Is being ‘in the red’ really a bad thing? That’s the question visitors to Works Management’s tour of Coca-Cola European Partners’ (CCEP) factory in Wakefield were asked to ponder. Dean Mayhew, CCEP’s senior manager for operational excellence pointed to something that was familiar to many of the attendees: performance data plotted seemingly randomly across a graph with no discernible trends visible.
Site managers are used to looking at data this way, taking each point individually and independent of each other. As Mayhew explained, this means a lot of wild fluctuations from one day to another. “People will be familiar with a ‘sticking plaster’ approach to the occasional bad day – taking a small action to cover it up. The trouble is, the next day, nothing will change and the results may be better again. And there’s no way of knowing what, if anything, has changed from one day to the next to make this happen.”
Brilliant Basics Foundations
CCEP and Mayhew have developed a system of monitoring operational excellence that looks at data through a ‘standard filter’. CCEP look at longer-term trends, smoothing out day-to-day variance and avoiding the need for sticking plasters. Gone are the days of taking each day as it comes. The company – the largest soft drinks site in Europe – now treats data as a prized commodity. Instead of looking at the short-term, Mayhew and his team take an average of the data, calculate a warning point one standard deviation above and below that average, and then set a separate line to indicate when action needs to be taken. A traditional average trend line is only plotted over the past 21 points – giving a medium-term trend.
The method, called the Brilliant Basics Foundations approach, avoids looking at things through the traditional lens of lean. “If you’re working on a perfectly level basis and you put in an improvement, you generally see the impact of that improvement reasonably quickly,” Mayhew explained. “If we haven’t got the reliability that we need, any small incremental gain can be lost in that variability. Even in a lean system, fat can get built in at every stage. Gradual evolution towards a goal is much more effective than ‘forcing’ an idea on the team and expecting them to adapt.”
A three-step approach
Brilliant Basics Foundations are based on three steps to improvement that can be applied across the site, and are designed to reduce variation. The first of these is the Foundation stage. Here, data is highly variable – a situation many of the delegates found themselves agreeing with. Implementing certain parameters, however, can start the process of smoothing things out, explained Mayhew. “You have to implement a number of foundation steps to remove the variability. These include simple things like standard settings, operations and training.”
Onto the next slide, and a smoother graph. This, said Mayhew, is the second stage: Stabilisation. “Here, we react to performance in the graph to prove the systems are working towards stability.”
The final stage, Improvement, sees an almost flat graph, with no variation. “This is where you can start to implement traditional CI and Six Sigma techniques,” Mayhew explained with a flourish. Getting to this stage takes a long time and requires a high degree of cooperation from staff at all levels. The company have been using this system for about a year, and the message is starting to get across. “It’s a very different way of looking at things,” Mayhew conceded. “However, once people realise how it works they tend to get very engaged with the process.”
Taking it back to basics
The most surprising thing for many of the delegates was the revelation that all this has been done without what Mayhew calls “flash Japanese terms like kaizen”, which are second nature for many manufacturers today. “If you use a term in a language that people don’t understand, that puts up another barrier to getting the message across. If you speak to people in a way they can comprehend, there isn’t one extra thing to learn before you get down to the really important thing that you have to learn.”
“We just want to take it all back to basics,” he added. “It’s much better to take a simple idea, like this, and turn it into real, tangible change. We want to avoid turning anything into a ‘project’ – it’s much more effective to encourage an evolutionary approach towards best practice.”
Brilliant Basics Foundations has been applied across the site. From here, the effectiveness of each area is measured in terms of a reduction in variation. These results are assessed, and if one area is in a position to demonstrate and understand the application of the next level of procedures, it gets to go “through the gate” to the next stage. “Three parts of the site are through the gate already,” Mayhew said.
Simplicity is key, and this was something that delegates, including Iain Stewart, operational excellence manager at De La Rue Currency, agreed was important. “The simpler the better,” he remarked. “Taking something simple is often the best way to turn out real change.”
And it goes to show that, as long as the long-term trend is upwards, having figures in the red isn’t by any means the worst-case scenario.
CCEP Wakefield: The stats
15 – The site is the largest soft drinks plant in Europe, and covers an area the size of 15 football pitches
1 billion – Over a billion litres of finished product leaves the site every year
6,000 – Cans of Coca-Cola fly off the line at a rate of 6,000 cans per minute
8 – Products are made 24/7 on eight production lines
30,000 – The site’s Automated Storage and Retrieval System has capacity for 30,000 pallets
9000m3 – An innovative water reuse system in the factory has saved enough water per year to supply an average house for 136 years