The theme of the conference was how to start or re-inspire lean in the workforce and re-engage with lean. This is one of the biggest challenges in the industry. Everyone has so much passion and enthusiasm in the beginning but within weeks-if not days- it can all evaporate as the true nature of lean takesshape. You have to make a commitment; attitudes will be have to be modified and schedules, costs and hard work all have to be committed to. Often, there’s a lot more work then what is first considered.

The opening presentation was Trevor Stacey, operations manager from Coca Cola Enterprise’s Sidcup factory, in South East London. His presentation was on the use of production routines to drive continuous improvement. And if there’s one thing we all learned about CCE it was this: they are really good at meetings.

The meetings are strictly adhered to and are audited by staff to make sure they are regular, productive and enforced. They are the primary source of employee engagement and provide instant feedback and handover information for the operators at this site which runs 24/7. The company has not actually named their systems of improvement as lean but is the same in almost every way.

Second up was Bernard Auton, director of European operations for National Instruments. His snappily titled presentation “CI @ NI” showcased the simple and effective ways this billion dollar company operates lean at its three sites (Hungary, Malaysia and Texas) making precise components for measuring equipment used in some of the world’s most technologically advanced scientific spaces.

One of the first struggles for CI at NI was simple: convincing the board to put any money into the operations. As part of their ideas on lean and CI they went the opposite way of CCE: instead of embracing scheduled timed and regimented meetings, NI tried to ditch meetings as much as possible as they were unproductive and time wasting.

One of the main ways NI made improvements was one of the most simple: using small boxes to put on forms for potential customers expressing interest in a deal. Thousands were being lost in possible business connections as sales and marketing teams were simply unable to read the handwriting of those wanting their services. The solution? Installing small square boxes on the forms which lead to better handwriting even when they were allowed to write free form on later questions.

So seven years into lean NI have made great gains through a simple series of tweaks. Embracing coaching in house, and on two-four session as opposed to a whole day for staff, which they found tiring and boring. It proved that lean can be about being ideas and small practical details.

One of the day’s most lively and presenters was Stuart Wood, of Oxford Instruments, a company based in High Wycombe, just outside of London. Stuart, head of operational excellence at the scientific manufacturer, was the keynote speaker and was engaging in his presentation on deploying and sustaining your lean transformation programme.

His ideas were al about behaviour. “Measure drive behaviours, not performance. Measure pain not performance.”

The change was all about cultural architecture. Wood continued on saying “You cannot ask staff what their issue are and then ignore it.” One of the first things Oxford Instruments did in the beginning of the year and half long LSS project was give their employees a survey on how engaged and happy they felt about their work place. The results showed that less than 30% were satisfied with their workplace. In most recent survey, that’s gone up to over 70%-and more people now fill in and return the forms too!

The change team are all volunteers from the workforce who saw the possibilities for improving their daily worklife. The programme teaches managers their primary job is to remove the barriers that stop the staff from doing their job.

“They come to work to do a job,” commented Wood, “and all we do it put those barriers in front of them.”

One of the keys is positive reinforcement; simple kaizens, JBI problems that you know you can fix. “People want to know they’re getting better measure their success.”

The firm uses three Ms: What does it mean to ME, what does it mean to my MATES, and what does it mean in terms of MONEY?

If the staff see the benefits they will engage. If they managers see the staff are more productive they’ll feel the benefits in the bank balance. “Basically, “concluded Wood, “we never want to see a problem come back.”

Using IT to maximise the ROI (return of investment) of your manufacturing investment to drive CI? Then you will have found Fraser Thomson from Cimlogic helpful. How were they going to use IT and MES systems to better lean?

“Everyone wants to improve,” stated Thomson, “And 71% of manufacturers spent more on IT in 2013 than they did in 2014.” It’s big business and in today’s modern workplace you have to have IT systems that are functional and quick. The generational excuse, or “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Doesn’t cut it anymore.

The main reason for lack of investment however, is cost and lack of confidence in ROI. “We need to bring systems together and share data.”

And then it was time for the day’s most interactive session. Howard Bettany and Agata Choma, lean mangers from Parker Hannifin, asked why do we need a culture of CI?

The first thing they wanted was to put themselves out of a job: lean managers and directors are a waste of time. It should all be about the staff self-managing and self-motivating. They want the programme to build up and inspire value steams and loyalty. And had one thing to say: it’s all about the coaching. “You cannot master something without routine,” Bettany stated, “It’s the routine to create a culture of problem solving.”

They believed that lean change was a body, and without all the requisite parts it couldn’t work. The key learning points is the coaching loop is critical, barrier removal through the layers and “It’s all about those teachable moments.”

Bettany raised eyebrows with one simple, effective statements. “We all do lean to make money.” So should it be customer focused or capability focused. Choma concluded, that whichever way you look at it. “Everything we do is linked. The more productive we are the better value we are four our customers.”

Paul Gore, operational excellence specialist, from ThermoFisher Scientific, took the company’s work as the processor of DNA kits for police, to heart with his presentation; the DNA of leadership of and its opposition to lean thinking.

The Warrington based firm of 110 employees had large revenue problems and provided fodder for anecdotes of how people don’t understand the issues of taking on lean. “There’s a difficulty of being a conduit between employees and leadership,” he mentioned as the plight of those in lean. Bosses who aren’t interested in lean, don’t understand the problems, the processes or how or why it should cost money. They want it done now.

Gore commented “Lean is about changing not maintaining the current status” and needs to fight these bosses and educate them. Because “lean leadership is different from conventional practise.”

In the afternoon the room split into two sessions for problem solving. The first was about ditching the middle man. Rob Armstrong, industrial engineering manager of Selex ES, talked about “The passenger” and how to employ the unengaged employee. Rob Atkinson, manufacturing operations manager, of Donaldson EMEA embraced this theme to leadership and challenging the sceptics.

Hayward Tyler’s manufacturing systems director Martin Clocherty and colleague Oliver Buhlinger, showcased the firm’s re-planning events. They had £1m revamp of their plant; simple things like cleaning out scrap material, repainting, cleaning the machines, all saw how reinvigorate a staff who had been nothing but doom and gloom as the company was on the rocks.

The firm’s ailments were easy to point out: “We never used the scheduling part of our ERP systems.” And orders were always late. The departments blamed each other and distrust and problems followed, even though “the market was there. We just had to deliver on time.”

They turned around to save the company and created a winning mentality through staff engagement, “The only way to get there is hard work.” Clocherty pushed home. “We worked hard, worked fast, engaged people and removed road blocks.”

Better communication, a more forward thinking and long term outlook and simply pulling themselves up by their laurels to simply do better. The routines everyone had got into weren’t working, so they had to go. As Clocherty reiterated: it was all about the hard work.

Jason Bridger, GlaxoSmithKline’s LSS champion, approached problem solving in a different way. The company hadn’t been in financial strife but has over 100,000 employees and had to create a new department called core business services to implement its system of accelerated delivery processes.

Their aim was to create and embed a performance driven culture. They were able to do this by not using lean tools. An often derided and discussed concept through the day. Multiple people discussed if they were necessary. Howard Bettany told us they were all you indeed and with them you could achieve gains even when all else was missing. Bridger disagreed, insisting they achieved change through mindset.

Back in the main room the day’s second to last presentation was Brian Dickinson from battery pad manufacturer Entek. “You can have all the best plans for your business, but if you haven’t got the culture you won’t be successful.”

Dickinson’s presentation also focused on employee engagement. He had a surprisingly controversial idea: rewards and pries for the staff. Often very generous. Many thought this incentivisation was misguided.

Dickinson’s story that his old company used to reward suggestions proved a warning. “We don’t reward suggestions anymore. Only suggestions that are completed and effective after implementation.”

“Respect, integrity, commitment and innovation” are the keys to Entek’s change. “Our lean vision applies to everyone throughout the organisation. TPM didn’t quite encapsulate what we wanted so we created our own. We wanted to be environmentally conscious and have health and safety at the forefront. Define what good looks like” They also linked engagement of lean to bonuses.

He further suggested a good lean journey needs to define the boundaries and encourage and supporting teams to work on removing barriers. His guaranteed ways of achieving lean success: good leadership, good training; rewards and recognition.

The last presenter of the day was Kevin Thomas, the manufacturing manager of Carter Environmental Engineering and Franklin Hodge industries who had the problems of the worst staff engagement when he was brought on board. He looked at it through an SME lens; which has its own challenges. “A large chunk of the business community are SMEs which have nothing else in common.”

The firm had 10% absences. But were able to turn their staff around by managing the negatives, create and demonstrating proof of lean, promoting the positives, having a concrete strategy for implementation educating.  As he finished up for the day, Thomas provided the ethos of the day in a nutshell: “nothing worthwhile is easy.”

The points raised through the day were varied. The importance of PCDA was clear, but toolkits were often discuses. A necessary step or something to be avoided? ERP systems-essential to providing a modern, data-driven process map and an easy way to see where you’re going wrong. Or a waste of time with limited ROI? And is incentivisation a poisoned chalice as a way of encouraging lean?