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Nibbling change is better than chewing off too much!

A Tyneside entrepreneur is helping North-East businesses become more efficient.

Giles Johnston is MD of Smartspeed Consulting Ltd, based in Jarrow. The 34-year-old Chartered Engineer specialises in helping businesses become leaner and fitter.

One of the techniques he uses is called Kaizen, which originates in Japan. The term means improvement or change for the better.

Giles explains, “The concept is that of continuous improvement through incremental changes. Implemented properly, it helps overcome resistance to change because it is designed to allay fears and involve all concerned.

“Kaizen is very different from the big scale command and control management style that has so dominated British Industry for decades. This is because the technique focuses on solving particular problems through a step-by-step process.

“In short, it promotes nibbling change and not chewing off too much!

“Kaizen is very much about involving the workers in finding solutions as opposed to management just issuing decrees. It emphasises the importance and value of the people who really matter – front line staff.

“Your products and services are created by your front line staff, not your management team or your accounts or your HR policy. Organisations need to focus all of their efforts – like a laser beam – on the needs of their customers, giving them the best products and services possible, and this can best be done by working with your front line staff to improve your systems of working.

“By getting more efficient at what it does, a company reduces its costs and can give greater value to the client. Kaizen can help with this.

“A good example is work I recently did for Ford Component Manufacturing Limited in South Shields.

“They were developing a new production scheduling tool. This is used for planning production floor operations and it was needed to cover eight weeks of work in advance.

“The staff involved had major reservations about the feasibility of this and so I worked with the management team, the staff and the shop floor, to arrive a solution that was acceptable to all sides.

“As a test exercise, the workforce used the production scheduling tool with a one week horizon. This helped identify issues and problems and the production teams then refined the planning tool and used it with a two week view into the future.

“This process was repeated, with the new scheduling tool now covering four weeks of production. At the end of each trial, the people on the shop floor were able to refine the tool and then use it again. Finally, the scheduling tool was indeed able to be used to plan production over an eight week time horizon.

“Now, if the management had simply introduced the planning tool without this consultation process, it quite possibly would not have worked, the staff wouldn’t have accepted it, it would have been looked at but not used!

“Through small step-by-step refinements by the people on the production line, the people who would be using it, they sold the scheduling tool to themselves!

“An important part of my job is listening to the concerns of production line workers and staff in this way. I have found this process of incremental change followed by review then another small step of re-aligned change to be particularly effective.

“I think this is a very current issue because organisations in both the public and private sectors face having to embrace big changes, to become leaner and more efficient, fit enough for the rigours of the new economy.

“Kaizen is a very effective tool for enabling that required change.”

Smartspeed Consulting Limited
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