National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Conference & Exhibition

We are pleased to announce that S A Partners will be attending the National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Conference & Exhibition which is being held at the City West hotel in Dublin on the 29th & 30th January 2020.

With an impressive line-up of manufacturing leaders, academics and government agencies who will engage in a stimulating blend of key note addresses and debates.  Our head of Irish operations, John Quirke, will be attending along with other members of the S A Partners team, so why not  come along to our stand and have a chat with themto find out more about what S A Partners can do for you, how we do it, along with the impressive results we help our clients achieve.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Japan Lean Experience

This month I am putting together the final touches in preparation for my trip to Japan in April 2018, attending the “Japan Lean Experience” with my colleagues from Tokyo .

This will be my fourth week long homage to the spiritual home of Kaizen and Lean thinking, and I will be traveling with a small band of brothers from NZ seeking inspiration from the world’s leading practitioners of Lean Management.

Our variety of factory tours provide a perfect combination of education, exposure to best-in-class Lean practices, unique relationship building, in-depth tours, interactive discussion, and comfort.

In addition to the formal tours, there will be time to take in some sights and experience Japan culture and of course a ride on the bullet train!

The Shinkansen, or Bullet Train cruises at between 280-320KPH and is one of those experiences that is not to be missed. I confess that this for me is one of the highlights, and epitomizes what Japan is all about, efficient, reliable, high quality and on time!


Of course, we have the home of 5S, with everything in it’s place, and a place for everything, there is so much inspiration in their factories, offices and even around town!


Japan also has history and culture by the bucket load and there are some amazing things to see and visit whilst you make your way around.

I’ll be adding a few extra days to the tour and our group will take in some of the sights. A personal favourite is Kyoto, the ancient capital, and a deeply religious place.

It is also a place that brings home some of the things that mankind is not so proud of, the atomic bomb. I recommend a visit to Hiroshima for a poignant reminder of the horror of war and devastation it brings.


Finally, there’s plenty of great food to try and taste. I am pleased to announce that Japan has pizza and pasta and Hagen Daas ice cream, but the local cuisine is very special and well worth a try!

S A Partners will be running a one week study tour to Japan in the near future.

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

Hold the Date – 3rd Annual NZ CI Conference – 30th August 2017

Join us on the 30th August for the third annual Continuous Improvement Conference hosted at Massey University in Albany.

Building on the success of the past two events we are looking to bring you a great event, and a chance to network and learn from others

Our event also features the NZ book launch of 4 + 1: Embedding a Culture of Continuous Improvement in Financial Services by Dr Morgan L. Jones, Chris Butterworth & Brenton Harder

We are in the early stages of lining up a great selection of key note speakers and stream activities including additional speakers and workshop activities to make the day informative, engaging and fun. Our current line up includes:

Dr Morgan Jones – Commonwealth Bank of Australia

Paul Salmon – Lean IT

Chris Till – HR Institute NZ

Farah Palmer – Former Captain, Black Ferms

Adam Bentley – Countdown Supermarkets

Rob McGee – Auckland Leisure

We are finalising the full programme this month and aim to have the full details ready in early March.

So mark the diary and join us on the 30th August to join the throng!

Update from the Auckland CI Conference

Auckland, Sept 7th saw our second annual Continuous Improvement Conference, hosted in partnership with Massey University and Minitab (presentations available for download below).

Above, Chris Butterworth gives the  opening keynote speech to over 80 attendees there on the day, and it was a great opportunity to hear some great stories, learn from others and the lunch was quite good too!

This year’s theme’s were on how to sustain enterprise excellence and some of the leadership challenges in engaging employees in improving value for the customer.

Here’s some of the comments from the attendees:

“Excellent day, good speakers that focused on the Continuous Improvement message over a good variety of industries”

This was a great session. Affirmation of what I’m doing is correct. Left with some new ideas to implement”

” Great diversity of presentation and content, using real situations, not just theoretical principles, really enjoyed the day!”



Those that came in our inaugural year commented that they enjoyed the diverse speakers, in particular Mark Powell, Massey and Chris Till from HRINZ, who complimented other speakers who shared their Continuous Improvement stories.

Feedback was very good and in the spirit of Continuous Improvement the Massey and SA Partners team will look to work together on other events and opportunities to showcase empowering people and organisations to reach new levels of performance.

Chris Till MECC conference presentation

Mark Powell Conference Presentation

Rob McGee's Conference Presentation

Jonathan Elms conference presentation

Nathan's conference presentation

National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Conference

We are pleased to announce that S A Partners will be attending the National Manufacturing & Supply Chain Conference & Exhibition which is being held at the City West hotel in Dublin on the 29th & 30th January 2020.

With an impressive line-up of manufacturing leaders, academics and government agencies who will engage in a stimulating blend of key note addresses and debates.  Our head of Irish operations, John Quirke, will be attending along with other members of the S A Partners team, so why not  come along to our stand and have a chat with themto find out more about what S A Partners can do for you, how we do it, along with the impressive results we help our clients achieve.

Focusing on the Food and Drink Sector

This month Andy Brunskill, Principle Consultant and Total Productive Maintenance lead at S A Partners has produced an excellent Case Study on improving process stability in a ‘Chewing Gum Based’ production process.  The case outlines the challenge facing the company in the development of a future state for improvement and continued success.

Owing to the ongoing interest in our Food & Drink consulting & training services, we have also issued a focussed e-newsletter this month – if you are not on the mailing list – why not check it out here and register for the next one!

The Thought Leaders who Inspire and Motivate

Are you looking for a speaker at your next event or conference?

Thought Provoking. Inspiring. Enlightening. Energising. And Informative.

These powerful adjectives are used to describe our exclusive group of Thought Leaders who specialise in performance, productivity and leadership effectiveness. They are also authors of award winning books and are instrumental in the design and development of our globally recognised, accredited training programmes and consulting interventions.

This month, Peter Hines, Chairman at S A Partners has been to Australia and New Zealand where presented at a number of high profile events including the Lean Conference.

montage of images

Also, Peter has been leading a (Shingo?) Master Class for The Leadership Network in the Netherlands, hosted by Panalpina, and is also due to lead a number of events for The Leadership Network in 2016. Peter is also undertaking an Enterprise Excellence Master Class in the coming months.

If you would like to engage Peter for one of your prestigious events, please contact with an overview of your request.

New Lean Toolkit Released Soon

The S A Partners team of Dr Toni Whitehead, Dr Donna Samuel and Andy Brunskill have been collaborating with academia on ‘best practice’ in the horticulture sector. Look out for the forthcoming ‘Lean Toolkit’ on the Horticulture Wales web site.

The Horticulture Wales programme provides focused, expert support to businesses involved in both edible and amenity horticulture supply chains within Wales. A number of valuable resources are already on their web site, including a New Product Development Toolkit and a Packaging Toolkit. ( )

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.

5S is not dead-its just upside down!

How many times have you heard “we are implementing 5s and we are up to the second’s” what does that mean? In short we have some consultants in, spent a fortune on buffets and overtime and then paid expensive people to clean up the shop floor, pointless!

We should turn 5s on its head and start from what we consider to be the fifth ‘S’ that of creating continuous improvement.

Why not develop the improvement framework before we start, ensure we are part of the business deployment system, fixing the right wastes and ensuring all stakeholders are aligned. Next go after the 4th ‘S’ and create some standards-or goals-what we want the area to be.

Now the fancy bit becomes using steps 1, 2 and 3 as problem solving to deliver the standards step 4 and 5 want from us.

So 5s becomes a problem solving tool aligned to the business and not a clean up tool. Using 5s in this way also enables us to adapt it for service and link better into Total Productive Maintenance (TPM).

So 5s is not dead its just upside down.

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

Lean Learning – Mastery of the Counter-intuitive

I recently read an article by Lonnie Wilson in which he made a valid point that many of the host of concepts that constitute lean are counter-intuitive. Mastery of lean, and therefore the ability to teach others, demands the reconciliation of many apparent contradictions. Here are some examples:

  1. We need to standardise our processes but at the same time encourage creativity and CI
  2. We need to strive for perfection but at the same time accept the inevitable failure and mistakes that will arise from experimentation
  3. We need to drive out variation while promoting CI and continual change
  4. We need to throw out what we were taught about economies of scale and understand why small batches are more efficient than big ones
  5. We need to throw out what we were taught about economic order and production quantities and understand that inventory holding costs (in the case of the EOQ) and set up times (in the case of EPQ) are not fixed

You can link to Lonnie’s article below:

While I love Lonnie’s article, I think it would be enriched with some examples of where these contradictions have been found and addressed – either poorly or well.

For example, the first contradiction listed (standardisation vs. creativity) is one that is highly visible in the service sector. We can all think of examples where we would expect nothing less than for our simple problem to be solved through an easy, standardised process – finding out how much money we have or have not left in our current account, for example. However, how many of us have been frustrated by listening to lengthy telephone menus only to find that none of the options fit the problem that has driven us to call in the first place. During my research on lean in the service sector, I came across one organisation in the financial sector that had taken an eminently sensible approach to this issue. They did not translate lean as being about standardisation anywhere and everywhere. Instead they conducted purposeful inquiry as to the nature of the work being carried out and whether it was high discretion or low discretion work.  They used the outcome of that inquiry to properly scope the boundaries of standardisation. This enabled them to benefit from reduced variation and increased predictability without unexpected consequences such as a poorer customer experience. This company understood that lean is always about effectiveness first and efficiency second. For me this is where the translation of lean into non-traditional lean environments becomes interesting – who does it well and who does it poorly.

Is a proliferation of yellow and greenbelts a symptom of growing ills?

Many businesses centre their continuous improvement efforts around yellow, green and black-belt training.  Significant sums of money are invested in training and developing both individuals and teams to implement and drive change in an organisation.  This is often seen as fundamental step in changing an organisations’ culture.  Once trained, there is an expectation on the individuals and teams to deliver ‘real’ saving.  I have seen targets of $1m a year to justify the existence of a master black-belt’.

One symptom of the proliferation of Greenbelts is projectitis!  In other words, newly qualified greenbelts (or those in the process of being belted) search for or are allocated projects as part of their certification process. Often the question of relevance of these projects to current business needs gets lost.  After their training candidates present themselves to management teams who review their projects in an atmosphere that can sometimes resemble a mild manifestation of a Spanish inquisition!

While increasing the skills and capability in an organisation is undoubtedly critical to improved performance, my question is: what is the role of managers and leaders in the overall picture?  Is it to sit on  X-factor-like panels on a monthly or by-monthly basis and purse their lips and crinkle their foreheads (or vice versa if it’s American Idol) as aspiring belters present their insights and offerings?   Is this a delegation of responsibility on behalf of management teams?

Could managers spend time more effectively by challenging the performance of his or her area of responsibility?  Should they question the systems and processes that they are responsible for?  Are they robust up-to-date and standardised?  Deming suggested that 90% of problems are caused by poor management systems and practices.  Do your greenbelts play in the 10% space?  And who is responsible for the 90% bit?

From Continuous Learning to Organisational Learning

Kevin Eyre suggests that lean practitioner often ‘get stuck’ at continuous improvement and fail to achieve their aspirations of continuous learning, characteristic of the lean archetype, Toyota. He argues that what we typically refer to as continuous improvement really consists of two types: continuous improvement, rigorously establishing stability whilst relentlessly detecting and eliminating problems at source; and, discontinuous improvement, large-scale and radical change, both planned and unexpected (new product, culture change, new technology). Discontinuous improvement requires high level thinking and integration with the system of continuous improvement. Both continuous and discontinuous improvements are underpinned by Deming’s Plan, Do Check, Act (PDCA) improvement cycle.

Kevin argues that creating continuous and discontinuous improvement is a managerial task. However, the past of creating a climate for organisational learning is a leadership one.  Leaders seeking to achieve real organisational learning will need to be clear on three guiding principles: the notion of the enterprise as a system must be clearly understood; the need to create a safe environment for experimentation must be understood; and, the need to create a management process to capture the learning generated by change and experimentation must be understood.

How the S A Partners Lean Academy Programme helped Vale Clydach achieve 20% improvement in productivity

Vale Clydach, is situated in the Vale of Swansea, West Wales and is one of Europe’s largest nickel refineries. The company refines nickel oxide from Canada into high purity nickel products which are then shipped worldwide.

The company employs 200 people and has been in existence for the past 100 years. Vale Clydach is part of the Vale group of worldwide Companies which employees 140,000 people across 37 countries.

Vale Clydach has been working with S A Partners for the past 3 years developing its processes so today they can boast the following success:

980 employee suggestions
20% increase in productivity
40% reduction in inventory
60% reduction in customer complaints

So what part did the S A Partners Lean Academy play in this?

As part of the organisation deployment process it was recognised that appropriately trained problem solvers needed to be in place at all levels within the organisation. The S A Partners accredited Lean Coach Programme was used to develop 7 key individuals that focus on driving continuous improvement. The coaches drive improvement via complex project delivery, local area incremental improvement and up-skilling work teams.

The approach took into account direct manufacturer, service support, supply chain and administration.

Some of the Vale team
Some of the Vale team who have contributed to the success of the company

The favoured quote across the plant, is that during a recent visit by Sanyo one of the Japanese visitors, was heard to say  “this feels just like home”

For further information about the Lean Academy Programme, contact Donna Samuel

C R Bard (Clearstream) receive their Lean Green Belt certificates

C R Bard (Clearstream) Group collect Lean certificates

S A Partners were delighted to accredit a group of Lean Green belt certificates recently. The group of 2012 delegates from C R Bard (Clearstream) were delighted to receive their certificates as testimony of their successful completion of lean training and successful project delivered by S A Partners and accredited by Cardiff University.

The business has recorded significant savings resulting from the candidates projects.  Project arising out of the training included line balancing activity, improved process quality and reduced process cycle times.  The team were supported by both internal and external coaching support from S A Partners consultants.

For more information about training and accreditation please contact John Quirke or  Dr Donna Samuel

Find out more about our Lean Academy offering and training.

Inalfa Lean Coaches receive their certificates

Inalfa Lean Coaches

S A Partners were delighted to accredit a group of Lean coaches and Master Lean coaches at Inalfa recently. The group of 2012 delegates came from all corners of the globe: Holland, China and the US. They were delighted to receive their certificates as testimony of their successful completion of lean training delivered by S A Partners and accredited by Cardiff University.

For more information about training and accreditation please contact Dr Donna Samuel

Find out more about our Lean Academy offering and training.

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