How to create a business culture of problem solvers

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I recently met with the engineering director of a Japanese Car Manufacturer, and one of the things that stuck with me was when he said every shift has 490 problem solvers on it. How can a manufacturer get their workers to stop being just employees, but actively contributing to identifying productivity solutions, reducing waste and improving quality?

As a Lean and business transformation consultant, I work with companies across the UK in various industries who do just that. By combining training with practical problem solving, I’m able to help MDs and continuous improvement managers empower their entire workforce to become engaged problem solvers.

Benchmark

The first step I take when working with a new company is to get on site to talk to people and see processes first hand. This helps me identify where the biggest opportunities for improvement are in the current operating practice.

"Bisley is at the beginning of its Lean journey. EEF has tailored its unrivalled expertise to our unique set of challenges and the fit is perfect. I look forward to EEF’s continued support long into the future." -Paul Crutcher, Operations Director, Bisley

Choose a pilot problem

One of the challenges businesses often face in getting a continuous improvement programme off the ground is that they try to tackle all their problems at once. And as a result, nothing gets done or permanently fixed.

I find it’s often better for me, or one of EEF’s team of productivity consultants, to choose one particularly difficult or pressing problem to use as a pilot. Some of the most common problems used for a pilot include:

  • A particular machine or cell is not achieving the level of output that was required/expected
  • Failing to meet customer order or delivery dates
  • Continually having to assign overtime to meet output
  • High levels of quality rejects during the manufacturing process

As a third-party I can help the business see the wood for the trees, looking beyond the day-to-day workload to what really needs to be fixed. During my time on a project, which can range from one week to a year, I’m dedicated to making that project a success and am not distracted by daily operational issues.

Here’s an example: I recently worked with a tier 1 automotive supplier who was failing to meet customer shipment schedules. In addition to other changes, we implemented a visual management system in the plant. For example, white boards were added at the end of each line, so we knew where each line was against target every hour of the day. Additionally, we initiated a new problem solving process, which engaged shop floor workers directly. In a few short months, the plant was turned around and able to meet customer shipments.

 

 

Use Lean tools

Lean is the preferred continuous improvement system for a reason. It provides a systematic approach to productivity improvements. Lean provides several helpful tools, including the 5S approach to organising the workplace and eliminating the 7 wastes.

Looking to implement a Lean programme, but aren’t sure if everyone on your management will go for it? Here’s your Lean business case presentation, ready to use.

 

 

Train to embed

One of the top concerns for manufacturers, as identified in the EEF Skills Report 2016, is a lack of line management and leadership skills in their workplace. Lean training can not only help with this challenge but also ensure the improvements put in place during the problem solving pilot are embedded after the consultant leaves.

In the case of Bisley, a company EEF worked with recently, they started with a Lean training programme and then had EEF continue with implementing a full business transformation programme to help them put these new skills into practice throughout the plant.

 

To keep the successes of training and a Lean pilot going, I work with companies to establish the right KPIs with regular progress sessions built into team meetings to keep goals and challenges top of mind. This is how continuous improvement becomes part of every single employee’s day-to-day.

Author

This person has now left EEF. Please contact us on 0808 168 1874 or email us at enquiries@eef.org.uk if you have any questions.

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