Believe it or not I went to University, studied Business and Finance and came out with the Rugby Club 2:2. I had a few jobs initially working in finance teams looking at accounts and whether we made money or not in the previous month. I can honestly say the job was a complete and utter waste of time and money…… why look at why we didn’t make money? What always appealed to me was looking at how we could make more money.
I persuaded various bosses to allow me to look at planned versus actual costs, set the business up into recovery centres, balanced the inputs to processes with the outputs. This drove me closer and closer to where money was made …. and out of the offices.
I ran improvement programmes on the key systems in our business-how we ran materials management, how we trained our people, how we ran maintenance and how we optimized machine running times. Bringing all these things together allowed us to make our parts faster, with better quality and more profit. It was all happy days. I drifted away from accounts and became more involved with Operations and Quality.
Unfortunately somebody then wrote a book and invented the dreaded ‘lean toolkit’. At this time (mid 1990’s) we still had a car industry in the UK and for us to win more business we had to join various supplier associations who instructed us that the way forward was 5S, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), SMED, OEE and various other acronyms. We set about pleasing our lords and masters, introducing these tools and being scored on our ability to use them. It started to cost a fortune-we seemed to spend half our time painting lines, taking photographs, labelling everything from the car park to our desk drawers. It all ground to a halt in around 1996 when we realised we had completely lost our way –we had become focussed on the tools and forgotten the systems.
We called a halt to all ‘flavours of the month’ and went back to our old ways of optimising input to maximise output-results being our key driver. We found that the tools we had been taught were useful but only used when appropriate to develop the system and impact the result. This put a few SQA’s noses out of joint as we told them our focus was not to 5S the redundant tooling store but to develop improved commercial terms with our suppliers, develop Vendor Managed Inventory and create more space for extra machines –allowing us to supply from capacity rather than supply from stock.
I then went on a Welsh Development Agency ‘buffet slaying’ evening and was introduced to Investors In People. Deploying the corporate objectives and creating a culture of succession planning was my takeaway. So in addition to good systems and results we developed our people, enabling them to own and manage their processes further.
So great story where the punch line? My little business won the ‘Small Business of the Year’ in 1998, ‘Training Company of the Year’ in 1998 and 1999, became a DTI exemplar site and was visited by a bus load of Korean and Japanese as part of an ‘Exemplar Businesses Programme’. As for me, I became a consultant in 2000 and joined S A Partners and have been pedalling this theory ever since.
Full circle – in 2014 I attended the University of Utah to be trained in the latest Shingo Enterprise Excellence materials. Shigeo Shingo’s son’s –Ritsuo Shingo’s only message is to manage from the Gemba. The Shingo model tells us align your systems to your results, use tools to improve systems and create a culture that based around optimising your behaviour. By just doing what makes sense I think we took on 75% of today’s best practice, the principled based behaviour would have been a stretch I think, for us, but we were on our way.
So to summarise, don’t let consultants sell you tools, make them work with you to develop systems, systems that will deliver your results….leave the tools in the box until we need them.
Don’t buy SMED, buy optimise your assets
Don’t buy 5S, buy improve the flow through the paint plant
The differences are subtle but they will make a massive difference.
Finally-listen to Shingo’s boy, drag your Leaders out of the office, not once a year, not once a quarter, once a week is ok, but what is best is drag them out every time we could improve.