Written by Nathanial Marshall, Practitioner at LI Europe

The world is full of information – more data has been created in the last 5 years than in the entire previous history of human existence. While this may seem like an excess of information, data is essential for the world economy and for business.

For example, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the typical yardstick to measure a country’s economic performance. But did you know that this wasn’t used as standard until after the Wall Street Crash of 1929? It was then decided that a country’s output and value would be a good measurement of economic performance and could help prevent future economic catastrophe.

In business, we must collect data so that we can measure performance. However, it is not enough to simply collect the data, we need to ensure it is clearly presented so that our teams understand when they are performing well.

Visual management is an excellent way of communicating information, and some of the best illustrations of this are in sport.

Take cricket for example – Jofra Archer is running in and bowling to the Aussie Batsmen at 90mph, and the ball hits the player on the leg pad.  Archer appeals to the umpire for leg before wicket. The umpire raises a single finger to give the batsman, the crowd and the viewers at home a clear visual signal that the player is out.

And while hand signals are used in cricket, other sports such as football use red and yellow cards as visual cues.

So how can we apply visual management to business? What simple cues can be used to let teams know whether they are meeting KPIs?

I was recently working with a steel manufacturer that wanted to improve their output following a move to a new factory. They knew at the end of the day how many products they had produced, but how useful is that information to them once the day is finished? How would they know where and when the performance was? Was it consistent on an hourly basis, or was it a day with peaks and troughs of productivity?

One of the first things we did was introduce an hourly performance tracker board (short interval control).  We asked the line crew to complete it every hour to visually demonstrate how many products that line had produced in that hour. They were given red and green pens to clearly show if this was at the pre-defined target or not.

Looking at the performance of the factory the following week, output improved by 20%. Nothing else had been changed apart from the introduction of visual boards.

I asked the operator how the line had improved. “I am showing everyone in the factory how we are performing; I want to make sure we perform well and have green on that board every hour,” she told me.

That simple visual tool had automatically improved the level of engagement as well as ownership for the improvement.

As well as the initial uplift in performance, it allowed us to understand the reasons for poor-performing hours and put plans in place to correct and improve. All with the input and engagement of the team who were providing the information in the first place. 

The initial level of engagement continued and unlocked some potential amongst the shop floor employees who wanted to learn focused improvement techniques.  We supported this with a course of FMCG Lean Sigma Yellow Belts. The factory continues to go from strength to strength on its improvement journey, and we are now supporting the completion of FMCG Green Belts.

What this example shows is that improvement can come through small steps. You don’t have to implement huge major changes across the entire organisation in one swoop. The true definition of engagement is people giving discretionary effort to improve performance.

If you’d like to learn more about how LI can help you improve performance, get in touch with one of our expert consultants. You might be surprised at how quickly you can get results with just a few simple changes.

Check out the different ways LI Europe can work with you to improve factory performance

Written by Erica Bassford, Head of Aspire, LI Europe Ltd

There’s no shortage of industry exhibitions, expos, conferences and trade fairs, and deciding which events to attend can be tough. After all, you don’t want to miss out on the latest industry updates, but equally, it’s impossible to attend every single event. These events can be an expensive day out and it’s difficult to accurately measure the return on investment.

Even if you aren’t exhibiting, there’s still the travel costs, food and drink expenses, and of course, the cost of your time. So, how can you measure the value of attending such events? How do you justify the spend?

When companies exhibit, it is easier to measure leads and enquiries and track the conversions. As a visitor, you may not necessarily have the opportunity to market your business, so you need to look at more than just the financial benefits of attending.

Seeing the latest technology is certainly an advantage. Listening to speakers can inspire ideas on which to follow up. Growing our networks can be hugely beneficial. And gaining insights from industry-leading experts can help us make more informed decisions.

That said, it’s no use simply saying you learnt a lot if you aren’t putting that learning into practice. You’ve got to take action. You’ve got to measure the return.

Think about the last industry event you attended. What actions did you take as a result? Investing in new technology? Changing a supplier? Streamlining a process? Cascading information and sharing your new knowledge with your team? What was the financial impact – did you see any positive effects on your bottom line?

You may have left the event feeling inspired, holding on to a goody bag full of branded merchandise and thinking about how nice the canapés were. But, if you didn’t take any action, did you actually get any real value at all? Or, was it just a nice day out at the company’s expense?

Simply attending every event you can, in the hope that you’ll get something from it, isn’t a strategy. Just like anything else in business, you need to go there with a goal – whether it’s to make connections, source new technology or develop your knowledge.

Before you book yet another exhibition, think about how it will add value. What are you hoping to get from the event? How will you measure that? How will it add value to your business?  

If it is unlikely that you will get anything of value from the event, then you might want to reconsider attending, no matter how appealing the free buffet sounds.

At LI-Europe, we understand the importance of value-adding events. That’s why we created The Ambassador’s Academy – a structured monthly meeting which enables forward-thinking managers to share best practice, learn about the latest improvement techniques and commit to actions back in the plant. And, because you commit to actions, you can see exactly how you are adding value to your business and what impact it has on your bottom line.

If you are a manufacturing professional looking for events that provide a real return on investment, then Ambassador’s could be right for you. To find out more click here or contact us to book a free taster session. 

Written by Jason Gledhill, Engagement Leader at LI Europe.

It’s a common misconception that continuous improvement and change management will be extremely complex processes with huge cost implications in terms of both time and money. However, this isn’t always the case.

Yes, for some projects, it is necessary to overhaul the entire operation and retrain teams, but this doesn’t have to be done all at once. In fact, trying to implement big changes too rapidly can actually be detrimental. Making incremental changes and improvements over time is far more likely to ensure sustainability.

The whole concept of continuous improvement is just that – it’s continuous. It doesn’t happen overnight. You need to plan, implement, embed and evaluate on an ongoing basis.

We recently worked with a light engineering firm who wanted to improve their production flow. One of the issues we found was a lack of workstation organisation which meant too much production time was being wasted looking for tools and equipment.

To eliminate this excessive waste of time, we used the 5S methodology (sort, set, shine, standardise, sustain) to create a more organised working environment. As a result, productivity sped up.

When you think about it, it seems pretty obvious that if you have a clean, tidy, organised workspace, you’ll find it easier to spot hazards and find the tools you need. It makes perfect sense. But, when you’re in the thick of it, tidying and cleaning always seems like a task that can wait – the focus is usually on productivity. Only when you take a step back to assess the situation does it become clear that the time spent organising will be repaid multiple times over through time saved.

5S is a relatively simple approach that can make a significant difference when it is the appropriate tool for the situation.  The key is finding the right tool for the job, and then applying the methodology correctly.  And there are many similar examples of tools and methodologies that are straightforward to implement and are proven to deliver results when the situation is right.

The key is in training teams to apply these tools and approaches with confidence and consistency. It’s no good implementing a fantastic new way of working and then gradually letting it fizzle out or only applying a systematic approach to some areas and not others. And everyone has to be on board. A new process will only be sustainable if all the relevant people are following it.

Continuous improvement should be approached as a long term measure, not a quick fix, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated. Give your teams the skills and tools to make practical, sustainable changes on a small scale, and you’ll see a significant impact on a larger scale as a result.

If you’d like to find out where to focus your efforts first, our FMCG Academy is a great place to start. Using our OPEN (observe, plan, engage, nurture) approach, it allows you and your teams to assess each area to provide greater insight into where the inefficiencies are in your FMCG organisation.

Sign up for our free version to find out how it works and whether it is right for you. 

Written by Erica Bassford, Head of Aspire, LI Europe Ltd

I recently attended a county schools’ athletics meet for eight to ten-year-olds. I was watching the long jump competitors, and as the children took turns, I noticed an interesting difference in how they approached the task.

The first child took his place at the top of the track, waited for the all clear and ran as fast as he could before taking off. He recorded a decent jump of 2.5m, but he was unable to repeat the same success with his second jump. It was clear that he had a lack of experience and repeatability.

The next child had a completely different approach. He carefully paced backwards from the jump board to determine his optimal start position. He was focused and knew what he needed to do to maximise his performance. Just like the first child, he ran at a good pace, but he achieved a much longer jump; an impressive 3.8m. What was more impressive was his ability to repeat his performance on his second attempt.

It struck me that, even at the young age of nine, this child had learnt that process is important if you want consistent results. What he has developed, over time and through practice, is a precise routine that starts minutes before his actual jump. His preparation placed him in a great position to deliver his best performance – a winning performance.

The first child simply threw himself into the event, hoping for a good result; the second child worked out what needed to be done to achieve the desired result. He didn’t leave it to chance.

So, what does this tell us about performing at our best?

We can be like the first child and simply turn up and go for it with no guarantee we will get the outcome we want. Alternatively, we can follow the example of the second child and learn what steps are required to achieve the results we want – we can create a process. We can then repeat that process to get consistency in our results.

Just as the young boy has worked out how far from the board, he should be to start his run, we need to find our optimal starting point. We can then make small continuous improvements to move us to the end goal. Sometimes we will make mistakes but learning from those mistakes will help us move closer to our desired outcome.

Of course, the processes required within a manufacturing business are on a much larger scale than the processes required by a nine-year-old long jumper. That doesn’t mean that you can’t apply this lesson to your business.

We’ve developed a range of tools to help manufacturing businesses. Our FMCG Academy is an ideal starting point for working out where the gaps are in your processes so that you can start working on closing those gaps and getting consistent results.

Visit our FMCG Academy Platform now to learn how process can benefit your business.

Written by Erica Bassford, Head of Aspire, LI Europe Ltd

Despite Brexit uncertainty, UK unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975, and the latest CIPD poll shows that ‘British businesses are still hiring and competing fiercely for talent’. The survey states that over 40% of businesses are finding it more difficult to fill roles than in previous years.

With these figures in mind, what are you doing to secure talent for now and the future?

Many businesses don’t have the luxury of being able to offer improved pay and attractive benefits packages to attract new blood. Even those that can offer higher financial rewards will often find that such hygiene factors are not motivators, so will only work as a short-term fix at best. Employees now are looking for more than just a competitive salary. They want to work for companies that invest in their training and development too.

Apprenticeship schemes can be an effective method of attracting and developing future talent. The introduction of the apprenticeship levy means this could also be a very cost-effective route for some manufacturing businesses.

However, apprenticeships are a longer-term investment and can’t be relied on as the sole method for growing an effective workforce. You need the benefit of experience too.

Don’t underestimate the impact of upskilling your current workforce. Offering the right development provides a win-win solution. Employees gain new skills and improved job variety while delivering hands-on activity for the business.

Upskilling your existing employees will not only help you address immediate skills shortages, it will also benefit the long-term future of your business. Your workforce will feel more motivated, more valued and more invested in the success of the business. Employee engagement has a direct impact on productivity – the more engaged your employees are, the more productive they will be. And, because you are investing in your employees, you’ll be more likely to retain your best people.

There are so many different levels of upskilling, knowing where to start can be a minefield, but you don’t have to do it alone. We can assist you in upskilling operators, managers and Continuous Improvement Leads.

Using tools such as our OPEN audit and a skills matrix will enable you to identify where the gaps are in your business and put a strategy in place to address those gaps.

We can also provide training and certification for all levels of Lean and Six Sigma, not only teaching the methodologies but also embedding them into your business.

We work with you to develop continuous improvement strategies that fit with your overall business strategy. Having the right processes in place is only half the story – you need the right people too; our goal is to help you achieve both.

Learn more about how to maximise your existing workforce and build an effective team.

Written by Nathanial Marshall, Practitioner at LI Europe

When a business is not performing as efficiently as it could, it can be tough to work out where to make immediate changes for the biggest impact. Knowing which order to do all the important things is difficult.

We had a case where a client restructured four times within eighteen months. During that period, several individuals managed the operations on a temporary basis with varying levels of support. Each had their own view of how the operations structure should be and where CI fitted into it.

As a result, the business went from having no CI resource to having a dedicated CI team. The impact on resource to focus on CI was good, but did putting people in a role for focus on continuous improvement fix the site’s problems and guarantee results?

In a case like this one, what impact does restructuring have on the consistent execution of strategy? How does it impact the front-line management team who cannot develop their teams effectively without knowing how long they will be working with them until the next restructure?

Is changing a management structure to improve bandwidth and provide dedicated resources to CI really the path to achieving sustainable results?

The answer is both yes and no. Yes – because the operational structure is important and will have an impact on results. No – because focusing solely on one element of your business won’t create sustainable improvements.

We believe the key to unlocking productivity improvement is the OPEN process.

The OPEN process works on the basis that it is better to be effective in all areas rather than ineffective in some and world-class in others.

Why focus on building an exceptional organisational structure, but not set clear KPIs? Are well-structured weekly meetings effective if nobody is collecting data or following up on actions?

In our OPEN process, each element is scored by colour with effective being green, good practice being silver and best practice being gold. FMCG factories should aim to get every area green and then work towards turning them silver and gold.

But surely this brings us back to our original point about not knowing which order to do all the important things? If you have multiple areas that are in the red, which do you focus on first?

That’s why we’ve designed our FMCG Academy. It works by allowing you and your front-line teams to audit each area. By involving front-line teams, you get a true insight into which areas are ineffective. You might find that some of the results surprise you – areas you thought were under control might actually be areas that need attention.   

Not only does the FMCG Academy give managers an insight into the views of the front-line teams, it also improves employee engagement and educates them around elements of continuous improvement. We believe that knowledge of operational excellence and world-class manufacturing shouldn’t be limited to the realm of the few. Our objective is to promote productivity improvement by sharing good and best practice with everyone involved in running a factory. 

You can find out more about our FMCG Academy by signing up to access our free version. This will give you an insight into how it works and whether it is right for you.