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Dave Brunt

Dave Brunt: Lean in organisations with multiple sites

By Dave Brunt, - Last updated: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

“How can lean be sustained across a decentralized group geographically spread out? 
A consumer-facing made-to-order manufacturing company has a significant service presence (sales associates, designers, customer service reps, logistics associates, installers) distributed across a wide geography in a somewhat decentralized organization structure. Each of the groups listed above is run by a different functional head. Sustaining Lean gains in a single plant is challenging enough — doing so across several dozen groups spread across North America is tougher still. What advice do you have for the managers of this company?”

This is another great question. Here are some of my reflections from doing lean in organisations with multiple sites that I think show several parallels to the question being asked.

In any transformation, we are trying to design and develop a process in which the big business problems can be highlighted so that performance gaps can be defined. What’s then required are mechanisms (and a process) to close those gaps whilst simultaneously developing the people capability to sustain the changes and continuously improve.

In decentralized organizations it is therefore imperative to understand the purpose of the organization and to develop the management processes required. However the decentralized nature of such businesses means also assessing processes in another dimension – what are the processes impacting on many of those decentralized businesses? For businesses close to customers we need to think (or re-think) value back from these customers and create lean examples in the key value streams.

In the car dealers we have worked with we’ve done this first in after sales – servicing and repairing customers’ vehicles (where the work is easier to see) before then looking at the more hidden processes in the sales areas of the business. In businesses with multiple sites we have concentrated on creating a significant shift in performance in one or two of the sites – linked to the overall business problems being addressed – in the most recent of these the pilot site improved delivery right first time on time from 40% to 99% and could then start improving the volume of work done each day by putting 2 technicians on a car to service while the customer waits – and then finding ways to get new customers to take advantage of the productivity improvements to increase volume. Of course the way to do this is by focusing on the work and developing the capability of the management and workers touching the work. As the performance change is established senior management’s attention can then focus on sustaining the gains and developing mechanisms for sharing the lessons learned – without resorting to roll-out or the establishment of “best practice” for its own sake. One of the ways we have done this is by looking at the common processes such as the parts process (common to all sites) so that parts can be delivered to each bay just in time and assessing the lessons learned from implementing standardized work when taking bookings. Rather than give the next site the standarised work along with the “best practice” script they have developed, the first group have been showing subsequent teams how they can develop their own processes. The teams that have made the changes have been instrumental in sharing with the other sites.

In my experience mindless copying of the countermeasures used in one location rarely takes hold. There are too many variables operating at the same time which mean that application and implementation is situational – for example the customer profile, the personality of individual leaders, the level of skill in the teams, the layout of the sites and the mix of their work. So instead what is required is to establish the process for introducing the next business to the thought processes used when creating the example and establishing the management processes to support problem solving and capability development so that the changes can be sustained and improved in each business.

Of course, it goes without saying that this process needs to be done with (and not to) the host team.

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