Leading for a Culture of Improvement

The improvement culture in the food industry is weak, because leadership in the food industry has a weak understanding of improvement.

By G. Keith Diepstra, Contributor

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Jim Womack in his recent book "Gemba Walks" makes the point you can't improve a process that isn't capable and available. Frankly, you can't improve the capability of a line that isn't available. Finally, you can't improve the availability of a line without improving your reliability system. Therefore, the root cause of bad product quality may be your lack of an effective reliability system.

A word of caution: think strategically. In their infancy, improvement efforts need quick wins to spur and motivate the potential team members.

Put in place measurement that drives behavior. You need to have key performance indicators (KPIs) that drive the behaviors you wish to instill.

For example: If your crew could keep your equipment running eternally without ever doing another preventive maintenance (PM) again, would you care? No, you would not. However, at almost every plant, the KPI most touted for maintenance is the percentage of PM services performed. Any experienced technician could tell you these are pencil whipped. You want uptime, availability. Therefore, that is what you should measure. You can still measure percentage of PM services performed, but availability is the measure that should be tied to goals and performance reviews.

The best measure for any manufacturing facility is overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). This is the best indicator for foundational performance in a manufacturing environment. It addresses quality rate (yield), performance rate (output) and availability rate. These three measures multiplied together give you the OEE rate of the line (or plant). The OEE also can be viewed as capacity utilization. It is very sensitive to changes, both good and bad.

There are an infinite number of possible measures. You and your staff need to start with the behavior or outcome you want to produce and work back to the measure or measures that are best suited to bring about that result.

There is an improvement methodology for whatever challenge you are facing.

If a proven method does not take hold for you, you did not have hold of it. Many plants that have tried 5S without understanding the reasons behind it have dropped it, only to lament that, "we tried that Lean stuff and it didn't work here." No. You attempted to implement a single Lean tool. You failed to understand the purpose of 5S is to facilitate speed of location, maintainability, ease of equipment status identification and elimination of travel.

It is not a housekeeping tool. It is a foundation to other improvements, not the be-all and end-all of Lean. You failed to seek true understanding. You need to aspire to the rule of Japanese swordsmanship: Find the way and study it.

As responsible leaders, we have a duty to seek out the best, proven tools for the challenges we face and not "kick the can down the road."

Too often, we promote leaders who cut their way to greatness, leaving the infrastructure damage behind for someone else to clean up once they have their kudos. Someone once said, "Any idiot can use an axe." It takes leadership and persistence to change a culture for the good and bring about true improvement.

Eventually, you may need to call in a consultant, and there is no shame in that. Some of the more sophisticated aspects of setting up a reliability program like Total Productive Maintenance can be daunting. Also, consultants make their living ensuring that there is a good return on investment in using them or they are not in business long.

Bear in mind, much of what consultants do is to train you and your people to recognize the quality and reliability issues and fix them yourself. They create a learning culture will help you better understand the help you need. You don't need to pay $3,000 for a consultant to teach you RCA. You can easily find and learn the methods for yourself.

In conclusion: The food industry here in the U.S. closely mirrors the automotive industry of the 1970s. Having run high on wide margins for a long time with management and executive leadership that is largely cut from the same cloth, our systems have gone unchallenged.

These conditions are going to change. The manufacturing facilities that get ahead of the coming financial turmoil and commodities instability by increasing their efficiencies and reducing waste will be the facilities that are left standing when the turmoil is over.

My hope is that we, as an industry, can preserve our future and one of the few large manufacturing sectors left in the U.S. by bringing on an aggressive culture of improvement. In doing this, we may mitigate "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" for our stakeholders in what promises to be a perilous time.

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