Case study

Case Study: Coaching in a manufacturing environment. Coaching shift leaders gains £500,000 p.a.

This is the text from an article published in Executive Engineer Magazine, December 1997.

FEATURE: QUALITY MANAGEMENT PERFORMANCE COACHING DELIVERS PROCESS SAVINGS FOR CD MANUFACTURER Coaching is a simple but often misunderstood technique for helping people use their own experience and perceptions to improve performance. It can be difficult to appreciate coaching as the powerful tool it is unless experienced at first hand. The following case study describes how coaching has been employed in a high- tech, rapid growth engineering environment where those being coached have dramatically improved a production process and developed themselves into a highly effective team, handing-up suggestions and solutions to complex manufacturing problems. A leading optical disk manufacturer who entered the fast moving CD-R (recordable CD) business with state of-the-art equipment and top quality staff, plus a hefty training budget, was of course producing results, but questioned whether further improvements could be made. Producing CD-Rs is enormously complex and requires a combination of extremely high quality moulding, sophisticated disc handling equipment interfaced with dye coating, gold sputtering and lacquering, backed up by banks of post production testing. Manufacturing success depends on a series of finely balanced processes, each needing careful setting and monitoring. Errors can result in a £2m machine producing unsaleable scrap at a cost of over £300 per hour! Not surprisingly machine down-time is expensive and apart from normal stoppages to replenish consumables, such as dyes and solvents, there are the inevitable problems with machinery, materials and process control. Having equipped themselves with two new manufacturing lines and employing shift leader technicians of graduate to PhD level, the company ran a development programme to train personnel and improve each process on the machines. After several months of fast and furious activity, production on each of the four 12 hour shifts started to level off. Figures indicated that the gap between actual and theoretical production output was worth closing. At this point, the company brought in a manufacturing and management consultant, Geoff Hinsley. Initially the idea was to bring on board additional skills to provide a short term boost to its manufacturing engineering department. The company had a lot of parallel activities running with the aim of improving operating efficiencies and developing ancillary systems, but admitted it needed more help. Speed of implementation and ironing out bugs was the name of the game to get the systems running efficiently for 24 hours a day. After an initial appraisal Hinsley felt that although the technicians were enthusiastic and well trained they seemed to lack cohesion and direction. He felt that here was a classic situation where ‘Coaching for Performance’, as described by Sir John Whitmore in his book of the same name, would produce the required results. Hinsley explains “The essence of this approach is that instead of merely giving advice and recommending changes based on my own experience and judgement, I sought to draw out the combined experience and judgement of the whole production team. This not only led to better solutions, it led to a willing, even enthusiastic, desire to implement those solutions by the people on whom the new processes depended”. FORMULA ONE In the CD-R manufacturing process green thalocyanine dye is used to change the opacity of the polycarbonate base material to provide the essential conditions for recording on to the discs. Substantial down-time occurred during ‘dye changes’. Cleaning delivery lines and replenishing the dye is a messy process which could take up to 3 hours and occurred at least once and sometimes twice in every 24 hours. Hinsley actually invented and installed a quick change – over system using manual valves, detachable pipe connectors and a pressurised ‘clean-in-place’ circuit, which made considerable improvements. However, he thought that the operation could be slicker from a ‘people’, point of view. Subsequently through informal coaching, (often in the canteen – a ‘safe’ environment on-site, but without the distractions of being on-line’), the idea of likening the dye change to a Formula 1 pit-stop was developed. Hinsley nurtured this idea and encouraged the process team to take it over and develop it themselves. “Of course this wasn’t difficult because everyone knows the significance of a rapid pit- stop” said Hinsley. “This simple association increased their awareness of the importance of a fast change and the procedure soon became known as a ‘pit-stop dye change’. By coaching the technicians to further develop the concept they came to ‘own’ it, and then old course it’s almost impossible for them not to come up with improvements” he said. Endorsing their activities the company gave them a budget and invited them to buy what they needed without further reference. INFORMAL COACHING Informal coaching was continued, sometimes with individuals and sometimes in small groups. Out of this came a concern to improve communication between shifts. One shift leader said in a previous job his experience was of shifts getting with niggled each other and descending into various forms of adversity – an extremely negative situation – and he was afraid that this was likely to happen here. Hinsley thought this was a surprising comment since care had been taken to build-in a 15 minute overlap for team leaders to meet at the end of shifts. Additionally they were well equipped with E-mail and electronic note pads. Having identified a possible problem the leaders arranged to talk to each other about a possible meeting. They were all in agreement and asked if Hinsley would facilitate, particularly since running their own meetings would be a new event. A two-part meeting was set up, attended by four leaders plus an invited colleague. The first Part was held on-site in a conference room, the second Off-site in the more relaxed atmosphere of a hired room in the local pub. ‘I wanted to encourage a sense of excitement and risk – going off-site is not the norm – and make the event special. I insisted that it was their meeting and they could bring anything they wanted. The only conditions were a fixed end time and an opening introduction by myself to set the scene and to suggest some basic rules. In the event, I was surprised by the frank tabling of problems and variety and quality of suggestions. In the final analysis the meeting developed over a dozen topics and produced ideas and actions to address them” said Hinsley. Coaching requires those who actually perform the task to examine what they want to achieve, what they are currently doing and what their options for improvement are. In this case coaching quickly enabled the team to identify a number of factors which they felt were distracting them from their main tasks. One item was the preparation of shift reports. Hitherto, various departments such as quality and production had requested numerous report formats resulting in each leader producing five or more reports each – a lot of work – especially if there had been production problems. Coaching style questions were posed. e.g. Why do you make reports? In what way do they cause you problems? Who needs them? What do you think they want them for? Can you confirm this with them? What action would you like to take? What action will you take? By when? Within two weeks the team had talked with the report recipients. The results were a reduction to just two reports plus a précis, and clearer report formats. Another interesting development was the proposal to carry mobile telephones for out of hours contact. This was a solution to the occasional machine problem that the attending leader could not quickly fix, but knew which colleague would offer the best advice. On a number of occasions process operators had found that a stoppage of a couple of hours could have been avoided by getting the right advice quickly. Here payback could be achieved on first use. It is interesting to speculate what the response to this suggestion would have been if it had originated from higher management! Taking the second part of the meeting off-site had the effect of changing the type of problem discussed. In the conference room they were generally operational problems, in the pub they had a more of a management and personnel bias. Again several interesting points were brought out and courses of action developed. In this situation coaching was the catalyst that caused the development of people into an effective team in a natural manner. All participants developed awareness and responsibility and enhanced their work and job satisfaction. In quantitative terms, the down-time for dye changes reduced from three hours to under 20 minutes – an annual saving in excess of £500,000.

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