24 January 2017

CI Dilemma: The post-consultant crash

It doesn’t take long for anarchy to ensue after a CI guru leaves his disciples to it…

I’m worried that we’re dependent on a consultant to sustain our continuous improvement programme. We brought an advisor in 18 months ago as we looked to introduce 5S, standardisation, TPM and jidoka into our plant.

Our goal was to bring down our scrap bill and improve product quality. The consultant arrived and after spending a few weeks getting to know the business, called a heads together with the management team. Armed with a pack of Post-it notes, we began to create a value stream map of our factory. We had a really open and productive session, the consultant set us some key objectives in each of our areas and we agreed to action these before our next session.

The next six months were a honeymoon period. Machine utilisation improved, ditto right first time and customer complaints dropped. We walked out of our fortnightly meetings feeling fantastic. It felt like the consultant had given us a cipher to get the best out of our teams. I witnessed colleagues, who had clung to their back office like limpets, confidently stride on to the shopfloor. It rubbed off on the operators. Heads lifted, shoulders relaxed and our employees became much more confident voicing ideas.

Then this summer, I had a call from HQ. A torrid second quarter, the aftershock of Brexit, meant budgets were under pressure and our consultant’s stay was cut short. I broke the news to the senior team to palpable gloom. I stressed that we must go on applying our learnings of the past six months.

The next week we had our first group meeting without our consultant. We tried to follow the same formula, but the atmosphere shifted. We lacked a mediator and a mentor. When someone interjected to make a suggestion, hackles rose.At the second meeting action points were incomplete (something that never happened with the consultant) and our maintenance manager turned up late spitting blood about the ‘bloody idiot’ who hadn’t lubricated a machine properly. This hasn’t been helped by the RFT graph plateauing and several breakdowns.

We are the same team, with the same talents but we just can’t seem to achieve CI without our consultant. How do we do this alone, and is this common?

CI solution Jeremy Richardson, associate director, Turner & Townsend Suiko

Firstly, I can sense your panic and despair, but rest assured this is quite a common situation. View everything you have achieved to date positively as a great platform to continue your CI journey to the next level.

It is not uncommon that a positive ‘nurturing parent’; ‘free child’ transactional relationship develops between client and consultant. In the early days it is natural for the team to depend on the consultant to manage the process and police any conflicts. The consultant creates a discipline and routine, which makes things happen.

However, we very much believe that for real sustainable growth, the consultant must leave a legacy behind. The focus throughout the engagement is very much on passing on the framework and associated tools and discipline to enable continuous growth. Future engagements can then focus on adding value and addressing fresh challenges.

There are three areas to address to achieve sustainable improvement:

1.Establishing the why: Explaining the compelling business reason for change

2.Then the what: the practices (tools and behaviours) to be changed

3.And, finally the how: identifying the enablers that accelerate and sustain change

Typically, at the start of the CI journey consultants manage ‘how’ the CI effort is delivered, which allows you to focus on making behavioural and process improvements that impact the results.

In order for CI to happen successfully, we then highlight four key enablers:

1.The strategic framework – this ensures a compelling vision for CI and a strategically aligned roadmap for your CI journey.

2.A CI operating system – to apply CI in a common way, at all levels and share learning from your CI activities.

3.Enabling the right behaviours - through leadership at all levels, having strong values and maximising engagement.

4.Making it happen – delivering via programme infrastructure, a strong governance process and a gemba way of work (regular management visits to the shopfloor to identify value add opportunities) to ensure the change is sustainable.

To get your specific CI effort back on track, we would advise a combination of developing strong leadership. Do so at all level of the business. Leaders lead by example through a gemba approach to impact and inspire the behaviours of others. They should be the catalyst for change, and recognise the right behaviours to reward.

You should establish strong purpose values that will help guide the way people work. When clearly established it will set boundaries. People will be aware when they cross them. It is unacceptable for your maintenance manager to ‘spit blood’ and it allows the team to point this out in a constructive way.

And you require a CI governance structure: create regular steering groups at each level of the business can review progress, address blockages, champion the programme, and confirm next steps. To be supported by strong implementation plans that are adequately resourced to offer the coaching and support needed. This will help in addressing the incomplete actions and make sure priorities are clear to be worked on.

Adam Offord

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