How do you go from improving to continuous improving? Continuous Improvement Leader Joep Engels works with KMWE at cultural change.
What does KMWE do?
"KMWE is an international supplier for the hi-tech manufacturing industry. We supply precision parts to various industries, from the medical and semi-industry to the aviation industry. Simply put, we mill blocks of metal, aluminum, or titanium into the desired product. Because we have in-house engineering and assembly, we can offer complete solutions for high-quality modules, machine systems, and the production of complex components.
KMWE has 400 employees at two locations in Eindhoven, 50 employees at ATM Oirschot (a KMWE division, acquired in 2019), and 275 employees in Malaysia.”
"When improving isn't a continuous process, changes will sink in again."
What part do you play as Continuous Improvement Leader at KMWE?
"It's my work to take the step from improving to continuous improvement. It really is a different ball game. KMWE was always improving, in the way most traditional organizations do. But when it isn't an ongoing, continuous process, you find that change tends to sink in again, and the process comes to a halt."
Why is that?
"Employees have their habits. Over time they develop their own norms and values. These are hard to change, especially when continuous improvement isn't a staple within the organization. What happens is that an improvement method is tried out briefly, the attention then tapers off, and people revert to their old patterns."
How do you get people to stay involved in the improvement process?
"Everyone needs to realize that continuous improvement requires a fundamentally different way of thinking: it's not about individual norms and values, it’s about shares ones. Don't start doing whiteboard meetings as a goal in itself. Don't do a LEAN improvement project just to tick the box. You have to start playing a different game. That decision has to start at the top, because if the management doesn't really participate, the work floor won't follow any time soon."
"Continuous improvement is not about ticking a box during an improvement process. It's a fundamentally different way of thinking."
Which steps should the management take for continuous improvement?
"The mindset comes first. Is the management willing to organize and behave differently? Or is it saying yes and doing no? The top needs to be open to feedback and understand the impact of the managment behavior on the work floor? Setting a good example is crucial. It is all-important! Having a conflict about that is not a big problem, sometimes that's necessary for change. But the will needs to be there.
Then it needs to be clear where the overall focus should be for the organization to become better and stay competitive in the industry. To get that joint focus, we use the Hoshin Kanri method. After that, it's key to translate that focus to the work floor and stress the importance of it. As management, visualize what you want to achieve as an organization and show that you are really committed to it as well."
How does the work floor respond to this?
"Oftentimes, people on the work floor are the most vocal about the need for change. That's why these kinds of change processes are started in organizations, but the success rate is often low. People are generally a bit uneasy at first: see first, believe later. You have to see it through. It takes time, it doesn't pay off instantly. And when things don't move quickly enough, you fall back on the old and familiar patterns. As the management of an organization, that's when you need to persevere and hold on to the required and requested change. That's when you can go the distance, together with your people. And that little part of perseverance is, amongst others, what I'm there for.
"A cultural change in your organization gets you there much faster."
How do you deal with this in practice?
"We use daily starts now, we call them Daily Management. You have quick team meetings, on a daily (or weekly) basis, and you try to give insight in the way you work. Where could you improve? The Cierpa Kaizen Cockpit plays an important role here: problems are documented clearly and actually solved.
Cierpa Kaizen Cockpit is a great tool for the Daily Management Teams to realize and monitor improvements. In the end, it's important to clarify what the benefits of the tool are: registration, no need to remember anything, ownership, and a clear insight into costs.
Our different way of working makes room for continuous improvements and, ultimately, for cultural change. And that get us more quickly where we want to go to."
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