Companies which concentrate on updating the skills and knowledge of their own internal team, and then apply that learning to solve a specific problem, typically receive a faster return on their continuous improvement investment than companies who simply hire a consultant to do the work. The key, of course, is sustainability.
Take lean manufacturing as an example. Let’s say a company is facing heavy cost reduction pressures or experiencing difficulty responding to change orders from a large customer. An analysis might indicate that the company has inflexible systems which are not equipped to rapidly tool and meet customer demand. It might indicate that the company’s outdated practice of manufacturing to forecast leaves it with excessive inventory and lengthy down time. It might indicate that the distance an article is in process as it makes its way throughout the production process is, by its nature, a heavy cost driver.
Most manufacturers are able to recognize these root causes, yet the day to day grind and lack of internal resources often prevents them from fully attacking the problem. When a company reaches this point, it usually has a few choices: it can bring in a consultant to diagnose the problem and provide a report on suggested improvement actions. Or, it can invest in bringing its staff up to speed and then carry that learning over to deal with the problem with the help of a coach who stays with them until the objective is met.
At IMEC, it has been our experience that companies are far more likely to experience sustainable improvements by doing the latter. The model is really simple: Devote time to build the capabilities of a manufacturer’s team by transferring knowledge in a traditional classroom environment. Then, cement the team’s ownership in the improvements by taking the learning directly to the shop floor or office environment to deal first-hand with a particular issue. The team appreciates the guidance, but they also appreciate the opportunity to play a direct role in developing and implementing the solution.
With respect to the example noted above, that solution might mean a new layout of the manufacturing cell, a re-organization of the manufacturing process or a complete overhaul of the production system. While efficiency and cost containment may be the ultimate goal, it is just as important that the employees own the solution and are able to make it real and repeatable. And yet sometimes a manufacturer needs extra guidance to stay on track, meet key milestones, and manage the project effectively. Again, a mentor or coach can be there, checking in each week to work to achieve the stated objective.
It is often said that the companies who invest in training their employees will be the companies who succeed. But training, while absolutely critical to long-term business success, in and of itself is simply not effective if not combined with implementation. Consider this next time you plan a continuous improvement initiative in your manufacturing company.