A process manufacturer with a network of assets spread across Europe needed to respond more flexibly to changes in customer demand while maintaining high asset utilisation, low working capital and low transport costs.
The situation was complex. The assets were different and had their own characteristics. The outflow from the installations could not simply be stopped between production runs, and a change of material resulted in a massive production loss – although a product type change without a change of material was doable.
The producer had 25 production lines and served 1,000 customers with a total of 2,500 products. In short, the perfect complex planning issue for which our More Optimal platform was designed.
The planners had been working with a combination of SAP and Excel spreadsheets. They were handling a huge number of variables and attempting to incorporate increasingly shorter delivery times. The planners understood their trade, but the complexity of the puzzle was too great for the resources available. There was much to gain.
Our generic More Optimal platform makes it possible to create a customer-specific application in a short time, with all relevant planning rules built in. The platform is set up in close consultation with the user. First, the relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were defined. These included (1) demand fulfilment, (2) asset pull / productivity, (3) inventory, (4) transport costs and (5) planning effort.
In a number of joint work sessions, we established the planning process and drew up the rules for allocating products to the various production lines. In addition, the transport options relating to production locations and the rules for product changes were built in. By working closely with the planners at every step, we gradually developed the More Optimal platform, and this now shows in real-time the consequences of the decisions made by the planners and gives advice on how to improve the planning process.
The application is also used to evaluate what-if scenarios and their impact on the KPIs. The manufacturer uses this functionality as part of the annual planning and budgeting process and relies on it for concrete operational issues on a more regular basis.
Companies that pack fresh products face massive complexity and unpredictability. They process many different products, all of which have specific requirements in terms of quality, class and size. They deal with a multitude of packaging requirements and variability in price agreements for each customer. And they handle huge swings in supply and demand. But the time frame in which packers must match supply and demand is short.
How do you balance customer requirements with product and process complexity to achieve high customer satisfaction and high ‘valorisation’? And how do you deal with last minute changes in supply and demand – for example, if a batch is rejected because it does not meet the quality requirements?
The packer had been using Excel spreadsheets to allocate products on packaging lines and carry out detailed line planning. This had caused misunderstandings and mistakes – and a higher workload than necessary for the planners. They were losing time creating iterative plans, and there was uncertainty about which version of the plan was most up-to-date and about which numbers were correct.
We knew that the More Optimal platform would resolve these problems and explained the benefits to our client. The need was so great and the benefits so obvious that the packer did not even want a ‘proof of value’, but immediately decided to develop and implement a dedicated application based on the More Optimal platform.
The goals were (1) to arrive at a workable schedule faster, (2) more efficiency in the operation, (3) shorter lead times relating to product freshness, (4) better demand fulfilment and (5) increased flexibility.
The More Optimal platform makes it possible to build a customer-specific application in a short time with all relevant planning rules built in. The application is set up in close consultation with the user. First, the relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are defined to quantitatively determine the quality of the allocation plan. Two of these KPIs were demand fulfilment and lead time (related to product freshness).
In a number of joint work sessions, we drew up the allocation rules for products and determined how products from suppliers should be allocated to customers. By working intensively with the packer, we developed a dedicated application that shows the consequences of the decisions made by the planners and gives advice for better planning. This application was further expanded with support from the planners in order to optimise the detailed planning per packaging line to minimise changeover times on the lines and to increase the throughput capacity (OEE) of the lines. The application measures the operational performance based on the agreed KPIs.
Developing new products and introducing the industrial production processes to support them is highly complex, especially when you’re at the limits of manufacturing technology. Increasing market demand only raises the pressure further, since each and every product manufactured can be sold. Also, demand for new product types was growing very fast. It appeared a toxic combination.
We had already worked with this business unit to solve its manufacturing problems and enable it to become a more reliable supplier, now the management team asked us back in to help them improve their innovation reliability and reduce their time-to-market for new products.
The situation in the innovation-to-market department was complex. There was strong demand for additional product types and the market was shifting from B2B to B2C, which meant a shift in product requirements. On top of that, additional resources were required to address problems in production, and the department was constantly hiring additional new product development resources. Competition was growing, so speed was of the utmost importance, and the improvement targets were extremely high.
Our analysis, which we conducted in close cooperation with the client, revealed three main problem areas:
1. Portfolio management
The innovation portfolio was too big, its content was inconsistent and the priorities were regularly changing. This situation had developed because of poor business and operations planning and, as a consequence, poor technology and product roadmap planning.
2. Resource management
a. The organisation had created a self-inflicted resource bottleneck. The problem was caused by trying to manage too many portfolio projects at the same time and by allocating too many projects to limited resources. The result was plummeting productivity.
b. The constant inflow of new hires was creating a skills issue. There was no time to train them, and knowledge was not readily accessible for the new hires because very little had been documented.
3. Project management of innovation projects
A project management process had been defined for only 2 out of 5 project categories. And because of time pressures, people were cutting corners in projects and tollgate discipline was poor. This behaviour was creating rework and thus project delays. Project quality was suffering, and this in turn was causing production problems and an increase in customer complaints.
We worked with the client to set clear goals to increase innovation output by reducing time-to-market and improving project reliability. The time-to-market target was a reduction from an average of 23 months to just 9 months. We set an aggressive 6-month timetable for achieving these goals and formed joint teams to drive the changes. Because the three main problem areas were very much interdependent and the lead time was short, we ran four workstreams in parallel: (1) single project management, (2) portfolio management, (3) business planning and roadmapping, and (4) knowledge capture and design rules. We selected six pilot projects to introduce the new ways of working and deliver actual results.
We set up a project governance structure, including a review team, a project team and several workstream teams, and established milestone deliverables. We used a combination of “waterfall” and “agile” approaches to get things done.
Performance improvement programmes must carefully balance human and technical aspects if they are to deliver significant, sustainable results. A critical aspect for sustainability is the development of a deep local ownership of the solutions to the problems. Therefore, we approached the challenge by ensuring the solutions were found by a process of co-creation right from the start.
The developers just didn’t have any time to spare, but speed was essential, so we started by slashing the volume of projects in the portfolio. Next, we set priorities and reduced the number of projects allocated to the developers. This was a tough process as there were many invested interests. However, this reconfirmed the analysis finding that the business had to get its strategic and operational planning right.
During the project we identified five different project categories, ranging from large, complex innovation projects down to factory support (crash actions). For each category, we designed and implemented project process maps, which included the project management methodology with team meetings, tollgate reviews, tollgate criteria, along with tools relevant at each stage in the project.
We designed and implemented a portfolio management process and system with clear roles and responsibilities, set up review teams for various project categories, established criteria to allow / refuse projects into the portfolio and encouraged an attitude of “killing” projects as early as possible to eliminate waste and maintain a manageable portfolio. We also designed a process for allocating resources.
In parallel, we implemented five different business planning and roadmap processes, including a technology roadmap, a product roadmap and an application roadmap. To support the development of knowledge and skills, we established a process to capture and document learnings from all projects, regardless of whether they had been successful, unsuccessful or ditched.
The results were impressive. Time-to-market dropped from 23 weeks to 11 weeks within 6 months, with plans in place to meet the target level of 9 weeks. Equally important, the results were sustainable because the root causes had been identified and eliminated, and the solutions locked into the Performance Management Systems (PMSs) developed during the project. The PMSs also included key performance indicators to give managers and employees ready access to the quantifiable information needed to make fact-based decisions, both as teams and individually, and to take pro-active and predictive action.
Throughout the implementation, a balanced combination of human and technical aspects drove the successes, and solutions were added to the PMS to support sustainability. By creating and communicating the right culture from the very start, we helped the client establish and communicate roles and responsibilities for employees at all levels. As the project progressed, employees began to see the value of their own contributions and to understand how their own performance influenced that of others, both within their discipline and beyond. As this understanding grew, a culture of accountability and collaboration evolved. Clear goals were communicated in a common language that everyone could understand, and employees embraced the new systems, processes and ways of working as their own.
Faced with rapidly ever tougher global competition, customer demands and cost pressures, the management team of this manufacturing and technology licensing company needed to increase both the effectiveness and efficiency of its innovation/R&D process in order to secure future market opportunities. The challenge was to increase the success rate of innovation projects and to cut the time from product concept to market introduction by half.
The company had a central R&D department, but there were also people working on innovation in the various plants across Europe. The people in the plants were closest to the customer and were working mainly on applications, whereas those in the central R&D department were doing ‘blue-sky’ development.
We began by working together with the client’s European business team, the R&D hub and a representation of process engineers from the various plants throughout Europe to analyse the “as is” situation. Three main issues were identified:
The customer release process was problematic because samples did not meet customer requirements, and this had created the perception of the company being an unreliable supplier for its customers.
The increased number of additives being used was creating in-house manufacturability issues and additional complexity both in the plants and in the supply chain.
Instability in the innovation/R&D portfolio contributed to an increasing time-to-market.
However, the definition and management of product platforms was strong, as was the skills level
throughout the innovation/R&D organisation. Therefore, there were some solid elements we could build on.
We worked as a joint team with the European business team, the R&D hub and process engineers from the plants to identify the root causes of problems, establish key levers to turn the situation around, and set clear and challenging targets. We set up a project governance structure, including a review team, a project team and various workstream teams, and established milestone deliverables. We used a combination of “waterfall” and “agile” project approaches to get things done. We selected nine pilot projects to introduce the new ways of working and deliver actual results.
Performance improvement programmes must carefully balance human and technical aspects if they are to deliver significant, sustainable results. A critical aspect for sustainability is the development of a deep local ownership of the solutions to the problems. Therefore, we approached the challenge by ensuring the solutions were developed by a process of co-creation right from the start.
We worked on three workstreams in parallel:
Integrated strategic and operational planning
We started to break down organisational silos by bringing people together from the business team, the R&D hub and the plants in a series of workshops to craft an integrated strategic and operational planning process and to create a management and reporting structure. This meant that when technology and product roadmaps were generated they were better aligned with the market requirements and timelines. This prevented the development of applications and platforms becoming intertwined.
Transparent portfolio management
We achieved greater transparency and alignment through broadening the employees’ skill base and developing the use of existing IT tools. This meant that employees were better able to deal with uncertainty and to understand investment alternatives when “go–no go” decisions were being taken at stage gates along the innovation process. The development of effective behaviours in the project teams and around these tollgates was paramount throughout the implementation.
design rules and complexity
The principle of product platforms/product families was well understood and adhered to; however, new applications were not being managed well. A variety of additives was being used to achieve the same properties, and this was creating more and more complexity both in manufacturing and in the supply chain. In addition, rules such as design for manufacture were not tightly managed. In one case the company’s client was deeply impressed by the time-to-market of the new product they required, and the properties were spot on. However, the problem was that manufacturing the new product caused the production output to drop by 30%.
We ensured that the design rules were more explicitly defined, documented and accessible for everyone. We also introduced clear accountabilities and responsibilities to tighten the process for releasing additives and managing their variety.
The “as is” situation at the start of our joint project provided a good basis to build on. Many of the elements of world-class innovation management were already in place. The performance improvement was due mainly to an improved organisational alignment (and integration), more effective behaviours and, in particular, a more disciplined use of tools and methods.
Of course, there are a range of useful multi-project-management IT tools that can enhance visibility and enable more effective project portfolio management; however, the challenge here is to foster the behavioural change and teamwork that is required to build on the IT capability and not to rely solely on the IT tool to change the way people work.
Innovation, in contrast to health, safety and environmental management, demands risk-taking. DuPont’s Robert A Cooper sums up the requirement neatly: “Don’t manage the risk of failure. Manage the cost of failure.” Achieving this goal does not mean avoiding failure; it means failing clearly and early. To facilitate this behaviour, we developed a clearly defined and staged project management process with tollgates and explicit tollgate criteria. In fact, processes were designed for various project categories. “Go–no go” decisions could now be made based on facts. The development of effective behaviours in the innovation project teams and around these tollgates was paramount throughout the implementation.
A container terminal reached the limits of its capacity due to a further increase in the number of units to be processed. The terminal also had to become more attractive for ships to dock by faster loading and unloading for shorter waiting times. Furthermore, container ships are getting bigger, increasing complexity and time pressure at the terminal.
The assignment was to increase efficiency to make more inbound and outbound truck movements possible and to shorten ship waiting times.
Based on data from the ERP system regarding plan and actual over a representative period, the current working method of the terminal was reconstructed in our Planning Platform. The actual operation was visualised and animated, allowing the movements of each individual container to be tracked from position to position. The reconstruction was validated and further fine-tuned in a highly interactive process with the client.
Subsequently, with our Planning Platform, the current operational performance of the terminal was determined based on jointly identified Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), such as the mooring time per barge, the number of crane movements in/out and the number of truck movements in/out. Subsequently, a simulation of an optimised operation was performed using the exact same dataset and boundary conditions. The comparison of the KPIs of the current and optimised operations immediately gave a clear picture of the improvement potential.
In close collaboration with the client, the plan for a number of containers was then optimised step-by-step until the total was finally optimised. After each step, the improvement was measured against the identified KPIs.
A global insurance company was receiving 40-50 claims a day which needed to be evaluated and verified according to several factors before being approved for payment. Most of the claims were arriving as unstructured data, either as PDFs or scanned documents, making it difficult to pull information from them to be entered into various systems – in a timely manner. As a result, claims weren’t being processed fast enough. The company was concluding each year with millions of dollars in claims left open, impacting customer service.
The company implemented RPA with ABBYY Flexicapture to streamline claims processing and payments. The software Robots took scanned claims sent through email and ran them through Flexicapture to turn the unstructured data into structured formats readable by robots. From there, the robots took the data, verified that all the information was correct and checked all exceptions. Claims that were accurate were approved for payment and sent back to the brokers. If any information was incorrect or there were exceptions, the claims were routed to an employee for further investigation.
The company had an history of growth and earning good margins. However, for quite some time growth slowed down, margins were declining, some key customers started to leave and the number of new product introductions had declined.
The Management Team wanted to turn the business around, had sharpened the vision and crafted a new strategy. Axisto was asked to support deployment of the strategy
Together with the Management Team it was decided to use Hoshin Policy Deployment to structure the deployment of the strategy. The process kicked off with a two-day workshop with the company’s Top30.
After sharing and discussing the vision and strategy, the ‘how to deliver it’ was explored in break-out sessions. The two days generated not only a clear sense of direction and alignment, but also a more connected and energised Top30 community.
In a series of follow-on worksessions involving more people objectives and targets were sense-checked. And the deployment was completed down to concrete break-through projects.
A supplier of consumables to the aluminium-smelting industry had been struggling with high-cost pressures and its ability to make product at a commercially viable price. It had taken drastic action by slashing costs across the organisation and cutting deep in the CAPEX budget.
Unfortunately, this left the company unable to respond effectively to a significant increase in demand. Operational problems multiplied, delivery performance fell and clients became nervous.
The key to improving production reliability was restoring the equipment reliability. We started with two parallel actions. One action focussed on reassessing the critical equipment and restoring it to a sufficient ‘base condition’.
The second action focussed on implementing an effective ‘short interval control’. This involved fostering a productive cooperation between production and maintenance, developing more effective behaviours in planning & scheduling and work execution, installing a fitting meeting & reporting structure and ensuring an effective break down notification and elimination process.
From the basis that was created by these two parallel actions, we to develop the level of professionalism that was required: In behaviours, methods & tools, communication, quality of the maintenance master plan and craftsmanship.
The owner had previously managed the company with a high level of entrepreneurship and energy, but with little attention to processes and organisational issues. On the surface the company appeared successful, but it lacked a solid foundation.
Some of the issues: decreasing on-time delivery (OTD), multiple product quality issues, low customer satisfaction and a declining profit margin.
A new top management team was already addressing the factory layout to optimise flow and enhance housekeeping. Axisto was invited in to improve production control and to develop a more professional middle management team.
We worked closely with the middle managers in Production, Work Preparation and S&OP to better align departments and improve their performance.
A more effective ‘short interval control’ was introduced to drive daily and weekly performance to KPI targets. Management and team leaders focussed more on First Time Right quality, and communication between departments was improved. In addition, some team leaders were assigned to other departments to ensure a better fit.
Earlier this year Axisto was invited to support a global oil & chemicals company to stop a long series of ever declining Turn Around performances. Together with the TA-team we managed to deliver a truly great TA.
Now a next Turn Around was scheduled; at another site. More work had to be done in less time in an old plant. Would the company be capable of repeating the high-performance at another site with another team?
The experiences and evaluation of our ‘Best Ever TA’ were used in the preparing and executing this short, high-pace TA for which the term ‘Squat’ was used.
The expectations of corporate were high and the Squat team felt all eyes focused on them. 80% of the team members were new and without the experience of the ‘Best Ever TA’. On top of that the standing organisation on site was strongly siloed and morale was low. All in all distinctly different from the other site.
The Axisto approach to create deep ownership of the scheduled activities and of the Squat as a whole, that proved itself in the ‘Best Ever TA’, was applied again. And the learnings were implemented.
The overall result was an even better performance than the ‘Best Ever TA’!