Since LMJ last caught up with Serbian design and production company, SCGM, the company has taken on some massive projects which have put their lean practices to the test. In the latest update, CEO Sandra Cadjenovic explains how one project in particular almost blew their lean goals apart, two years after the transformation began.

Very often, only when a person says things out loud is it when they realise the importance of what they are saying. Hence, I would like to start this episode by proudly announcing The SCGM Way story, which has now been spoken about at various conferences throughout Europe. One of the greatest events for myself, one at which I was particularly honored to attend alongside the “lean pioneers from Serbia”, was at the annual LMJ Conference. The voice of our consultant presenting the diary of my company, its lean structure supported by pillars and built on the foundation of people was echoing within the walls of the conference room of the Birmingham Hilton Hotel. Shoulder to shoulder, we stood with manufacturing giants, major hospitals and city governments from different parts of the world, presenting on the same topic: Lean Culture – how to create, develop and sustain. How magnificent it was to think of us as going through a culture change for the better. As always, this was news I was more than happy to share with my coworkers, for it has been their achievement in the first place. Without their participation and efforts, we would not have come this far.

It has been quite a moving time. There was, however, something else to celebrate – the two-year anniversary since the beginning of our lean journey. During this period we have been following the step-by-step approach developed and tailored for us by our consultant, who is guiding and directing us still. As a short summary of the long way we have come so far, I cannot help but emphasise the 5S system which is spreading and extending throughout the plant. The reason I mentioned it first is because it is the number one thing to cross every operator’s mind if asked what has been improved. Concerning safety, the number of minor injuries has diminished compared to the same period last year, while the number of serious injuries has been reduced to zero. As for value-added activities, they have increased significantly at the expense of non-value added ones on the assembly shop floor. Our operators have become more self-conscious and disciplined and have clearly-stated objectives they try to reach and even overcome each day. Every hour they compete with themselves to try and accomplish more while being more aware of their day-to-day achievements. For management, it means a far clearer situation every hour, both for people productivity (individual and overall) and losses produced that can be attacked at any time. Since OME’s introduction, unidentified losses have been zeroed and waste has been drastically reduced.

Moving further to the injection molding, one will notice OEE sheets with average results averaging at about 85% for most of the machines. From a cost point of view, every month we save up to a few hundred euros per running machine, as an outcome of our approach to tackling losses. Autonomous Management has started acquiring practical meaning of the name. Operators have been trained to know their machines better, to inspect and lubricate parts at regular and expected times. The standard and muchimproved checkup sheets have been created with a calendar as a reminder on when and how to act, thus easing the operator’s job. Operators have also been coached to react to small technical issues by conducting simple repairs. Once a problem is discovered, steps to follow are defined and instructed.

The quality control department has now been better deployed. As opposed to before, when they were all covering the entire plant, now one quality person has been assigned to each of the three shops. With the better insight this new organisation has allowed, they can now follow, improve and control processes within their areas, reporting back to the quality manager. Furthermore, a brand new quality control department laboratory has been built amid the shopfloor, enabling the quality staff to be at the Gemba in little to no time. It certainly saved time to see the problem and react.

The focused improvement pillar is counting numbers and solving problems. A tool we use primarily is the 5Whys – widely accepted among people as a simple, practical and, above all, interesting approach to finding a root cause. It is a pleasure to see how it brings together people from different fields and levels to share their opinions and knowledge in resolving the task. Team work is flourishing.

What also came for us in our second year of lean was a brand new project by the biggest customer we have had by far. The entire SCGM team turned into a hive of activity, trying to convert requirements into a very complex product, meet the customer demands in terms of time and quality, and avoid neglecting current running projects. It was a huge project for us, but we took up the challenge. I saw my people thrilled and motivated towards accomplishing the task. A project plan was created, a kick off meeting was conducted and tasks delegated. However, what was an initial excitement, soon got transformed into anxiety, mingled with fear to fail due to problems occurring on the way, belatedness, lack of information and time, and initial scraps. It all caused nervousness, tension and arguments among people. What was worst, they all seemed to have forgotten about the lean stuff we had been introducing and practising and, in an instant, switched to an old firefighting, “I don’t have time” or “I do not know” or “ it is their fault” mode of work. From being highly elated, I sunk to the state of being highly worried. When one moment we seemed to have been growing our lean culture, it now appeared to be falling like dominoes. I wondered whether we were really turning lean or turning back from it when facing obstacles.

“The realisation of weak leadership is a problem, but strangely enough, brought me to feel at ease. Reading about the Toyota plant and its people development, I came upon a fact that to develop a proper lean leader, it may take a minimum of 10 years.”

I had to understand what was happening and thus, started collecting clues from the bottom up. My operators said they had been feeling pressed by the leaders, pushed to speed up, while tolerating the constant change in instructions without any preadvice or training. They were confused and tired, and for that, they were blaming their leaders. My middle management was, on the other hand, blaming their colleagues for untimely information passing, lack of cooperation, and for making huge mistakes which were generating bigger problems. Going further up, I came to myself and my partner. Who are we to blame but ourselves? Needless to say that what was actually happening was we were bringing back the word ‘blame’, which we once regarded as unwelcome. “When it comes to a problem, always ask ‘5Why’s, not 5 Who’s”, was one of the common-sense rules our consultant taught us. Hence,’why’ was the right question to ask. Following that, I gathered my people to try and help us all understand.

So, why are all of the above-mentioned problems occurring, and why are we going back to behaving the old way we all wanted to break free from? Because people lack the discipline to follow the new procedures and/or act according to accepted standards.

Why? Because they miss motivation and focus.
Why? Because they do not fully nor clearly understand the reasons to do it.
Why? Because it has not been explained to them.
Why? Because their leaders have not invested enough time to coach them properly to go through the change.
Why? Because they have not been committed to lean changes deeply themselves.

The realisation of weak leadership is a problem, but strangely enough, brought me to feel at ease. Reading about the Toyota plant and its people development, I came upon a fact that to develop a proper lean leader, it may take a minimum of 10 years. All it takes is the right choice of people, plenty of time, devotion and patience through On Job Development (OJD). So, “managers must be teachers”. They have to be coached, but then work on further self-development. They have to believe in what they have learnt and pass forward what they strongly believe in. They have to lead according to those premises. At this point, I knew we had to go to our beginnings and remind ourselves of the company’s values – the 10 commandments as 10 values we came up with together.

So, here we have a list and a question – if “managers must be teachers”, what and how should they be teaching?

First, managers have to preach that the workplace is made up of little enterprises of each one of the operators, where only they can make difference for the better. In that light, they are more than welcome to make suggestions and carry them out. Employees’ ideas acceptance is a way of showing respect towards them and giving them autonomy in problem solving. Implementing their suggestions practically into their workplace is also an important source of motivation and devotion. If their ideas are welcome, operators will more eagerly continue thinking about problems and ways to solve them. Also, it depicts the immediate relationship between him and his leading person. It creates trust and improves team work, essential for Kaizen.

Managers must teach standards – a set of defined rules derived from the things what they have learnt. These standards should embody performance, sequence of steps and thorough and repeated drill of the defined; It must be taught on Gemba with step-by-step approach.

1 First is to show how –steps performance with operators closely watching ;
2 Next is letting them try to copy seen, with control and necessary corrections;
3 Finally is trusting them autonomy to perform the activity.

Once standards are taught, managers must help people distinguish what is nonconforming to the standard; to see, report visually, and communicate the examples.

Only with the things listed above can quality be met and the customer satisfied. As for me, the key point they have to learn is to work with positive thoughts in their minds and smiles on their faces. A Considerable amount of time has elapsed since. We have designed and developed the product, molded it, and assembled and launched it. The Customer is satisfied with what they have received. So are we with the feedback and doors for new opportunities which have been opened.

We are still working on process optimisation for the project. Most importantly, we do work upon ourselves. My managers realised it is upon themselves to teach, direct and lead their people in some direction. And they have chosen that to be the direction towards continuous improvement by taking small but steady steps every day.