How cultural change has fueled our transformation

INTERVIEW – This metalworking company based in Poland has leveraged the cultural change brought by Lean Thinking to significantly improve its processes. Ahead of his presentation at the LGC, their lean manager tells us how they did it.

Interviewee: Eryk Fedyniak, Lean Manager, Inter-Metal s.c.

Planet Lean: Can you please introduce Inter-Metal to our readers? 

Eryk Fedyniak: Inter-Metal s.c. was founded in 2005. We are located in Bonin, near Koszalin, in northern Poland. Inter-Metal s.c. deals with comprehensive metalworking and strives to produce the highest-quality products and to provide full customer satisfaction by adapting to any need or requirement.

PL: What led the company to turn to Lean Thinking? In other words, what was the problem you were trying to solve? 

EF: The idea came from two of our middle managers. As the company grew, we began to cooperate with increasingly demanding clients. It turned out that although we spoke the same language, we couldn’t understand them. They asked us about things like complaint management or on-time delivery, and we didn’t know what they were. Following a recommendation from a friend who was engaged in a lean implementation at his company, the two managers started to read some lean books and realized there was room for improvement at Inter-Metal. We didn’t have a way of managing knowledge, nor a long-term strategy. Our bonus system was based on quantity rather than quality and we were overproducing back then. That’s how the idea of practicing lean started to spread in the organization. We hoped it would help us to tackle these issues.

PL: What were the key milestones in your journey? 

EF: The first step was to recognize that we had a lot of waste in the company. Then, we had to convince the rest of the management team and our owner that we needed to change the way we worked. The third milestone was finding the right partner to accompany us on this journey. That’s how Lean Enterprise Institute Polska came into the picture. They carried out an enterprise audit that opened our eyes to our current state. Following the assessment, we kicked off an intensive training initiative that reached all Inter-Metal employees, including the front-line employees. From that moment on, we have been practicing lean non-stop, aware that what we have embarked upon is a never-ending journey and that there is always a better way of doing things. 

PL: What results were you able to achieve?

EF: First of all, we increased our sales while slashing the number of complaints. This was very important to us, because customer satisfaction is such a big part of our strategy. The amount of scrap also decreased. Thanks to lean, we have learned to work as a team: before we set out on our transformation, each department focused on its work with no understanding of how it impacted the rest of the organization. Problems were routinely pushed over the fence to other areas, a behavior that our bonus system incentivized. With Lean Thinking, all that has changed. It’s amazing to see people look beyond their own interests and departments and think how to work in a way that benefits everyone. Other key results were reducing overproduction by moving to a pull system (we only produce what is needed at the moment) and coming up with a solid system for knowledge sharing so that information is available to everyone.

PL: Your transformation was enabled by cultural change. What were the enablers of this cultural shift? 

EF: The first enabler was the familiar atmosphere in our company. About 70 people worked for us at that time, and everyone knew each other well (which isn’t, of course, to say that the behavioral patterns and dynamics that existed didn’t need reviewing). Other important factors were the choice of a good partner for the transformation – we cannot thank Lean Enterprise Institute Polska enough – and the sincere engagement of the entire management team, including the owner, in the transformation process (which was testament to the great faith of the company leaders had in the lean transformation). It was these three elements that encouraged people to be open to changing.

Tools also played a big part in the development of our organizational culture, in particular operational meetings and Hoshin Kanri. The former created teams that could solve problems together and effectively, thus having a positive impact on the results of their department. The latter, critically, changed the mindset of top management. (And we can’t forget the awareness-raising training provided by the LEI.)

PL: Speaking of tools, what were the main ones you utilized? 

EF: Besides Hoshin Kanri (which currently works on one level at Inter-Metal) and operational meetings (that are held on three levels), we used other techniques. A well-developed 5S facilitates work, ensuring safety and order – something that even our clients notice when they visit us. We also have standards stabilizing our processes and providing a common point of reference that helps to prevent errors or accidents. We also use A3 reports to solve large and complex problems.

TWI has also been instrumental to our success, enabling fast learning and flexibility in our organization (critical when you don’t have your own product but provide services). Furthermore, improving our work methods increases our profitability, while development opportunities make our operators more satisfied with their work with us.

PL: What can attendees expect to learn from your presentation at the Lean Global Connection? 

EF: During my presentation, you will be able to find out what mistakes we made before we began practicing lean as well as during the transformation. I hope this will prevent attendees from making the same mistakes we made. If those watching have not set out on their lean journey yet, I am sure our story will inspire them to do so.