Lean Workout in Action: Fitzpatrick Manufacturing and Oakland University

Monday, April 8, 2013
The team at Fitzpatrick Manufacturing maps the value stream for the company's "build to print" business on long sheets of brown paper using colored sticky notes for each step.

Fitzpatrick Manufacturing survived the recent recession in good stead, but in the process of doing so, its business changed dramatically.

As its local customer base contracted, management sought out and won new contracts from non-traditional customers. These new customers were scattered throughout the United States and were engaged in industries as diverse as aerospace, defense, mining, drilling and medical equipment. With these new customers came new demands.

With Fitzpatrick’s broadening customer base, it became evident that lead time or speed to market would be critical in servicing not only the new, but the current, customers as well.

The new leadership team at Fitzpatrick responded on the fly to shorten lead times, while still maintaining the company’s reputation for high quality. However, the strain on existing processes made it clear that fundamental changes needed to be made to ensure continued success.

A lean assessment conducted by a team of Oakland University students pointed out that Fitzpatrick’s product build information flow process, referred to internally as the Job Folder process, was not keeping up with customer demands and was leading to increased lead time and costs. Based on that input and its own internal research, the Fitzpatrick leadership team decided to sponsor a team exercise called a lean workout. The lean workout was led by Oakland University Professor Mark Doman.

Lean Workout
The lean workout combines elements of an extended kaizen event and a jishuken event. The term kaizen means change for the better and focuses on continuous improvement. The jishuken event’s main purpose is to develop the leadership and problem-solving skills of the managers and employees. This lean workout was structured to use various elements of kaizen and jishuken that fit the realities and needs of Fitzpatrick’s personnel and to solve the problems of the Job Folder process.

The Goals
The goals of the lean workout were to eliminate the waste in the Job Folder process and improve the first-time quality for repeat jobs, and to develop the lean knowledge and problem-solving skills of the Fitzpatrick workforce.

The Team
The first step in the lean workout was selecting the appropriate team of employees to address the problems of the Job Folder process. This is a critical step because it gathers all the needed expertise and knowledge in one room and also helps promote buy-in for changes to the process. The team selected by the Fitzpatrick leadership team included 12 employees — one leader from each of the eight operating divisions plus an inspector, the quality control director, a sales account manager and an administration assistant.

Midway through the process, though, the main team was divided into three, and then four, subcommittees to get a more in-depth analysis of key areas.

The Schedule
It was agreed that the team would meet every Wednesday for two hours. The maximum timeline was set at eight weeks.

Team Meeting Process
Before the first meeting was even held, an assignment was given to the team members to go to the gemba, answer the questions below and be prepared to read them out loud to the team:

  1. Did you hate what you saw about the Job Folder processes? Why or why not?
  2. If time and money were no object, could you improve the business by 50 percent?
  3. What types of waste/muda did you observe?
  4. Do you feel excited about the improvements that are possible?

This was a great way for the team to start because it set the stage for everyone being involved and showing that everybody’s observations and opinions were seen as valuable. It also showed pretty clearly where each person stood on the current effectiveness of the Job Folder process and their enthusiasm (or lack of it) for improving the process.

Following the readouts, there was a lecture and discussion about the types of waste and lean tools — A3 report and value stream/process mapping. “Homework” assignments were given to each of the team members to bring basic information such as organization charts, process flow charts and key metrics to the next meeting.

The Roadmap — A3 Report
The Fitzpatrick team’s lean workout was designed to follow the six-step A3 report format used by Toyota in its global operations.

1. Theme and Background
The Job Folders process is the primary method at Fitzpatrick for communicating job setup knowledge and lessons-learned for new and repeat jobs. In earlier times, the normal practice was for management to assign new jobs to a division and for that division to handle any repeat jobs. However, with the resulting lead-time pressures, that practice was no longer feasible. Now, when a repeat job came in, it was assigned to whichever division was first available. This was a big change for Fitzpatrick!

In this new operating environment, it became clear to top management that the Job Folders process was hindering speed and quality with regard to repeat jobs. The job folders increasingly did not contain accurate and complete information needed for repeat jobs and oftentimes included irrelevant and obsolete documents. Job folders were frequently lost and then needed to be re-created by another division, wasting valuable time. And in many cases, there were multiple job folders for the same job.

All of this added up to a very frustrating and wasteful situation and less-than-satisfactory quality performance on repeat jobs.

2. Current Condition
The team first mapped the basic value stream of the Fitzpatrick’s “build to print” business. Once everyone understood that, the team painstakingly process-mapped the two current Job Folder processes, which are similar, but have significant differences. We started with the Job Folder process for new jobs, which are 30 percent of Fitzpatrick’s business, and then did the repeat jobs process, which accounts for 70 percent of the business.

We taped long sheets of brown paper on the wall and then asked everyone to state what the specific steps of the processes were. We used different colored sticky notes to record each step in the process. Process mapping proved to be the best lean tool because it got all the team members contributing and let everyone see how the current Job Folder processes functioned and where they caused problems to the Fitzpatrick value stream.

There was a lot of debate and disagreement about many of the steps of the process. When we could not agree or didn’t know the facts, team members were given “homework” to go back to the gemba to get the information. They used employee questionnaires, waste walks, go to the gemba inspections and “What You Know/What You Don’t Know” worksheets to help “clear the air” about what was really happening out on the floor.

When the process maps of the current Job Folder processes were completely diagrammed, they clearly highlighted the problem areas and demonstrated to the entire team the tremendous amount of waste in the processes.

The team quickly reached consensus that many different types of waste were present at various steps in the Job Folder processes, especially the repeat job process.

3. Cause Analysis
Why was there so much waste in the Job Folder process?

The team very early on established the root cause for the waste — that division leaders are the creators and gatekeepers of their respective job folders and that each division handled job folders differently. Each division thought its process was the best way and “everybody else was screwing up.”

In the past, each division “owned” its repeat jobs and controlled the job folders — so the existing Job Folders process was relatively efficient. Now repeat jobs — and their job folders —can and do move frequently from division to division to ensure delivery dates are met. These job folders were very different (non-standard) and could not be used by other divisions without a substantial amount of rework.

4. Target Condition
After many weeks of working on the process map, analyzing the problem areas and understanding the root causes for the problems and waste, the target condition for the Job Folder process took shape. The whole team rallied around five fundamental changes that the new Job Folders process would be built upon. The five changes are as follows:

  1. A standardized job folder with the same contents for all divisions for all jobs (new and repeat).
  2. A standardized central library for all job folders and a single gatekeeper who enforced the new process 100 percent.
  3. A standardized on-the-job (OTJ) change process in all divisions that was included in the job folders and later used to recognize innovative process improvements company-wide.
  4. An upgrade from Canvas 8 software to Canvas 14.
  5. Establishment of new tracking metrics: job closeout checklist, first time quality inspection and time per set-up.

The brown paper went back up on the wall and the team diagrammed the new design of the Job Folders process built around the five agreed-upon changes. When the dust cleared, a single, standardized and streamlined Job Folders process for new and repeat jobs emerged. A target condition was born.

Four subcommittees then went to work to flesh out the new changes and develop the specific countermeasures that would be needed to bring the target condition to life.

5. Implementation Plan
The subcommittees were in charge of their respective parts of the implementation plan. They developed the countermeasures, implementation plan, timeline and key metrics, and then presented their recommendations back to the full committee. The full committee would discuss and debate the recommendations until a consensus was reached.

6. Follow-up and Results as Reported by the Company
After final implementation of the new Job Folders process, the results were amazing:

  • The new process has 46 percent fewer steps.
  • First Time Quality has improved 39 percent.
  • New job folder creation time has been reduced by 50 percent.

Just as importantly, the Fitzpatrick team has dramatically increased its lean knowledge and problem-solving skills. In addition, this lean workout accomplished several other unintended results, including teambuilding, aligning visions between senior and middle management, and driving home the point that everyone is working toward a common goal.

Mark S. Doman is Pawley Professor in Lean Studies in the Human Resource Development Department at Oakland University and the director of the Pawley Lean Institute. Prior to joining Oakland University, he had 25 years of business experience with Ford and AT&T, where he held various executive positions in operations, human resources and legal. He has led several major organizational change initiatives throughout his career that included lean workouts, TQM, process re-engineering, kaizens and corporate restructuring. He is the author of A New Lean Paradigm in Higher Education: A Case Study. Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 19 No. 3, 2011 and How Lean Ready Are You? Target, Vol. 28 No. 2, 2012. His email address is doman@oakland.edu.
Kevin S. LaComb is the co-president of Fitzpatrick Manufacturing Company in Sterling Heights, MI. In addition to his 18 years of experience in manufacturing, he also obtained his master’s degree in Industrial Operations, where he studied lean concepts in-depth. He has been involved with various educational programs with the local colleges and has also been a strong advocate for workforce development and education in real-world situations. His email address is Kevin.LaComb@FitzpatrickMFGCo.com.