An Interview With Think Perform Facilitator Darrel North

  1. Darrel’s Background:

Darrel North, facilitator with Think Perform, has been a student of lean across many varied applications for over 15 years, facilitating both internal and external lean transformations and continuous improvement programs for retail, local and offshore manufacturing and various service based industries. Key program initiatives have focused on Product Speed to Market, Leadtime reduction and capacity increases for companies such as Pacific Brands – Hole proof, Bonds, Jockey, Sleepmaker, Sheridan, BlueScope Steel, Lysaghts Building Components, Telstra.

Tertiary qualified in both Learning & OD, as well as Lean Manufacturing, some of Darrel’s key projects and inititives include:

  • BlueScope Steel Westernport Transformation partner lead, designed and developed lean leadership programs for 650 participants resulting in ongoing annual savings of $15m
  • Led National Operational Excellence (Lean) strategy development and deployment for Pacific Brands
  • Designed, created and led major “lean office” based change management initiative across Pacific Brands for New Product Development reducing time to market by between 30 – 60% and reducing cost to serve
  • Integrated Lean Operational Excellence thinking into front end design, development and sales business processes across multiple functions for Pacific Brands Underwear Group.
  1. What would be the one thing that you hope participants take away from their Think Perform course?

One of the biggest lean misconceptions is what lean actually is, with a lot of people having had some exposure to lean tools, they think that lean is all about tools and in particular 5S. Nothing could be further from the truth, lean is all about problem solving, and applying lean tools to solve particular problems such as elimination of waste in all its forms.

5s is a prime example where people think it is about housekeeping, shadow boards and cleaning up – when what you want your 5s to focus on is elimination of motion waste – housekeeping and everything else is a byproduct of 5s – not its main objective!

Lean is about optimization of your value chain by maximizing value added activity to your customers, optimizing essential non value add support services and focusing on eliminating waste. This is done by applying lean tools and principles to do 4 key things; create uninterrupted product and information flow, standardizing processes and procedures, problem solving when there is a gap against your standards and visual management to sustain your lean system.

Parallel to this, you need to work on the organisation culture focusing on the 2 key tenets of lean – Continuous Improvement and Respect for People, within these are 3 core elements that everyone in the organisation needs to bring to the table themselves in order for a successful lean implementation to occur and be sustained:

  • Courage – ability to admit and face challenges and problems
  • Humility – understanding that you don’t have all the knowledge and answers, but can solve problems together
  • Kaizen – the deeper meaning of this is personal painful sacrifice, which entails looking at how you might need to change both within yourself and with what you do
  1. What are common problems that participants face when learning or applying Lean concepts and techniques? Do you have any advice to overcome this?

Apart from the obvious time and resources, which can be overcome by planning and not trying to work on a hundred projects at once, the biggest threat to any lean implementation is the full management support – everyone from the CEO down needs to be involved, know and understand how lean works and what their role is in a Lean organisation as distinct from a traditional organisation. Lean is a  mind shift change not something that you just delegate to your operations or warehouse manager. Lean and its key cultural principles were designed to optimize the whole of the organisation not just its individual parts.

  1. What is your favourite Lean/Continuous Improvement tool/technique/concept. Why is it your favourite?

I think a good visual management system is the key to ongoing sustainability of a lean implementation. Visual management is designed to do a couple of key things;

  1. Status at a glance: as close as possible to real time information of the operations (both service or production operations) focusing on gaps allowing for quick and timely intervention as required.
  2. Lean management system – focuses the organisation on its gaps and implements problem solving to address the issues at root cause, transparency and accountability.

It identifies and makes problems visible, provides a structure for team leaders to follow to maximize their impact (standard work) and at a shop floor level engages the shop floor in problem solving – this is the true heart of a lean organisation, transparency of problems being worked on by those who best know the processes.

What is the best/most unique/most interesting way that you’ve seen clients apply lean/CI tools and techniques?

To support changing layouts and moving both machines and operations around to create flow, some of the teams I have worked with have built scale models of their plant or office, and engaged their workforce in building them. This allows for a more visual discussion around proposed changes as part of the PDCA process.

  1. Any last tips/advice for readers of this interview?

Focus on solving problems using lean tools, not just implementing tools, and think about how you will support the cultural change required once you start engaging with your workforce. Take a long term strategic approach to your organizational lean transformation, allow for mistakes to be made in the implementation –but listen and learn from them. Find your own “true north” and stay the course!