performance? I don’t detect much thoughtful or responsible behaviour, let alone any ‘leading with
humility’, one of the latest watchwords in lean thinking. What did you see?

Which brings me to my second point; what about you?

So you knowingly accepted the poisoned chalice. Why? How did you try to influence their thinking; how did you try to constructively subvert their scheme? How culpable were you for your own loss of sight (‘the blind leading the blind’)? I’m sorry that this is so challenging, but you could have said: “No, this won’t work. I’m going to find a better way”. Not easy I know, but possible. Ruminate, please.

As to the first of your questions here’s my reply. Dump the lingo, ditch the tools and go back to the heart of what CI is about – leveraging the ingenuity of your people to make improvements.
And do it in the following way. Start by asking team members to make a point of identifying, one by one, all of the problems they face in doing their job. Ask them to write these on a card and post it on the wall behind them.

For every card that describes a surfaced problem, place a gold star on it and go to the worker responsible and coach him to find a solution. Place a second gold star on the card to indicate that the problem is being worked on. When the improvement is made, move the card to a separate and adjacent list entitled, ‘Improvements implemented’ and add a third gold star. Do this and nothing else for three months and watch interest in CI increase dramatically.

As to your second question, don’t implement CI. Begin, as I have described above, seeking to tackle the real problems faced by real people and allow the approach to CI to emerge. As people begin to understand more, allow them to research and experiment with the use of the lean and CI tools that exist; there are plenty of them.

If all this is a little too loose and you feel the need for more structure, do two things – measure the number of improvements made each week and estimate the elapsed time in closing out each problem. You should see that you do more, faster. Secondly, review learning regularly. The ‘check’ phase of CI is usually missed or given scant attention, but it is the most critical; dare to be different.

I look forward to hearing about your progress and your self-reflection.

Suggestion Scheme Goes Sour

We launched a factory suggestion scheme for the first time just over a year ago in tandem with our continuous improvement programme. It began with a honeymoon period: ideas flooded in and most were of such high quality that we implemented them straight away. However, in recent months the suggestion scheme has mutated into a Pandora’s box.

Our entire workforce has been targeted through KPIs to submit at least one suggestion a month and have three ideas implemented a year. The idea must either save time, save money, add value to customers or reduce waste from our manufacturing process.

During the early days there was a discernible buzz on the shopfloor about taking part. You used to hear operators teasing their colleagues about ‘only being able to come up with a £1,000 saving’ or submitting ‘just the one idea’ this month. As a management team we tapped into this competitive spirit and decided to reward the person who came up with the best idea with a £500 prize  and a week away in the director’s holiday apartment in the South of France.

The suggestions rolled in and helped us reduce defects, cut lead times and generally improve the business. Then we hit an iceberg. We started to find that the best ideas were all coming from the same dozen or so employees. Everybody else’s suggestions, after an encouraging start, began to grow more obscure and increasingly pernicious.

For example, last month, we were graced with: ‘invest in better quality coffee and biscuits at the canteen’ and ‘give us quilted toilet paper in the gents’. But the management team decided to turn the other cheek as we have a rule that we only provide feedback on the successful suggestions.

Then, to make matters worse, there was a fracas on the factory floor last week after one employee accused another of ‘stealing his idea and getting the reward for it’. Why do you think things have gone so badly wrong for us? Is there anything we can do to get the whole factory team back on track?

How would you handle this? Kevin Eyre gives his view…

Do we really need to incentivise people to be creative? What is it about organisational life that leads otherwise sane people to believe that the best way to get new and improved ideas out of people is to reward them for it? Why did we forget about the ‘intrinsic’ motivation that is so closely associated with creativity – a reward in itself?

Suggestion schemes serve a purpose. In particular, they can introduce the idea of looking systematically for improvement. But how often is it that we hear of the schemes becoming bureaucratic, contentious and lacking in vitality?

Answer… it’s pretty often. So the case here is not unusual. What should you do?

First, build from the best of what you have created. Remind employees not of the strength of the scheme, but of the worth of their ideas, of their imaginations and desire to want to see improvement happen. Create a gallery or roadshow of the best and the worst of the last two years, from small improvements to big ones; the crazy ideas that turned out to be great and the plausible ideas that didn’t really work, but from which much learning was had.

Secondly, acknowledge that the life of the current scheme has probably run its course and invite ideas on how to replace it. Make this formal. Consider a small working party of previously strong and weak contributors. Allow feedback to the management team after a month.

Thirdly, think hard about what you are trying to reward. The evidence says that effort is a more reliable indicator of longer term performance than immediate excellence. Effort enables learning, the cycle of success and failure. How do you recognise and reward this? Not perhaps the ‘best’ ideas, but the most ideas?

Fourthly, and irrespective of the strength of response to item three, work out how to build improvement systems into the work that people do rather than making it a bolt-on. Real-time problem solving is the answer here; Jidoka and all that that implies. Sustainable improvement only really comes this way. When it’s oneoff big shot stuff, it seldom lasts longer than management ‘bribery and cajoling’ will allow.

As for the shopfloor fracas, there is learning here for the management team. Isn’t this behaviour a perfectly rational response to the conditions created by management? If you set up a competition then people compete; if people compete, there are winners and losers and sometimes losers cheat. Creativity functions best in a climate of collaboration, not competition.

When you can’t handle the truth

Why not put your lean know-how to the test in this continuous improvement dilemma below:

Our business was really badly hit by the recession and has embraced a change programme to help us survive. We brought in a lean consultant and they helped us create a really exciting strategy geared around continuous improvement ideals. If we could make a series of marginal improvements then we’d salvage the business without having to take drastic measures like job losses or shutdowns. Time and again, we heard that our success or failure would depend on our ability as a management team to bring the people with us.

That was a big challenge as it’s fair to say our site is best described as ‘old-school’. The shopfloor parts like the Red Sea whenever a senior manager makes an appearance as operators scarper as far away from ‘one of them’ as possible.

But we vowed to change our culture. Each manager launched a series of face-to-face meetings with shift teams. We promised employees total honesty about our predicament and we asked them to be completely candid in return. The ‘town hall meetings’ were a great hit.

The managers pulled no punches. If we didn’t change, the factory was gone. In return, after plenty of nervous glances, our operators began to open up about their frustrations from a lifetime working in a command and control environment. A few months in and an engaged shopfloor had been instrumental in reductions in lead times and cutting inventory. I was just beginning to day dream about the team taking the stage at the Best Factory Awards when the phone rang. “John,” said an angry voice on the other end of the line, I instantly recognised as that of our MD. “I’ve just come up from a town hall meeting and I will not have it. I want Smith, Robson and Jackson given warnings for misconduct. They openly belittled me and my judgment. I’m all for honesty, but those testy little blighters need to be given a few home truths about the consequences of biting the hand that feeds. Haul them in and shift them out by the end of the month.”

The phone line went dead. I immediately asked a witness what had happened and he explained that the shopfloor trio had gone to town when critiquing some practices handed down by the hierarchy of old. They’d used some industrial language to make their point and may just have overstepped the line. However, I think they had some valid points. How do I resolve this situation? If I do what our MD wants I’ll destroy the trust that’s allowed our improvement initiative to thrive. If I refuse, I could find myself joining Smith, Robson and Jackson down at the local Jobcentre.

Kevin Eyre of SA Partners gives the expert view…
Okay, so it’s time to test your mettle. The change programme is working. Performance is improving and you’ve connected this success to the new openness that you’ve worked hard to introduce. If you follow the MD’s demand to sack ‘the outspoken ones’ then the programme will collapse, the plant will close, and you’ll find yourself looking for a new job anyway – only this time from a position of failure. Go find your cojones quick!

The tricky priority is the MD. (Smith, Robson and Jackson need dealing with, but that’s a straightforward affair to which we’ll return). Here’s the thing; most leaders are deeply forgiving of misdemeanours where performance is good, and deeply intolerant of it when it’s poor. Call the MD and talk performance. Explain to him by how much it’s improved and the benefit that this result has for him personally. Assure him that you are clear about what you’re doing and that it’s the way you are managing the business that is responsible for the result.

Explain, that you intend to stick to your recipe for success and that you’d consider it risky to change course now. And naturally, any action that would inhibit the new openness is to be avoided. You’ve thought hard about it and you’ve decided that Smith, Robson and Jackson are going to be severely dealt with, but they will remain a part of the business. Indeed, their outspokenness ought to be regarded as an indication of their commitment, not their opposition.

It’s the sneaky, silent ones that you have to be wary of.

Finally, politely remind the MD that you are accountable for the performance and are committed to see the change through. Having held your nerve, find a quiet room and tremble privately.

As for ‘los tres amigos’, haul them in and read them the riot act. All comments and questions are valued and welcome, but there is no place for disrespect. They should consider this conversation a final warning. Remind them of the role the MD played in creating the business and suggest that they seriously consider writing a letter of apology in which they can express their commitment to the organisation and the passion they feel for it – which goes some way to explaining their outspokenness.

People as Assets (they are important)

In lean we are forever diagnosing processes, identifying wastes, looking for bottlenecks, measuring inventory and talking to customers. How often do we consider the people within an organisation and their effectiveness.

Labour costs in manufacturing industries can be low but the consequences of bad practice can be massive. The impact of labour within the service industry is obviously critical. I am yet to find an organisation that truly regards and manages its people as an asset.

Your average £50k engineer may cost you well over £1.5m during their employment. Try this challenge – would we introduce a £1.5m asset without project plans, feasibility studies, commissioning teams and TPM (Total Production Maintenance) schedules? How do we introduce and manage, maintain and retire our people by comparison.

How often do we talk about increased risk to processes brought about by our people, what is a people poka yoke, what is people OEE-are they available? Can they work at the pace we require? Is the quality of work what we require?

Too often these conversations occur at performance reviews or belong to HR, I’d like operations to truly manage our people and treat them with the same importance we would if we had just installed a new £1.5m paint line!

Lean Transformation – It’s a journey!

How often have we heard that 5s, OEE and SMED are all old hat and past their sell by date. There is nothing wrong with 5s, OEE and SMED, they are all fabulous tools and all can deliver great results. The problem arises when the tools are used at the wrong point in the improvement journey of a business.

Within a lean transformation we need to develop improvement systems that address what is in front of us and what needs to be improved. We need to consider the long game. I have seen companies survey their customers when they have not stabilised their operation. The salesman comes back with a load of great things to do, but we have not capacity to do them, as a result we do nothing – other than disappoint our customers.

Customer management should be considered as a system, first fix QCD, once QCD is stable, talk to them about what they would like in addition-customer value surveys, so a stabilised process is developed, now we can look at market research and the completion to further develop, once this has delivered we can then think about integrating our offer further with the customer….timeframe for this 5 years.

We need to look at our business and identify what are our business critical processes then develop improvement systems around these. We should consider our long term plans within these systems and designed the appropriate tool implementation logic to ensure the journey is a success.

First Shingo award winner in Australia

We are delighted and proud to announce that Vistaprint’s Deer Park Plant has, this month, been awarded a prestigious Shingo Award for Operational Excellence by the Shingo Institute, establishing it as the first Australian Plant and first printing plant globally to have been recognised in this way.

The Shingo Institute recognises companies for delivering world class results and demonstrating an ongoing commitment to leading and influencing a strong culture of operational excellence. This is the first time a company has been recognised by the Shingo Institute for its capabilities in the printing industry. Having opened in 2010, Vistaprint’s Deer Park plant is also the first facility in Australia, and one of the youngest ever to receive this internationally recognised award.

“Right from launch, our plant in Australia established a clear vision – to become the best mass customisation manufacturer in Australia,” said Robert Bruce, Managing Director & Vice President, Manufacturing and Supply Chain, Vistaprint. “The keys to our success have been establishing a clear and long term vision, assembling an amazingly talented and dedicated team here in Melbourne, setting the bar high from day one; and providing continual encouragement and support to the team in order to bring our vision to life.”

To find out more about our Shingo heritage you can visit our Shingo page.

View the full article in PDF format

The Shingo Winners

We are pleased to announce that Professor Peter Hines and Keivan Zokaei attended the Shingo Institute for Operational Excellence annual conference in Sandusky, Ohio to be presented with the 2014 Shingo Research and Publication Award for their recent book “Creating a Lean and Green Business System”.

The Shingo Institute for Operational Excellence is a not-for-profit organisation housed at Utah State University and named in honour of  Dr. Shigeo Shingo, credited as one of the fathers of the Toyota Production System. Dubbed the “Nobel Prize of Manufacturing” by Business Week, the Shingo Prize is recognized as the premier award for operational excellence.

Keivan and Peter are honoured to be included with such an illustrious list of previous Research Award winners, such as Jeff Liker, Steve Spears, Mike Rother and Norman Bodek.The book explains how to Become economically successful and environmentally sustainable by adopting the lean and green business system model.

Also at the awards was Vale Clydach Refinery, who were presented with the Silver Medallion. Mike Cox and Fiona Buttery received this award on behalf of the group and commended S A Partners for their support in Vale’s continuous improvement journey.

Mike Cox and Fiona Buttery recieve their Shingo Award

Vale are the first UK Company to be awarded the prize in 25 years with just one other European company being previously recognised. Simon Grogan, S A Partners MD for Europe who’s worked closely with the company, said that “it’s a fantastic reward for the hard work that Vale have been putting in together over the last few years, and ite been a pleasure to be able to support them on their continuous improvement journey”.

How Can you Implement 5S Without Stress

“We’re six months into our continuous improvement journey and, despite some early wins, have hit some major teething troubles. The problems began with our attempt to introduce a 5S campaign.

“We sat the guys down in their teams and spent days training them on the theory of sorting, sweeping, spic and span, sifting and sustain. We showed them the obvious benefits of a clean, ordered working environment on production speed and quality.

“The majority of our guys seemed very enthusiastic and eagerly agreed to kick things off by having a clean out of their garbage. The management team agreed to provide recycling bins and look favourably on requests for new racking and shelving where it could be demonstrated to have an obvious business benefit. We even offered to come and help repaint shabby areas of the factory floor.

“One of the production teams, in particular, leapt at the opportunity. A day later the shift leader, Steve, knocked on my door and had pages of designs and notes. Steve’s team had stayed late to work out a new floor plan. They had calculated a 20% reduction in muda by bringing some key components to a new lineside rack and were eager to smarten their manufacturing cell area up with a lick of paint.

“I was bowled over by Steve’s enthusiasm and didn’t hesitate to sign everything off. It all seemed to be going so well; Steve’s team wielded paintbrushes and screwdrivers and, within a few days, their area looked totally transformed. I had hoped this would lay down a marker to all the other shifts, but the reverse was true. I noticed Steve’s team were sitting in isolation from all the other guys in the staff canteen during shift breaks.

“Furthermore, we’ve become aware of graffiti in the factory toilets which reads: ‘G Shift [Steve’s] are a bunch of kiss arses’. I’m pretty sure I know who the ringleaders are, but how can I solve this without jeopardising our CI programme and further reinforcing Steve’s reputation as a management suck-up?”

To find out how this problem could be corrected, read Kevin Eyre’s answer on the Works Management site. You can also read Prof. Peter Hine’s blog on defining Continuous Improvement.

First European Shingo Workshop of 2014 is a Great Success

S A Partners completed its first Shingo workshop of 2014 in Europe on Tuesday the 18th March and was attended by a wide mix of companies such as Nestle and the NHS with feedback being extremely positive. The workshop was held at the Shingo prize winning Vale refinery in Clydach, Wales, where they have been breaking production records, and reducing operational costs due to their implementation of continuous improvement throughout all areas of the refinery.

On the first day of the workshop, members learned about the Shingo model and how they align their organisational principles and core values with their systems.  The presentation was intermixed with group exercises with the aim of teaching the student how to identify if those behaviours existed. On day 2 the students were then taken out into the different refinery departments to implement what they learned on day 1, and interview Vale employees around a specific system, principle and behaviour to find evidence of it.

image of the shingo workshop attendees

The departments the students chose to investigate was engineering, smelting, purchasing and accounts. It was here that they could then follow their training and ask specific questions around ideal behaviour and systems, and mark according to their findings.

Nigel Woods of Watts Water Technology, said that he felt the two day workshop gave him the missing ingredient to removing the typical peak and fall that many organisations experience on the continuous improvement journey.  Mat Jackson of Dow Corning Ltd felt that it identified the principles and behaviours that made it more tangible where you could start to focus more on. During the purchasing and accounts visit, Joanne Tomlins of the NHS was very impressed by the attitude of the people working there.  She saw evidence during her investigation exercise, that the culture was deeply embedded right across the organisation, and found that collaboration was across all departments and through all levels of the organisation.

Most of the attendees are now looking at Shingo in greater detail as a way of improving the continuous improvement culture within their organisation.

S A Partners would like to thank all the staff at Vale for allowing us to hold the workshop at their Shingo winning refinery, and for taking time to answer all the workshop attendees questions during the investigation section of the workshop.

If you would like to take part in other Shingo Discover Excellence workshops that S A Partners are running, then you can visit the Discover Excellence event page to read more about the workshop, and book online.

Why not read the blog by Prof. Peter Hines on defining Continuous Improvement.





Vale celebrate their Business Excellence Award

Following on from the Shingo Medallion award announcement, Vale headquarters have recognised the hard work by all concerned at the Vale site in Swansea and the benefits make impressive reading from a business excellence perspective.

By adopting the Shingo principles implemented with the help of S A Partners, Vale have been able to reach all time production records, had zero lost time through injuries for 2011, 2012 and 2013 and shaved more than 20% off their production costs.

To add to this, S A Partners have now become affiliated to the Shingo Institute and will be delivering Shingo Discover Workshops throughout Europe. Professor Peter Hines, himself a Shingo proze winner, will be taking the workshops supported by our shingo team of Simon Grogan, Gary Griffiths, John Quirke and Chris Butterworth.  The first of these 2 day workshops will be held at the award winning plant in Vale on March the 17th, followed by one held in Ireland on the 20th March.

To find out more about Shingo, and how S A Partners can help your organisation in this area, why not attend one of these Shingo workshops held throughout the year.

You can view the full Vale news story by visiting the Vale website.

group view of the Vale crew




S A Partners Client Receives the Shingo Silver Medallion Award

Vale in Clydach, Swansea, have been awarded the coveted Shingo Silver Medallion by The Shingo Institute. The award has been dubbed the “Nobel Prize of Manufacturing” by the North-American magazine Business Week.

Vale are the first UK Company to be awarded the prize in 25 years with just one other European company being previously recognised. Simon Grogan, S A Partners MD for Europe who’s worked closely with the company, said that “it’s a fantastic reward for the hard work Vale and S A Partners, who are official Shingo Affiliates to the Shingo Inst,  have been putting in together over the last few years”.

The Clydach Refinery is one of the largest in Europe and produces high-purity nickel and sub products for specialist areas, such as car components, batteries, nickel plates and nonferrous alloys. In operation since 1902, the factory produces around 40,000 metric tons of nickel products per year and supplies around 280 clients in over 30 countries across the world (in Europe, Asia and the US).

Since S A Partners intervention, Vale have been rewarded with a revenue increase of over 4.85 million and a reduction of finished goods inventory cost by 12 million.

group view of the Vale crewSimon Grogan said “this intervention was all about strong deployment and engagement of people through a journey that served everyone’s interest. We developed a long term vision and built robust systems that could deliver it. It was not about tools or ‘Japanese catchphrases’. Rather it focused on risk mitigation and sustainable continuous improvement.

Read the case study to find out more about the benefits Vale experienced during the improvement journey.

The name of the awards is a tribute to Dr. Shigeo Shingo, who was fundamental in the development of the Toyota Production System. The Shingo Institute recognizes excellence in organizations across the world, and its philosophy is that high-level performance in quality, cost and delivery can be reached through the application of tools for continuous improvement, and by core manufacturing techniques and business procedures.

Follow this link to read Vale’s press release in PDF format.

Based on our experience of working with Vale at Clydach in Swansea, who are the first UK organisation to win the Shingo Silver Medallion in 25 years, we are pleased to announce that we will be running Discover Excellence workshops throughout the year with the first workshop having taken place at the award winning facility of Vale.

Hear what Mike Cox, Vale’s general manager, has to say about S A Partners:

My predictions for 2014

It’s that time of year when we all look in our crystal balls and try and predict what will happen in the next 12 months. To avoid wishful thinking, I’m not going to predict sudden disruptions to the status quo (those are by definition unpredictable), but the likely repercussions of existing trends:

1. The ‘resource crunch’ will surge up the political agenda

Give or take the occasional blip like the 70s oil crisis, commodity prices spent the 20th Century falling as new technologies allowed resources to be produced more efficiently. However at the turn of the millennium, something strange happened – prices suddenly started shooting up and are currently higher than at any time in the last century. Despite the shale gas revolution in the US and a sluggish global economy, oil prices remain stubbornly high.

The pressure is starting to tell on business. A recent EEF survey found 80% of senior manufacturing executives thought limited access to raw materials was already a business risk. For one in three it was their top risk.

Unfortunately this threat has yet to penetrate the political debate, but I can’t see how it can be brushed under the carpet any longer. By the end of the year, politicians will start talking resources and the new economy.

2. Renewable electricity will hit several new tipping points

A decade ago, the proportion of electricity generated from renewable resources barely bothered the statisticians – and what was generated came largely from massive hydroelectric schemes. In recent years there has been an extraordinary boom in sustainable energy. Renewables accounted for 15.5% of UK electricity in the second quarter of 2013. Portugal generated a whopping 70% of their electricity from renewables in the first quarter. In Spain, wind power was the largest contributor to annual electricity production with 21.1%, pipping nuclear to the post. And of course that’s just the electricity that flows into the grid – many renewable energy systems are off grid, whether a wind turbine on a remote farmhouse to a solar powered motorway sign.

This soaring contribution of renewables will continue to drive down costs, creating a virtuous circle. I believe we should ignore the reported fall off in investment (partially due to lower costs) – renewables will muscle their way to new records in 2014, leading us to my next prediction…

3. New energy synergies will be identified and exploited

It is well known that a centralised power grid, designed to distribute energy generation from fossil fuels to passive consumers, is not the most efficient or effective way to manage distributed renewable energy. Already we are shifting from the centralised model to what I call Energy 2.0 where the line between generator and consumer has blurred. The rise of other compatible technologies such as electric vehicles, mobile computing and home energy management systems will start to trigger new thinking and synergies. We have seen this already in 2013 with the Nest intelligent thermostat and the use of Tesla EV batteries to store solar energy in individual houses in the US. By the end of the year I predict that we will see the essential building blocks of local smart grids starting to emerge, although I expect it will take another few years for those grids to take over a significant proportion of distribution.

4. The focus of sustainability will move from the organisation to the whole value chain

For most organisations, sustainability is still focussed within the factory fence/office walls. However the resource crunch and the continued focus of NGOs on supply chain issues – targeting brands on issues like deforestation and palm oil production – will bring the whole value chain into the mainstream. You might say “but we already manage our supply chain impacts”, but what I am predicting here is companies actively aligning their supply chain and business models to sustainability principles. Suppliers will increasingly find themselves being dropped not because of poor environmental performance per se, so much as the fact they are offering redundant products and services.

5. Sustainability will start reshaping the economy

As a result of prediction 4, I believe we will start to see the rapid maturity of the circular economy in particular as economies of scale start to kick in to the production of secondary materials to the point where they start to compete with primary materials (due to the resource crunch in prediction 1). This has already occurred in niches such as glycerol production where the virgin glycerol sector has all but been wiped out by the glycerol by-product of biodiesel production. My prediction is that this effect will start to spread to other non-food commodities, a surge of creative destruction which will threaten many established businesses, or even entire sectors, and provide opportunities for many others. Be warned!

Gareth Kane is a sustainability consultant, author and speaker. You can follow him on Twitter @GarethKane.

Research Bulletin! ‘Talking-in’ and ‘talking-out’ continuous improvement

Research Bulletin!

Over the past twelve months we have collected two sets of data, observational and psychometric, on over 250 middle and senior level international managers from within progressive organisations intent on making business improvement work. Our research has taken an innovative slant, looking at the effect on sustainable improvement of the type of conversations that managers hold with their people.

Download the Research Bulletin titled ‘Talking-in’ and ‘talking out’ continuous improvement’ written by Kevin Eyre, Prof Peter Hines and Alan Roberston.

During March of 2013, one of the authors of this bulletin, Kevin Eyre, Managing Consultant at S A Partners LLP and Director of OCL VoicePrint, will be hosting a series of free lunch-time (1pm-2pm GMT) webinars aimed at detailing for participants the research described above.

The advanced 2 day workshop is for middle or senior managers. It helps you to understand how to start developing a Lean Culture. We do this by helping understand what a complete Lean Business System involves and then change to the importance of areas such as Strategy Deployment, Leadership, Engagement and Behaviour. We then drill down in greater detail into the key aspects required to create a Lean Culture at each level of your organisation.