Category Archives: IDA

Employees are the best consultants you’ll ever hire

Lean process improvement is a great way to engage your staff on what matters in your business.

If your staff are viewed as just another cost item, you may be missing a huge opportunity.

It has been our pleasure to train and mentor another group who completed the 2017 Autumn training programme this week. In just 12 weeks, they have applied standard process improvement techniques to deliver great results in their areas.

This brings the participant number through the 12-week ETAC programme to over 450.
Let me introduce the group and briefly describe their results to date:

• Zoila tackled a high incidence of inaccurate information on the company website leading to 30 customer complaints in 12 months. By applying lean tools including Asset Care, SMED and Standard work, complaints have been eliminated, the process to upload new and updated data is streamlined and a significant opportunity to reduce the lead time to launch new brands has been proposed.
• In 3 months, Eddie has re-organised the storage of many bulk chemicals on site. Using 5s, Asset Care, Standard Work and Kanban, appropriate storage has been identified and time to retrieve material has reduced. Cycle counts, segregation of flammable and toxic chemicals and management of shelf-life will all be monitored using a robust Asset Care Program.
• Damien tackled the time taken to mill bags of grain in the brewing process. Using the 8-step methodology, data analysis and Kaizen, the team have achieved a more consistent water flow rate and reduced milling time by 33%. The impact is estimated at one additional brew run per week.
• Stephen has reduced line downtime in his area from over 13% to less than 5% in 12 weeks. The application of 5s, Kanban, SMED, Standard Work and Asset Care will sustain this improvement and should lead to further improvements.
• Gerry tackled the cost of over-production and waste in his area. The weekly cost of over-production on one line alone was estimated at €3k. By applying the 8-step process improvement and engaging his team through Kaizen events, the team have reduced over-production from 26% to less than 5%. Process waste has reduced from 10% to approximately 4%.

• Stephen works in calibration and has planned to reduce total calibrations by 9%, remove 3% of gauges in operation and improve completion to schedule by 10%.
• With some simple process changes, Tom has already reduced the average daily water usage by 28%. With local water metering, policy proposals and some capital investment, the team are aiming for an overall reduction of over 50%.
• Cormac identified over 41% of lost utilisation time in one area of the plant. By addressing unauthorised access, workplace organisation, and SMED (quick changeover), the team aim to improve utilisation and sell extra capacity.
• Sean, an operator in one of the work areas, identified that 15% of the trials had significant time delays and loss of product. Cancellations alone cost the business in excess of €10k. With a simple test procedure, his team have reduced these incidents to 2.5%.
• Brian works on the manufacture of a highly engineered device. Over the 12 weeks, changes made by the team resulted in a 68% drop in rework and a corresponding 36% increase in output. The improvements also led to a significant reduction in lead-time.
• Claire tackled unscheduled maintenance and downtime in a critical manufacturing area. An analysis of issues led to a significant process change. Coupled with a preventative maintenance programme and a structured approach to troubleshooting, early indications show an impact on downtime of over 50%.

We are very proud of the improvements that this group have achieved in 3 months.

You may be interested in applying Lean thinking to your business and putting these ideas into place?

Engage your staff in what matters in your business today.

ETAC’s 12-week process improvement programme can be run in-house or offsite.

Enterprise Ireland and the IDA offer support to clients through their Lean Business programmes.

Click here for details.

Leader culture

Do Leaders determine the culture of an organisation?

Leader culture
As a leader, the things that you pay attention to, the things that you encourage, and the things that you ignore, all send a strong message to people about how they should behave.

The worst behaviours tolerated by leaders are an indication of the culture of the organisation

What are your views?

Start addressing the behaviours and culture in your business today.
It is a key element to introducing Operational Excellence into your business.

Enterprise Ireland and the IDA offer support to clients through their Lean Business programmes.

Click here for details.

The Skillnets ManagementWorks Lean Business programme will commence in Dublin on December 13th.

Click here for details.


Exhausted? Are you too busy?

Whether you’re the CEO of a multi-national corporation or a junior apprentice, we are all equal when it comes to time – we each have an allocation of 24 hours a day.

How each of us choose to spend that time defines our true priorities

You may hear someone say:
“I’d really love to learn Italian, I just don’t have the time”
In reality, a lot of other things are taking priority.
The statement is really an excuse, and requires a reality check.
Do they really want to learn Italian?

What you choose to spend your time on defines your priorities.

I’m reminded of ‘Groundhog Day’ on visits to some sites. The same excuses are rolled out and a lengthy account is received of how busy things have been.

What it really means is that short-term agendas have overtaken the longer-term improvement objective.

In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”,
Stephen Covey categorised time in this grid:

What proportion of your time is spent in each quadrant?
Ideally, our business leaders should spend time only on important issues. An abundance of urgent issues may point to an opportunity to improve processes.

It may also point to an absence of longer term vision and goals

Discipline is required to achieve a balance between

working “in the process” and working “on the process”

Allocating time to address this balance will achieve sustainable longer-term results.

Moving from “urgent” issues to “not urgent” requires definition of processes, training and delegation. Done well and supported by good standard work, the process can be trusted to

deliver better results

The added bonus is staff development and increased job satisfaction among those who take on the delegated tasks.

In some environments, being busy is seen as a badge of honour. Long working hours can be expected and applauded.

A lean approach looks at how productive those hours are.

How much time is value-add as seen by the customer of the process?

Start building your processes and your teams today.
You’ll be amazed at how much time can be released.
You may be interested in applying these ideas and Lean thinking to your business.

Enterprise Ireland and the IDA offer support to clients through their Lean Business programmes.

Click here for details.

The Skillnets ManagementWorks Lean Business programme will commence in Dublin on December 13th.

Click here for details.


The best start to Problem Solving

I tell this account as a means of understanding the Lean approach.

A number of years ago, I was involved in setting up a local youth club. As a volunteer committee, we agreed to meet for one hour each week on a Wednesday at 8pm.

None of us were prepared for the work involved in policies & procedures, premises, insurances, garda vetting, child protection training, not to mention membership, volunteers and events.

Our one-hour meeting was precious time, given voluntarily and we aimed to cover just a few items each week.


Those of you who are seasoned meeting attenders may recognise occasions when a meeting is ‘hijacked’. Despite the agenda, some attendees have a burning issue which needs to be raised and the earlier the better.

Our weekly meetings could easily be hijacked as we learnt early on.

The one I recall dominated a meeting shortly after our club got up and running. We commenced mid-September just after the schools had re-opened.
By November, the clock had gone back and the dark evenings drew in.

As our weekly meeting was about to commence, one of our volunteers said “Before we start, I’d just like to say that I don’t think it’s ok for our children to walk home in the dark”.

Our younger members attended the club on a Friday night. They were 5th and 6th class children, aged 10-12 years old. The club ran from 7pm till 9pm. It was pretty dark at 9pm in November.

Before our regular meeting got under way, we were busy debating how to solve the Friday night problem.

Lots of ideas were raised:
• We could hire a bus for the dark nights.
• Organise car-pooling between parents.
• Get hi-vis tops for all the children and supervise walking home.
• Write to all parents to request that children are collected during winter months.
• Run the club at an earlier time during Winter.
• Keep all the children at the club until they are collected
• Ensure we have 2 contact numbers for all children

As each idea was raised, it was met with reasons why it could and why it couldn’t be done.

After about 30 minutes, someone asked “How many children walked home in the dark last Friday?”.
Initially, nobody knew.

After a few phone calls, it emerged that no children had actually walked home in the dark. Two children had been collected late – they were brothers – and their parent arrived about 5 minutes after 9pm.

In actual fact, we had a very responsible group of parents and one volunteer who got upset at being delayed at the club.

It’s a simple account but as a group we had given half an hour of our meeting time to solving a problem without actually understanding the problem we were trying to solve.

In business, we can spend a lot of time and resources on solutions to problems that are not fully understood.

The 8-step problem-solving methodology is based on demonstrating a full understanding of a problem and sharing this with a team of stakeholders before we embark on selecting a solution.

You may be interested in applying 8-step problem-solving in your business and putting these ideas into practice?

Enterprise Ireland offer support to clients through their Lean Business programmes.

Click here for details.

The Skillnets ManagementWorks Lean Business programme will commence in Dublin on December 13th.

Click here for details.


stock envelope

How has all the stock disappeared?

This incident happened whilst working with a service centre and looking at the task of processing claims.

Unfortunately, in Ireland, many claims in this particular sector are submitted on paper forms.

The task was to map the process of approving these claims.

stock envelope
The process was mapped into small element steps and I was recording a number of claims being completed by Claire.

As is the norm with paperwork applications, we encountered a number of errors and missing information. This required Claire to either make a phone call, write an email or send a letter by post.
It was while Claire was sending a letter that the absence of a reliable supply system came to light.

Claire was out of A4 envelopes and apologised as she now had to walk about 100 metres to the stationary store to get some more envelopes.
Amazingly, in an office of over 200 staff, she came back empty-handed and red-faced.

“There are no A4 envelopes in the store – they’re due in tomorrow!”.
Luckily, Christine overheard the conversation and came to Claire’s rescue.

“You should have asked me. I’ve plenty under my desk”

and she produced a pile of A4 envelopes.
Later on, Paul, who sat beside Claire, returned from a break. Claire told Paul about the embarrassing episode with the envelopes (which increased the process step timing).
“That wouldn’t have happened if I had been here” said Paul.
“I’ve been caught out before – I always keep a store of envelopes under my desk”.

He produced a pile of envelopes to share with Claire.

It was becoming apparent that there were probably more envelopes in that office than would be consumed in months. Anyone who had lost time in the past may have now created their own ‘store’ in the absence of a reliable system – exactly as you or I would do in the same situation.
As soon as those envelopes come in tomorrow, Claire was going to create her own store.

If all 200 staff had the same idea and kept a ‘store’ of 50 envelopes each, there would be 10,000 hidden envelopes in the workplace.

Just like any shortage event, when word gets out that supply has arrived, it quickly gets consumed into those hidden areas.
Imagine the buyer being informed by Claire that there are no A4 envelopes in the storeroom having just received 5000 the previous day!

This same practice can apply to many consumables, materials and tools if there isn’t a serviced storage point close to the point of use.

A good lean supply system will consider usage, lead-times and batch sizes as well as location and service.

You may be interested in applying Lean thinking to your business and putting these ideas into place?

Enterprise Ireland offer support to clients through their Lean Business programmes. Click here for details.

The ManagementWorks project-based Lean Business programme will commence in Dublin in December. Click here for details.



The rush to solution

The first step in any process improvement initiative is to define the problem or business opportunity. This step is often completed far too quickly and in some cases defines a solution without really addressing the real issue.

Paul was a recent case in point. Paul has just commenced a project-based process improvement programme. He works in an assembly area on a mezzanine floor in a manufacturing company.

Products for assembly are brought to Paul and his team by forklift from the ground floor.

Paul’s project was to install a lift in the area as the team were often waiting on the forklift driver. He was quite frustrated that management couldn’t see this and wouldn’t justify the expenditure.


In fact, Paul had presented a solution without actually defining the problem and the impact on the team. We needed to take some steps back and understand what is actually happening.

The team had recently had to wait for an hour on work from the ground floor.

  • How often did this happen?
  • What was the process for ordering material?
  • How was this communicated?
  • How often did work need to be moved?

There was no data on any of these questions and no real process in place for delivering product.

The forklift was also used to receive purchased items, to load deliveries and to manage stock on the ground floor. Any of these activities could delay transfer of work to the mezzanine unless some notice was given or some plan was put in place.

It also became apparent that there was limited product in the process staged for assembly.

There was a need to map the entire process and understand how the work flowed within the business. Mapping forced the team to think about their process and their commitment to their customers. The links between each stage of the process needed to be understood and the team needed to agree ways of working. This is the 2nd stage of process improvement.

The ‘solution’ of installing a lift is now likely to be superseded by a pull system in the short term giving a clear signal to the forklift operator when product needs to move. In the longer term, the team are now considering a cell-based layout on the ground floor.

Like all good Lean systems, there is no mystery, just simple ways to engage the knowledge and experience of the staff already present in every business.

We are very proud of the improvements that all of our participants achieve in 3 months.

You may be interested in applying Lean thinking to your business and putting these ideas into place?

Enterprise Ireland offer support to clients through their Lean Business programmes. Click here for details.

The ManagementWorks project-based Lean Business programme will run in Dublin in December. Click here for details.



Who is responsible?

Imagine arriving at these 2 hotels?

How is your initial impression? How would you describe the experience?


If it was your business – how would you like it to be represented? Who is responsible for this representation – the individual or the business?

We can continue to assign our problems to individual error or we can delve deeper and explore the systems and processes that we have put into place.

“Management is responsible for 94% of the problems” – W. Edwards Deming – Out of the Crisis

It all starts from day 1.

Does each person hired understand why we are in business and what we are trying to achieve for our customers?

Do we share our processes? – the best ways that we have found so far to deliver our value to the customers.

Do we train our staff so that they fully understand these processes?

Do we support and encourage our staff to propose even better ways that we can improve on these processes?

The result in doing these things may be represented in the hotel on the right. The result in not doing these things could be represented on the left.

Or you may choose to assign responsibility to the individual in the situation.


Lean thinking is concerned with creating the right environment for our business, our employees and our customers.

You may be interested in applying Lean thinking to your business and putting these ideas into place?

ETAC run Lean programmes for businesses and through Enterprise Ireland, IDA and Skillnets.

Programmes will run this Autumn at various locations in Ireland, leading to QQI awards.

Click here for details on the range of programmes available.