In today’s data-centric world, the chemical manufacturing sector strives for enhanced safety, heightened sustainability, and optimal efficiency. But how can these goals be achieved effectively?
An MIT Sloan study highlights the benefits of data-driven companies, including increased revenue, improved customer service, top-notch operating efficiencies, and enhanced profitability.
Becoming data-driven involves making informed decisions based on data analysis. Typically, top and middle management access data insights to drive decisions. However, expanding the pool of decision-makers is pivotal for business sustainability and profitability.
In this article, we explore our three-step digital sustainable continuous improvement process. This approach empowers both frontline workers and upper management to leverage insights for organisational benefit.
A global survey conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services reveals that new digital tools empower frontline workers. An overwhelming 87% of the 464 business executives surveyed believe that their organizations thrive when frontline staff can make crucial decisions in real-time situations.
However, the survey points out that organisations aspiring to empower frontline employees often lack the necessary data and tools. Approximately 86% of respondents stress the importance of providing frontline workers with technology-driven insights for sound decision-making.
Putting people at the centre of this transformation makes a substantial difference. In the realm of manufacturing, embracing a Sustainable Continuous Improvement (SCI) approach balances all facets of the equation. This approach aligns attitudes, behaviours, and processes across all organisational levels. It brings clarity to priorities and contributions.
“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do and then do your best.”W. Edwards Deming
By pairing the SCI approach with the right digital tools, people are enabled and empowered to deliver their best at work. Every day. Every shift.
Establishing Sustainable Continuous Improvement, with empowered frontline workers, demands time and a program that combines behaviour change, tools enhancement, and process optimisation. Through a step-by-step approach and a blend of top-down and bottom-up activities, change can occur swiftly.
User-centric technology makes shop floor work better and easier from the bottom up. This triggers behavioural shifts at the operational level through straightforward connected tools and practices like visual management and Gemba walks.
This approach enhances work, leading to quick engagement and an openness to change. It cultivates a new improvement culture, driven by empowered individuals who contribute to the company’s overall success.
Top-down strategies drive success through an enterprise-wide framework closely aligned with goals and business plans. Senior management grasps the Sustainable Continuous Improvement philosophy, promoting consistent best practices and processes in line with the strategy.
They create the conditions for implementation, ensuring necessary resources and the understanding that consistent, persistent practice yields success.
Large-scale digital transformations in manufacturing have been met with mixed results. By employing this comprehensive approach and incorporating agile elements, tangible results can be achieved in weeks rather than years.
Several crucial elements underpin success, starting from building the foundation of Sustainable Continuous Improvement and building upon it with well-defined processes and scalability:
1. Alignment: Focusing on a Single Source of Truth and Common Processes.
2. Optimisation: Shifting Decision-Making to the Source for Continuous Improvement.
3. Scaling: Integrating and Automating CI Processes for Sustainable Growth.
Most individuals aspire to excel at work and contribute with innovative ideas. However, achieving alignment across different teams and shifts is pivotal for efficient manufacturing operations.
Centralising the organization around a single source of truth (data) and standard work processes stands as the initial and crucial step towards driving change. The use of simple, connected tools and visual management, a cornerstone of continuous improvement philosophy, ensures work is transparent, organised, and timely. This approach brings clarity to priorities and unveils opportunities within the workplace.
Efficient daily management visual tools, like whiteboards (visibility walls, production display boards, and workload boards), streamline work and facilitate quick alignment—crucial during shift-based operations. This sense of alignment extends from tools used during shifts (logbook, shift handover, task management, opportunity identification) to routine meetings for manufacturing teams.
Adopting flexible and integrated digital tools to capture data allows information to flow seamlessly across various boards, supporting multiple use cases. By embracing digitalisation, a unified source of truth can be effortlessly visualised using diverse information sources, such as DCS and data platforms for planning and maintenance.
Building on existing practices and knowledge significantly enhances the acceptance of technology. Beyond having suitable tools and data, adhering to structured work processes to discuss, decide, and act on data is vital. Collaboration between team members and management plays a pivotal role in strengthening routines and fostering the required behaviours for continuous improvement.
Once alignment is achieved and well-defined priorities and routines are set, it’s time to embark on optimisation. This phase focuses on delivering improvements in areas like cost, time, materials, sustainability and risk. The continuous improvement philosophy hinges on making incremental improvements every day—akin to the Kaizen approach.
Frontline workers hold the key to identifying improvement opportunities due to their close involvement with operations. By equipping them with the necessary tools, structured processes, and a mix of support and autonomy, decision-making can be brought closer to the operational level. This not only expands the pool of decision-makers but also contributes to business sustainability and profitability.
Leaders working closely with frontline staff, discussing, encouraging, and coaching as needed, build trust and engagement. Applying empirical practices, such as “genchi genbutsu – go and see for yourself,” is pivotal in establishing the mindset and trust necessary for continuous improvement.
Leveraging digital tools that provide real-time, context-rich data empowers users to swiftly identify deviations and make decisions. This proves especially valuable for production operators. Incorporating methodologies like Short Interval Control (SIC) provides a structured approach to decision-making for operators. Coupled with tools like the 5 Whys and Ishikawa diagram, this promotes effective problem resolution and empowers operators.
Through these techniques, production operators can significantly contribute to Continuous Improvement by acting on areas like raw material consumption, asset efficiency (OEE), utility usage, and emissions, ultimately impacting manufacturing costs.
The change in behaviour where frontline workers own performance improvements can be challenging in the beginning but after building momentum, it is hard to stop. Together with them, frontline leaders learn and evolve as they go, becoming versed in how data drives decision-making and defining new ways of working, driving transformation in the workplace.
The “Scale” element ensures success across the entire enterprise by aligning organisational goals, business plans, and improvement initiatives. Based on company strategy, continuous improvement efforts can be tailored to different products, manufacturing sites, or sustainability aspects. Once a structured continuous improvement framework is in place, initiatives can be swiftly analysed, enabling efficient prioritisation.
Establishing a robust continuous improvement funnel necessitates capturing and evaluating all ideas based on a prioritization matrix. The Sustainable Continuous Improvement culture prioritises small, incremental initiatives, while some require more technical and multidisciplinary analyses or even capital investments. These initiatives predominantly contribute to feeding the continuous improvement funnel.
As initiatives in the funnel are identified and executed, benefits are tracked, and best practices are shared across the organisation, fostering a culture of recognition and engagement. This is crucial for the ongoing generation of ideas through worker engagement and accountability.
In conjunction with cultivating the right mindset and work processes, introducing digital tools requires careful planning. By aligning both aspects, the likelihood of successful deployment increases.
The process begins with stakeholder interviews to identify actual pain points through engagement and observation. This initial step holds dual significance: making users feel included and identifying optimal opportunities for user engagement. Following the identification of prioritised pain points, a user-centric iterative and incremental deployment strategy should be employed. An iterative approach garners user engagement and feedback, with benefits including solidifying tool ownership and quickly addressing any issues.
Despite inherent risks associated with new technology deployment, an iterative approach driven by user-centricity significantly mitigates potential risks.
Embracing digital transformation for Sustainable Continuous Improvement is paramount for organisations seeking to empower all workers within the manufacturing landscape. The presence of digital tools that provide a single source of truth, enabling alignment, and promoting accessible data for empowered decision-making and process optimisation, is pivotal for Sustainable Continuous Improvement.
However, successful transformation transcends the mere adoption of new digital tools. Recognising the depth of necessary change has the potential to enhance critical business metrics. In the end, strategic alignment, leadership commitment, structured work processes, and tools alone are inadequate. Collaborating with individuals, fostering a mindset of autonomy and engagement, and empowering individuals to deliver their best define the extent of success.
Curious to learn more about how Cyzag can enhance your operations? Find out more.