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Continuous improvement has been adopted into PP Control & Automation’s culture for a significant amount of time. The early 90s were particularly important after the business went into partnership with Mazak, a global machine tool builder. That relationship is now approaching its 30th year.
The business quickly grasped the importance of learning from others, and this was especially true when work with Mazak began. Adopting and then fine-tuning Japanese manufacturing disciplines gave PP C&A the foundation to come through recessions and take advantage of new global opportunities.
It taught the business so many things – the importance of being surrounded by the right experts and investing in your staff – you must keep developing people and rewarding their commitment. It is those very people working with continuous improvement coordinators, trainers and systems that will keep increasing customer value, reducing waste, and optimising operations.
An in-house training school was founded at the start of the millennium and the company has invested a significant amount of time developing its training processes, in both the technical requirements and the tools required for continuous improvement.
Before moving to the continuous improvement department in 2014, Scott Ward, now PP C&A’s Continuous Improvement & Training Coordinator had worked in a production role and seen first-hand the impact that accelerating the focus on people and processes had on the business.
Since then, Scott can reflect on several ways the business has committed to never standing still, but we’ve asked him to reflect on close to 10 years of involvement in the department and select just five of his personal favourite moments.
Here they are in chronological order…
Back in 2014 when I moved from a production role at PP C&A to becoming a member of continuous improvement, the department was going through a transition of external business development to focus even more intently on internal processes.
Like the years prior when we partnered with Mazak, we sought the knowledge and experiences gained from our relationships with exemplary clients to improve and refine best practices in our own organisation.
This included engaging the workforce on tried and tested lean practices, and employees enrolled in our ‘Success through Excellence’ programme.
The programme involved class-based learning where cohorts develop in subjects such as standardised work, line balancing, and practical problem-solving, amongst many other continuous improvement topics. After a week of training, they are tasked with applying new knowledge and skills through demonstrated practice and improvement projects within the business.
For me this was a wonderful introduction to the world of CI, and an amazing opportunity to spend time with our workforce in a focused way, designed to identify and understand their issues and work collaboratively to make improvements.
I was particularly passionate about this element of my role with PP C&A and still am almost 10 years on.
There is nothing more rewarding in my role than providing someone with the tools and knowledge to make improvements and see them engaged in projects. But so often in the world of manufacturing, improvements go unnoticed and uncelebrated.
Route 6% which started life as an annual company target to make time and cost savings has evolved significantly over the years.
It started with an exercise in simplification and asking employees how best to capture their improvements. The result was exactly what we set out to achieve – something simple. The solution was a ‘before and after’ form. It was given the tilte of ‘Route 6 Pro-Forma’.
From this, our workforce has been able to document and capture the benefits of their projects and improvements, explaining the problem and then what they did to improve it, and importantly, how much time it will save. We can then use this data to quantify an improvement as a cost saving.
We can then recognise and celebrate these results with those involved. Recognition started with a pin badge for all involved in driving improvements. And there’s nothing quite like a pin badge – as simple as it is, it became a symbol of pride in an important achievement, it represented the idea and the ownership of that idea that made a difference.
We soon discovered that people wanted more. Not more than a simple pin badge, but more badges! So, having started with a red pin, we then introduced blue, green, purple, and orange. It created healthy competition and seeing people emblazoned with every pin was something special. Showing that they were part of continuous improvement activities and taking it seriously was proof that we were developing the right people and culture.
Badges took a hiatus for a while but they’re back again with two new initiatives that launch this very month. After the original pin badge reward idea, we moved onto a reward scheme which is still in place today.
Everyone, no matter how big or small their contribution to an improvement within the business get thanked and rewarded through the scheme which uses an app much like the latest supermarket reward cards.
The more projects that people are involved in, the more points they get attributed to their reward card and those points can be redeemed for rewards such as chocolates, cinema vouchers, gift cards and so on.
I have always been proud of the training we provide and the commitment to giving everyone an opportunity to be involved with continues improvement. But to really capture what it is we offer, bring even better structure to it, and showcase our efforts; we needed something distinctive – something that differentiated PP C&A and led the way in the approach to continuous improvement, setting an example throughout the whole UK manufacturing community.
That structure and distinction was captured with the launch of Bright Sparks University in July of last year.
Offered to all employees, Bright Sparks University provides the opportunity to engage with in-house learning and development programmes, covering continuous improvement, customer service, finance, leadership & management, marketing, sales, and technical training.
Staff members are also encouraged to source courses outside of BSU, with the company happy to fund any course on any subject, as long as there are tangible benefits to both the business and the individual.
Our people are the heartbeat of what we do, and we want to give them every opportunity to learn new skills and competences they can use to boost their own career prospects and deliver additional value to the service we provide our customers.
Bright Sparks University is amongst a long line of personal development and training programmes introduced over the years, and it delivers learning on the job, in a classroom or online. All the courses are funded by PP C&A.
Through BSU we recognise that inside every employee there is more potential than we, or maybe even they realise, and we need to constantly work to unlock this potential, whether that is through training, coaching, or mentoring.
Many people like to play devil’s advocate when they hear about this kind of significant investment and training in our people. They say why invest so much in training your staff when they could leave? But a colleague of mine, Chief Information Officer, Ian Knight once put it plainly and simply:
Our view is simple, imagine not training them and they stay with you!
It’s a sizeable investment, but one that is easy to make when you consider the benefits we are already seeing. Training builds self-confidence, keeps the mind sharp, helps with better decision-making and builds a stronger relationship between staff and the company.
We’re so serious about this programme and our commitment to it that we’re now even planning graduations.
For someone who is used to having a training room full of people, participating in workshops and group activities, the pandemic was a disconcerting period. But it is in the very nature of continuous improvement to react, and problem solve.
We must adapt and overcome. And I would certainly have been doing a disservice to the Japanese lean phrase ‘Kaizen,’ which translates to ‘change for good,’ If we could not find different ways to carryout continuous improvement activities.
Over the past couple of years, our approach at PP C&A has certainly become a lot more agile. The fast adoption of video technology to safely meet and conduct business is an obvious one to navigate the disruption and working from home. But as manufacturers and therefore categorised as key workers, there was also opportunity to adapt continuous improvement and learning activities on the job and the factory floor throughout the pandemic.
Training and activities happening directly on the line, with teams and individuals working on their day-to-day issues and challenges became the norm. Instead of a presentation on practical problem solving, we do an activity against a live issue and learn through doing.
12 months ago, PP C&A had the opportunity to benefit from the support of Sharing in Growth (SiG).
SiG is a government-funded organisation helping PP C&A achieve its growth strategy. Part of this partnership includes the introduction of business transformation coaches, delivering support to all departments and helping align them to the business’ strategic objectives.
Continues improvement is rooted in the foundations of the organisation and SiG has been a tremendous support to myself in developing a daily management system for the department.
One of the most notable introductions under SIG guidance was the SQCDP board (Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery, People). Each area has a clear purpose:
Safety: Maintain and improve site safety standards and workspace effectiveness.
Quality: Maintain and improve site quality standards to meet customer expectations and maximise efficiency through reduction of rework.
Cost: Achieve, and where possible better, product margins and monthly sales output.
Delivery: Maintain and improve site delivery performance to achieve customer expectations and maximise potential for growth.
People: Maintain and improve the capacity and capability of the workforce by utilising the current skills and enhancing capability through training.
Each area also has two or three key objectives set against it. For example, objectives include things such as ensuring effective capacity planning is being utilised to make the correctly skilled people available to satisfy production requirements. Or developing an internal ‘quality culture’ that adopts a ‘no fault forward’ mindset.
I’m able to set targets for some of our key activities such as kaizen events, practical problem-solving activities and learning and development of our workforce. Each morning, we hold a 20-minute stand up meeting with the ‘business unit’ leaders to see if they’re on target or off target and close the gap conditions. From this I’m able to really utilise that agile approach to continuous improvement and tailor Kaizen activities for each area depending on their pain points and provide them with the relevant tools and support to address today’s issues. The output of these stand-up meetings results in daily actions with a resolution frequency of 24 hours.
Since the approach, continuous improvement activities are more visible and we’re reporting an increase in Kaizen activities, employee engagement within the different areas, and in the development of staff and upskilling.
Keep driving efficiencies, productivity, skills development and so on – never stand still – that’s continuous improvement by its very name and nature. But like Scott has done here, not forgetting how far you’ve come and the moments that got you there are also important. One of the ways continuous improvement initiatives succeed is when the wins are celebrated and remembered.
As part of an ongoing campaign that celebrates every walk of working life at PP Control & Automation, you’ll find out what makes us, well, us!
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