An improvement consultant is the spider in the web of improvement processes. We asked experienced improvement consultants to share some of their knowledge. Peter Santegoeds, consultant and owner of Bodel Inspireert, shares his vision on process improvement.
What do you do?
“Bodel Inspireert guides companies with various improvement processes. Maybe sales are up, but profit lags? Maybe quality issues, sub-par production line output, or efficiency issues play a role? Do organizational leadership or behavior need improving? Just like our other consultants, I chart waste, to start the improvement process.”
What industry do you work for?
“We’re mainly active in the financial sector and the manufacturing industry. Our approach uses LEAN and Leadership tools to chart waste, simplify processes and gain results.
We don’t see LEAN and Leadership tools as a goal in itself, but they are very important. The extent to which we use them depends on the current stage clients are in: the more they know about improvement techniques, the more rigorously we can deploy them.”
“We don’t see LEAN and Leadership tools as a goal in itself. We fully commit to improvement theories, but in a way that fits the organization.”
“We don’t take this to the extreme. In some companies, there’s a risk that strict improvement methods are seen as dead weight, which effectively blocks you from reaching your improvement goal. That’s why we fully commit to improvement theories, but always in a way that fits the company.”
What is your general role in an improvement process?
“A client has found a problem, big or small. Over coffee, we talk about the issue and determine the scope. Once we agree on the approach, we can start.
First, we want to gain insight into the problem. We do (financial) data analyses, and we conduct interviews. We include the local team very early on, to create support. Together we look for causes instead of symptoms. Then, we start the improvement process. How long it takes depends very much on the issue.
An improvement program can be so extensive that it needs a dedicated improvement organization. We implement that improvement organization and train the specialists who will eventually take over our role.”
Are improvement processes generally comprehensive, or do you also work on smaller improvement processes?
“Yes we do! We regularly support improvement teams on smaller issues. Together, we chart waste and calculate what can be gained by implementing the improvement: and so we show the worth of the issue. A tangible financial advantage is always a good incentive within the improvement project!
This advantage can be clearly demonstrated with Cierpa Software: the OEE tool shows you where waste is located and how significant the savings potential is. We use the Kaizen Cockpit to follow up on the improvement teams and actions. The software is easily accessible and gives a lot of insight quickly, so that works really well for smaller issues too.”
“A tangible financial advantage is always a good incentive in the improvement project! So that’s what we visualize.”
“These short improvement projects often lead to more. You start on one issue, people become excited, which then leads to an extension of the improvement project.”
An improvement process really depends on the base support. Is it hard to get people on board?
“It usually isn’t. We include the people early in the process, and that usually helps people to get on board. Management basically determines the real success of an improvement process: by putting words into actions. Does the managing director support the improvement process, or does he drop out as soon as preconditions need to be met?
Then forget it. They will never extend beyond micro-improvements. The board needs to show conviction and cooperation towards the improvement project, only then you will get progress.”
“Management basically determines the real success of an improvement process. If management doesn’t fully cooperate, then forget about it.”
How far have companies taken process improvement, in your opinion?
“I still see lots of opportunities. A lot is invested in stainless steel, but almost nothing in the employees. Multi-million dollar production lines are set up easily, while the organization invests next to nothing in employees. However, a new production line will not yield optimal results in a bad organization with poorly trained employees.
I think there’s not enough attention for internal improvement organizations. There are fragmented initiatives but no real investment plans for employees and the organization. The focus is on cost instead of investment, even when there’s so much to be gained there.”
A lot is invested in stainless steel, but almost nothing in improvement organizations with their own employees.
“Let me give you a great example: We’re busy right now with a project to improve the OEE of a few production lines. The estimated cost is €70K for consultancy and improvement software, over a two years. However, the expected saving is €400K each year. That is a fantastic yield!
It really pays off to invest in improving and to use improvement consultants for your growth plans. Investing in hardware after an improvement process has a minimum five-time higher yield. But banks and other financiers are unfortunately often still too conservative.”
What is your improvement tip for companies seeking to improve?
"Develop a vision for improvement, but keep it small. Too big makes things overwhelming and therefore impossible to execute. Or the start is full of vigor, but the company can’t keep up. The response will quickly be: 'Told you!' and then the improvement is gone. Make continuous improvement grow within your company. Deploy your own people, assisted by specialists and tools. Start small and deploy slowly."
Peter Santegoeds is one of the driven consultants Cierpa likes to work with. Peter can be contacted at Bodel Inspireert.
Want to know more about Cierpa Software? Great! Contact us for advice, or an online demo of one of our software modules.