Klaus Lyck Petersen, group process manager at Solar Group, an international technical wholesaler of electrical, heating, plumbing, and ventilation components, explains how the company went from silo-thinking to process-thinking, and shares with LMJ the opinion of employees working in different subsidiaries.
The Solar Group started its lean journey five years ago. At first, the company worked in silos, but management soon realised Solar needed to focus more on everyday processes and started the transformation undertaking several activities to create awareness of what process thinking is and what it means for our daily routines.
- Make process orientation a major issue in our lean journey and make sure that there was a close connection between lean and the processes;
- Create a process landscape for our business in order to visualise what the main processes looked like. The landscape was created by management teams, which produced ownership and commitment;
- Make simulation games to enhance process awareness as part of our lean leadership training;
- Appoint process owners in local management teams where clear roles and responsibilities are described and adapted by the organisation;
- Start improving our processes with lean thinking, meaning not improving departments or areas but processes like, for example, time to market or handling of returned goods. This meant that we had mixed project teams from different departments because the processes that we wanted to improve went across silos. A great example is time to market, where there are lots of handovers;
- Make the processes part of our daily work by connecting performance KPIs to the process landscape.
THE CHALLENGES WE MET
Going from a silo-oriented organisation to a process-oriented organisation is not easy. What we learned in the beginning is that sitting and looking at a process map and saying, “This looks good, let’s go for it” is pretty simple. But when reality hits you, you become aware of the consequences that the new way might bear.
What we saw was that a lot of managers were confused and struggled to see the whole flow of the process. Dealing with these issues was essential to move forward, and the lean resources spent a lot of time on the shop floor dealing with this confusion and teaching the managers to see the whole process. This was done by means of ‘walk the process’ sessions, which were basically gemba walks following services or goods.
When you start seeing the processes, you also see the dependencies between them, thus in a process landscape there are very strong dependencies with regards to deliveries or handover of information. To get an understanding of this, it helps to visualise the dependencies between the processes and focus on the quality of deliveries between them but also the consequences for the process if quality is not as agreed.
“What is measured is done” is a phrase we use a lot, and it has definitely been important to have KPIs that show how the processes perform. But you must bear in mind where we came from: previously KPIs were based on our silos. We realised early on that we had to change the KPIs in order to be able to drive the behaviour towards process thinking, but without losing our “control” of the business. We spent a lot of time breaking down the business goals into process KPIs, and during that process we learned a lot. One of the things we learned was how hard it is to change the way managers see silo goals transform into process KPIs and the insecurity about being dependent on someone else to reach your goal.
THE SOLAR WAY
Solar is in the middle of an SAP implementation, in which lean is deeply involved. Very early in the implementation process we decided that we needed to align the landscape that lean had created in the organisation for five years with the way SAP sees the business in order to avoid confusion. The big challenge is that SAP is pretty much organised around silos and functions, while we now have an organisation that is processoriented. After several dialogues, we successfully created a common process landscape that describes how the business will look after the implementation of SAP.
DEFINING CLEAR ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
By having the process landscape in place and having people understanding it and being able to see themselves in the process, half of the work is done. What you still need are the roles and responsibilities.
To make process thinking a big part of your daily work, you need to make people responsible for certain tasks and, thereby, give them roles to fulfil. In Solar, we have roles like group process owners, local process owners and business process specialists that each have a detailed description of what we expect of them and what their responsibilities are. This way, we make sure that expectations are aligned and understood.
PROCESS THINKING AND AWARENESS FROM THE SHOP FLOOR POINT OF VIEW
Training and developing employees on the shop floor is an important task for managers at Solar, and our managers were very focused on bringing the employees along on the process thinking journey. For the employees, the change was also big, but somehow they adopted this way of thinking fast and started to see opportunities in a short amount of time.
There is no doubt that the approach we have taken in Solar with regards to lean implementation and process thinking has been very beneficial for the business: not only have we been able to make the right improvements very fast but we have also been able to make lean an integral part of our daily business.
For the future, we will continue on this path and keep learning about our processes and how to develop them moving onto a group SAP platform.
WHAT EMPLOYEES HAVE TO SAY
“In the last couple of years, we have been working intensively on implementing lean and process thinking at our central warehouse. We have gone through some big changes, and learned to see the processes and the dependencies moving towards one central warehouse instead of many unconnected departments. We have improved our processes by using our lean boards, and we have found root causes and the best solutions. Of course, it has taken some time to learn how to use boards, but today we have an open environment where we can address all issues, and our managers support this way of thinking. As I see it, the biggest change was in our management: they now see more than just their own department – they see the whole process, they are open to new ideas and they can discuss improvement suggestions beyond their own area. They have faith that we can make Solar even better than it is today because we are stronger together. We have achieved great results by working in this new way. Our quality has never been better and the same goes for our productivity.“
Jacob Fisker Kjær, central warehouse, Solar Danmark.
“I have worked for Solar for 12 years, and a lot of things have changed since we introduced lean. We have started to see and talk about entire processes, but to do that we had to change our way of dealing with problems. Normally, we saw a problem and found a solution fast. But in many cases, the problem occurred again – and we “solved” it again. Today, we spend much more time on finding root causes, to fix issues once and for all. I also see a change in the way we teach others how to do their job. Today, we have SOPs for every step in our processes, which makes it easier to teach someone else to do a job/task because there is a clear description of it. We didn’t have that before, so we used to train people by telling them how to do things. Having SOPs and having an organisation that sticks to the SOPs makes our processes much more stable and predictable. To me the journey has meant a lot of surprises and ‘aha’ moments, for example finding out how much time is hiding in a process because there is no flow and the amount of waste you find by walking the process and asking questions.“
Nils Jofs, product department, Solar Sverige.
“People at Solar Norge are now interested in seeing and learning about the next step in the process to ensure that they deliver what’s needed. They also ask questions regarding dependencies and how to improve the whole process to secure a good flow. I think that the main reason for us being at this stage is that the SAP implementation forced us to concentrate more on the processes. It has been an exciting transformation for many managers because they went from knowing exactly what was going on in their own department to a situation where they had to learn more about the situation outside their areas. Our management has played a big role in this because they have been good role models in driving the process, understanding and telling about dependencies. For the future, I see that we can improve our process thinking even more here in Norway due to two main things. First of all, we have the SAP training centre, where we are training people in the processes, the SAP system and the dependencies. Secondly, we focus on enhancing open-mindedness of our colleagues even more so they can see more opportunities for our business.”
Niklas Øversjøen, R2S Super user, Solar Norway