Episode cover art


Episode 6 Season 2020

Staying Lean, Continuous Improvement, and Better Tools with Calvin Williams (Impruver Technologies)

Length: 50 minutes

Lean manufacturing expert, Calvin Williams, breaks down years of continuous improvement principles from some of the biggest, baddest global manufacturing companies into practical steps and simple tools for small manufacturers.




Guest(s)

Calvin Williams
Founder & CEO
– Impruver Technologies

Host(s)

Chad Perry

Published

03 March 2020

References

https://impruver.com



Read the Transcript



[General intro omitted.]

Chad Perry:

Today we’re speaking with Calvin Williams out of Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. Calvin is a lean manufacturing and continuous improvement coach having held engineering and management roles in some of the world’s largest industrial organizations. But now, Calvin helps small manufacturing businesses take advantage of the same best practices that have made larger organizations so successful, and he does so through leadership development and most recently as founder and CEO of Impruver Technologies, a cloud-based continuous improvement tool specifically for SME manufacturers. That’s what we’re going to be exploring today with Calvin sharing his methodology and some lessons learned in helping small manufacturers become more productive. Hey, Calvin, great to have you with us today.

Calvin Williams:

Thank you, Chad. I’m very happy to be with you.

Chad Perry:

Now, when we first spoke, one of the biggest problems you first mentioned was that a lot of manufacturers don’t necessarily have trouble getting data out of their operation, but they tend to have problems turning that data into meaningful action at every level of the business. If you can share a little bit more about how you arrived at working with small manufacturers and what the big picture problem is, I think that would be a good place to start?

Calvin Williams:

In total, I’ve been working manufacturers for about 20 years. About three or four years ago, I realized that small and mid size is just more fun just straight up. Part of the reason is because working with a lot of larger manufacturers sometimes they get a little spoiled on their own success so to say. They really struggle with the concepts of continuous improvement. Working as a management consultant for a couple of years, a company called AT Kearney, it’s a global company, I got to get inside some smaller manufacturers, mid size manufacturers even. It’s just a different environment where you realized that the smaller guys have a lot less bureaucracy, a lot less hurdles to improvement, and their more willing to take risks and try different things for the sake of getting better and really producing better outcomes.

Calvin Williams:

A lot of them have a lot of room to grow and are really looking for opportunities to grow. It’s just a very different landscape in terms of what management is willing and capable of doing and just coming in to help those companies tend to be able to produce, to move a lot further in a lot less time. It’s just a little more fun from my point of view because I’m someone who wants to do a lot and doesn’t want to wait forever to do it. Yeah, that small and mid size manufacturers seems just to be a lot more fun. Better fit for my persona I suppose.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, just a little more on that, it’s almost like it’s a trade-off, right? You get the big manufacturing companies or just big companies in general that have plenty of resources. They could move the whole world if they wanted to, but because they’re so big, they suffer from the inability to move quickly, whereas your smaller manufacturers are capable of moving quickly. They don’t have as many resources, but they also have more freedom in what they do in a shorter timeline.

Calvin Williams:

That’s right. It’s just a little more of an entrepreneurial spirit a lot of time where, like you said, the big companies is often getting in their own way of progress and sometimes can be a little bit what I like to dysfunctional in that way. Where they get really good at talking improvement, they get really good at the jargon and throwing continuous improvement around like it’s just a way of life, but the moment you actually try to practice continuous improvement, you run into so many roadblocks and hurdles and what about this and what about that. When you get bigger, you have a lot more to lose I guess and you become so risk averse that you’re just not willing to change the status quo or push boundaries on the status quo. Where I found smaller and mid size companies, they’re a lot more growth minded.

Calvin Williams:

They’re not looking at what they have to lose. They’re looking at what they have to gain. It’s a different dynamic. I’m a small business owner myself, so I get it and I’m very much looking for opportunity to grow as a business owner. I can relate to the mindset of leadership of a small to mid size business.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, and they have their own problem as well though going back to this idea of having plenty of data because in a way what’s happened with this whole digital transformation is it’s solved problem in that you can now really have anything you want, but that comes at the expense of complexity. Maybe you can speak to that a little bit about what that big picture problem is and the problem of too much data or not knowing what to do with it.

Calvin Williams:

One of the things that I heard a lot, and bigger companies say this a lot too, right, is we want to get the right information to the right person so that they can make the right decision at the right time, right? It sounds fantastic, but what actually happens is analysis paralysis is more likely to happen when you have so much data flooding into every individual at all times, right? If you think of a shopper going into the supermarket and they want to buy coconut water, now there’s 10 different brands of coconut water, right? It’s almost impossible to discern which one matters for you in that moment in your life, right? Which is going to give you the perfect balance of flavor and nutritional benefit, right? It’s too much data, right? Not all companies have this.

Calvin Williams:

There are still some companies that are in information desert. That’s sort of also a vulnerable place to be because if you are acting on sheer impulse, that get you so far, but it has its limitations as well. You’re almost reacting on strength of personality more so than facts, right? But then on the other end of the spectrum, when you got too much data, it sort of goes back to that dynamic of you’re acting on strength of personality again because no matter what you feel what you want to do, you can find data to support that and omit all of the other data. It goes right back to the same almost like an information desert.

Chad Perry:

It’s almost like you can take the steps to go digital and then you can end up right back in the situation you were in before, except maybe worst because now you have an overwhelm of information, as well as making the wrong decisions.

Calvin Williams:

It gets to a point where you’re manipulating facts to do what you would have done anyway. Your heart makes the decision. Your mind just justifies what you want to do anyway. But for me and what I’ve seen works. Size of company doesn’t really play into how well companies do this. It really starts with leadership and leadership being crystal clear about what it is they’re trying to accomplish. I’m working with a client now, and I typically don’t work with clients. I’m a software company, so I do pick up clients here and there that are using the software just so I can get that ground level hands-on experience, so I can see how the product is working for them and what struggles they’re running into and really how to build a more effective product.

Calvin Williams:

One of the first sessions I had with them, this is my first conversation with the president of the company. I say, “Help me understand in very few words what it is you’re trying to accomplish.”A lot of words came after that, but we ended up where we just need grow. We’re trying to grow about 3X in five years. Okay. That I can work with. I think part of that was helping me get clear, but another part of it was helping them get clear. Because just like a lot of organizations where you have people who have strong convictions and strong opinions, it can divide your focus to many things where one person says, “Quality if everything. We need pristine quality.” One person says, “Cost is everything. We need rock bottom costs.” One person says, “Sales and revenue is everything.

Calvin Williams:

We need to dominate the world and sell some revenue.” It can divide your focus. If you’re sort of a worker in that environment where you’ve got several powerful people approaching you and saying, “This is the most important thing,” then if everything is the most important, then nothing is really the most important. It takes that leadership to say, “Hey, guys, we understand the whole world of everything. We understand the whole ocean. We need to focus on this piece right here, right now, right? This is the next big thing for us to conquer as a company.” When companies get crystal clear, they set that priority. Everything else we’re going to sustain. We’re not going to let it fall down. We’re going to sustain it, but this one thing we’re going to actually improve to a degree that’s going to help us win in the market. Once you get crystal clear on that, then… I hate to use the word discriminate, but you sort of learn how to discriminate some of the data that’s out there too.

Calvin Williams:

You learn how to say, “This data matters. This is what matters right now and the rest we’re just going to put on cruise control and sustain that. Then we’re going to focus on improving in this specific area. This is what matters. This is the priority now. This other stuff isn’t.” That really helps you start to make sense of the whole sea of data that could be out there, both internal and external data to the company.

Chad Perry:

It sounds like from there you create or choose your KPIs that align with that strategy piece. Everything you’re describing, that’s not just a problem in manufacturing companies. That’s a problem in all organizations, as you said, of all sizes. This is very much a problem of adapting the right mindset, taking a step back, asking what it is that you truly want. I want to come back to the KPIs and defining continuous improvement and stuff like that, but I also want to find out first, you mentioned that one example of a customer coming to you or a client and you ask them what do they want, of course, what comes out is a lot of words. What typically does that conversation look like?

Calvin Williams:

It’s very typical For that question to produce a long, long conversation. It’s rare for a company to be so clear about what they’re trying to accomplish. It’s almost never that you can take a sample of 10 people in a company and they all give you the same answer. That’s the level of clarity that would be ideal, right? When it comes to continuous improvement and leadership and driving toward the North Star, it’s not about what all needs to improve. It’s about what we need to improve next. In every organization, take big companies for example, big companies have the luxury of hiring really talented people. A lot of them are very hard chargers for their area of discipline, which is great, but in a sense, sometimes they can muddy the water and create a perception that their thing is the thing that needs to be done next.

Calvin Williams:

They’re really good about creating priority about what’s on their plate, the specific KPIs that they’re responsible for. That dynamic just creates a… A customer that I’ve worked with recently. They had a really strong team, really strong management team, mid size company, probably 80 employees, but the finance leader, vice president of finance, was kind of a blue chip, super good, MBA business school graduate, and had a lot of respect on the team. This business was also trying to grow. But because the finance leader was such a strong personality, strong talent, even though they’re trying to grow, the finance leader was pushing an agenda of cutting costs.

Calvin Williams:

What that created was that while they probably should have been hiring and staffing up and selling like crazy, whenever the sales number softened, what they tended to do was say, “Wait. Let’s switch gears and let’s just cut cost so we can maintain a strong margin.” Sometimes in those cost cutting efforts, they would just say, “Let’s just cut 20% of our labor force,” without necessarily making real process improvements so that you can remove that labor. The impact was, okay, when sales strengthens again, you don’t have what you need to grow anymore.

Chad Perry:

Yeah. It’s very short-sided because there’s a limit to how much you can cut.

Calvin Williams:

Just cut and burn, right? The problem is that you’ve invested a ton of resources in developing the people you have. Retention is expensive. Turnover is expensive. Developing talent is expensive. You’ve invested all of these in these people, then you want to let them. Then when you need to grow, which is your longer term strategy is growth, you don’t have not just the bodies, but you don’t have the talent and the capability on hand to capitalize on those growth opportunities. That’s sort of the dynamic you see is that you get these personalities and sometimes personality overrules facts when you don’t have crystal clear leadership as to where you’re going and how quickly you need to get there and let’s align our resources behind getting there.

Chad Perry:

If the first conversation is a matter of just taking all of these ideas behind growth and all those desires and distilling them down into that one idea, I want to grow 3X, whatever it is that’s very crystal clear, what are they asking when they come to you?

Calvin Williams:

By the time they reach me, they’re sold on continuous improvement. They know that their plant’s probably aren’t running like a well-oiled machine. In the US, we say “running like a Cadillac.” Maybe that’s not the best analogy anymore, but usually people know we understand… We went to some lean conferences. We went to some continuous improvement conferences. We understand what it is. They’ve read some books, maybe seen it at other companies. They’re looking at their current business and saying, “Yeah, we need to do a lot to clean up our operations here.” The problem I run into even with them is that often time, like I said, that bigger picture strategy, strategic element, is disconnected from their operational continuous improvement efforts.

Calvin Williams:

The definition of improvement is making changes in the right direction, right? Oftentimes companies just make changes in operations. If your company is trying to grow and you’re making changes to cut cost, you may end up undercutting your efforts to grow. What you may have defined as an improvement because it reduces costs may end up handicapping your bigger picture strategy. I guess there’s a very well-defined set of tools and principles that people consider under the continuous improvement and lean umbrella. I think even the original folks who went out and studied lean at Toyota and some of those other pioneer companies in continuous improvement, I think what they missed is the source of all improvement activity being bringing value to the customer.

Calvin Williams:

Not all of them missed this, but a lot of continuous improvement programs now look at total productive maintenance and a lot of lean programs really focus on operations and safety quality, cost productivity, and those kind of things, service distribution, but they don’t take into account… They don’t start with, all right, what is it that the customer truly values? Do we have a deep thorough understanding of what the customer wants? Do we have systems in place that are constantly monitoring what the customer values and what they want? Are we feeding that into operations so that we can continuously evolve our operations around bringing the most possible value to the customer?

Chad Perry:

What would an example be of that? Quality, maybe cost, but I understand not everybody competes on cost.

Calvin Williams:

I guess I can give you a concept and maybe that’ll lead into an example, right? Quality, for example. Most companies have or many companies have a quality handbook. I know one company I worked for had called QMP, quality management practices, something like that. It was a set of rules around what the company defined as quality, right? The product need to be of a certain diameter, need to be of a certain density, certain thickness, whatever it was, right? Certain color, shape, all those things. The question is and oftentimes those documents, those QMPs become sort of hard coded into the company, they’re driven so hard down to the value stream, to the operations teams, that the customer shifts, the customer goes a different direction. We don’t like this color anymore.

Calvin Williams:

We like this color now, or we like multiple colors now, right? The market sort of moves towards something else, but that document doesn’t move with it, right? What the company defines as quality, out of alignment with what the customer defines as quality. Quality is a constantly moving target. The challenge is as a company, how do you keep your definition of quality in alignment with what the customer defines as quality and continue to role that through. Oftentimes it’s almost like militaristic discipline around quality as if it’s fixed, but in reality it’s always moving. The customer is always changing. The needs of the customer is always changing. Competition is always emerging and introducing the customer to new things.

Chad Perry:

Wouldn’t that really just come down to ensuring that your business as a whole is adapting to the changing market? Because it seems like if you change your product specs, you would automatically trigger a downstream process to change your quality standards.

Calvin Williams:

It should in theory, but for some reason I think there’s often… I know in the continuous improvement space, there’s probably over a hundred lean tools out there. I’ve actually written on this, a blog post, a hundred plus lead tools, right? There are very, very few, one really that I can think of, that takes the customer’s input into account. It’s my belief that every lean book ever written, continuous improvement book ever written, the first chapter should have been, “Here are some things you can do to deeply understand your customer. Once you’ve done that, then you can start rolling that into your quality policies and start, and then those should be triggering shop floor process changes.” Very few companies actually work that way, especially when you think about continuous improvement.

Calvin Williams:

They usually hire people with strong manufacturing background, engineering even, no marketing, no sales, no customer facing experience, to go in and just they just say, “Hey, just go out and make improvements. Go out and cut cost. Go out and make people’s lives easier.” A lot of times that’s what you’re tasked with in those roles.

Chad Perry:

It would seem like that’s such an obvious thing to people like us, but of course, we’re biased. We have engineering backgrounds. We’re obviously talking about strategy as well. On the flip side of that, when you have a manufacturer, especially a small manufacturing business, that almost assuredly does not have the resources to invest in a single person full-time to be focused on this, why is it that they don’t have those processes in place? Is it just a lack of focus by someone who is dedicated to that, or is it other problems as well?

Calvin Williams:

I’ve seen some smaller companies who do have very solid continuous improvement programs. They may not fit the textbook agenda and plan for CI with the perfectly drawn lines on the production floor and everything 5S and some companies are doing 6S with safety and color coded vision management boards and that kind of thing. That’s the kind of thing you expect when you say a company’s advanced in a lean and continuous improvement environment. I’ve grown to understand continuous improvement less about what tools you’re applying and what techniques you’re applying and more about your drive to improve. It’s more of a mindset than a tangible set of tools, right?

Calvin Williams:

Where if you’re a leader and you’re like this company that says 3X in five years, you’re clear on what you’re trying to do and you’re driving toward that and you’re making process changes to get there, the specific techniques you’re using to accomplish that to me are less important, but just the fact that you’re doing it, right? You’re making it happen, and you’re willing to try new things and take risks and get the team rallied around accepting rapid change and growth. Think about it like an athlete, right? An Olympian. A young person who is… He’s got potential. He or she has potential to go to the Olympics, and they’re training every day like crazy. They’ve hired a coach. They’re seeking out the best team in the country to join. They’re modifying their diet.

Calvin Williams:

They’re doing everything in their power to get to the Olympics and maybe even win a gold medal or something like that, right? To me, that person has a continuous improvement mindset, right? That person has it. If you stick that same person and they bring that same mindset into a factory and the goal is, “Hey, we want to make this factory the best in the world at what we do,” and you’re going to do whatever it takes to get there, to me that’s really it, right? You can see that in companies of all sizes. I think you’re small or mid size, it’s easier to do than if you’re a larger company because a large company has such deep ingrained history and status quo and that kind of thing where you’re going to make a lot of enemies just by doing the right thing in a lot of cases.

Calvin Williams:

I mean, to me that’s where it’s at, right? Me as a product developer in the continuous improvement space, software products, that’s sort of the first thing we look for in a potential partner or customer is, do you have the mindset? Do you want to win? Are you willing to do what it takes to win? If I get a sense that you’re that guy, you’re trying to win the Olympics here, then you’re the one we’re looking for as a potential partner.

Chad Perry:

That’s a very consistent theme that I have heard over and over with everybody really in the industrial market that has some sort of leadership or expert status. There’s always this focus on mindset first. It is important to have tools, but if you’re not going to use your tools, they’re not going to help you.

Calvin Williams:

Right. That’s a big, big thing. Yeah, absolutely. If the desire isn’t there, no tool can help you.

Chad Perry:

On the flip side of that, the successful small business owners that I’ve spoken with either through interviews or worked with in some sort of capacity, they see it as a bottom-up approach as well. They want to free up their talent, their staff to use their creative potential and to be able to solve problems that have some sort of downstream effect on how much customer value they’re providing.

Calvin Williams:

That’s exactly it. That’s continuous improvement as I’ve come to understand it. I’m someone who’s coming from a background who it was my job to push tools, right, for a long time. That was on my performance review is, are we using this tool across the plant? Are we using that tool, right? We need to be doing 12 Kaizen events a year. That was on my performance review for years and years. Through all of that and seeing what really led to success and what didn’t, I’ve come to realized that it’s less about, again, the sneakers and it’s more about the player.

Chad Perry:

Speaking of that, if we go backtrack and look at where we’ve come from, you’ve got a small business owner, some sort of leadership decision maker. They’ve approached you. They made that mindset shift. You’ve defined your KPIs. What does the next step look like, and where do tools actually come into this in a beneficial way?

Calvin Williams:

I think the next step is coaching, and I say that because coaching sort of bridges the gap between I want to be great, I want to really my transform my company and achieve things I otherwise wouldn’t be able to achieve, and that would be sort of the ideal state of performance where you could achieve with a coach. Without a coach, you’re almost flying blind. You’re going to have a lot more trial and error, and you just also don’t know how much better you could be. You know how much better you want to be, but when what it’s going to cost you to get there starts to take a toll, all humans can fall victim to our own being humaness, right? That’s where a coach comes in is a coach says, “You know what? I know how great you can be. I can see it in you. I know how great you want to be.”

Calvin Williams:

On those days when you normally would take a break or maybe cut yourself some slack, a coach would probably be like, “No, you should probably take it up another level right now.” Right? Success is a minute by minute thing, hour to hour, minute to minute, day to day thing. On those days where you sort of want to do less than your best, and we all have them, those are the days where you lose ground and you end up falling short of your dream. A coach is someone who not only says, “Hey, you just ran that race in 55 seconds and you should be able to do it in 50,” kind of challenges you in that way, but is also someone to say, “You need to show up for practice six days a week instead of four.” I make a lot of sports analogies. I love sports, and I see a lot of connection between continuous improvement and sports, even business and sports.

Chad Perry:

Sports analogies are very appropriate because this is going on in every aspect of our lives where we’ve got technology in theory making our lives easier. We’ve got technology making things in theory supposed to be cheaper, they’re better. At some point, tools are appropriate. But as humans, we tend to not necessarily approach things in the most logical way. What you’re telling me is that even once you’ve made this decision to adopt continuous improvement or to look into it, you’ve had this conversation to get crystal clear on the outcomes for your business, which represent the next step, not the entirety of your continuous improvement ambitions. Then you get an idea of your KPIs and then you engage with a coach and then it finally comes to time to adopt your tools.

Chad Perry:

I’d like to hear a little bit more about where Impruver fits into this and why bother to build another continuous improvement tool?

Calvin Williams:

Impruver can be your starting point for continuous improvement. Even before you even decide to do CI, you can be using Impruver Just to start to build a fact base, right, if nothing else. Because like I say, there’s a lot of factories that are operating in a desert of facts. Every decision is based on anecdotes and intuition really, right? We’re sitting in a conversation just recently where when we asked the supervisor, “Hey, we were targeting certain throughput numbers for the week and he hit a much lower number, right? What do you think has caused that,” and the first thing the supervisor said is, “Well, the supervisor on the other shift is running a test. As a result, we hit much lower numbers.” This was the anecdotal response. We said, “Okay. Let’s take a look at the other shift’s numbers and see if that holds water.”

Calvin Williams:

We go into Impruver. We pull up the other shift’s numbers, and lo and behold, the other shift ran much better.

Chad Perry:

A good idea of what happens when you don’t actually have the facts.

Calvin Williams:

Exactly. What would have ensued if we kept going with that initial response is, “Oh, that other shift manager is probably not doing well,” and all this other stuff, like a completely different path, right? When you pull up the facts, you see, “Oh, that has no bearing. In fact, we should be asking deeper questions here and getting to it,” right? Then we went down a whole fact-based conversation from that point forward, right? Really changed the conversation. Impruver at a base level, you can get there, right? In fact, you can stream all of your data into Impruver just to start creating a baseline and kind of see where everything is in one place, right? The next stage is, all right, let’s get crystal clear on where you want to go. Impruver includes a feature in there to help you decide where that is.

Calvin Williams:

Improve, what’s the next thing you’re going to improve. It gets everybody in the organization aligned behind that thing. Then it gives them some tools to sort of close the gap between where you are currently and where you want to get. In a glance, you can see where everybody is in their journey, right, to their next big goal. Impruver sort of facilitates that thing of I’m going to become an Olympic champion, and all right, now let’s bridge the gap between where I am to where I want to get. That’s essentially what’s Impruver is doing for you in a nutshell, but it includes all the commercial lean tools like root cause analysis, project management. It has all your data and metrics in there. It has your strategy deployment in there. Kind of has a disintegrated set of tools.

Calvin Williams:

A lot of the tools are well-known and understood within a continuous improvement world. It just sort of brings it all together into one integrated package instead of having five different ways to do what Impruver does for a $10 a month subscription.

Chad Perry:

That’s interesting because what I’m hearing is a super set of what I’ve heard consistently from other people in the industry, which is there’s a lot of times the question that the manufacturer has or that they start with is, I know I’m making money or I know I’m losing money, but I don’t know where. That conversation could easily lead to operation metrics, collecting data from your operation, from your production and putting that into some sort of tool that allows you to see where you’re making money, where you’re losing money. But that’s actually just a narrow slice of the larger context, which is how do you use that information to continuously change and to respond to now that you know where you’re losing money or where you’re making the most money, what do you actually with that information?

Calvin Williams:

That’s exactly right. I’ll give you another example, right, from a customer study. Okay? We’re working with a customer and they were measuring productivity batch to batch, right? They were saying, “Okay. When we start a batch, it should take us about an hour to finish it. We’re actually finishing these bathes in about 52 minutes, so we’re probably 95% efficient” I’m just swagging the numbers a little bit, but you get the idea, right? They were doing their batches pretty close to hitting their mark, right? If you go out in that production area, they got these whiteboards up and they’re showing numbers like 95, 90, 89, 96, some really strong numbers, right? We went in, Impruver went in, with my team and they were considering implementing Impruver.

Calvin Williams:

They liked what they saw. They said, “This is going to be a good tool set. This could automate a lot of things we’re doing manually. Come in and check in out.”We went in and we took a look. Of course, the first thing that jumped out at me is the 95%’s. Those always raise red flags for me. The president comes around and says, “Oh, you guys are thinking about doing Impruver in this area?” We’re like, “Yeah, that’s kind of what we’re thinking.” He’s like, “Well, we’re at about 95% here, so I don’t know if there’s much room for improvement there, right?” For me, that’s always a challenge. Oh, okay. You think so, huh? Well, let’s see. Let’s just see. Let’s look a little closer. We started to basically change the way their measure productivity, right?

Calvin Williams:

Where instead of looking at how long you are taking to process a batch, we want to look at 100% of the time you’re using in this area. Yes, the batch cycle time is included, but also how much time are you taking in between batches?

Chad Perry:

Right. Your set up time and idle time.

Calvin Williams:

That’s right. Loading batches up and changeover time and all those things too, right?

Chad Perry:

They weren’t measuring those as part of the 95%?

Calvin Williams:

No. This guy was kind of making decisions thinking they were about topped out in this area, right? They were looking at, we need to overhaul equipment in order to get any better, right? Yeah, we went in and we said, “All right. Let’s look at for the amount of time you have people clocked in and working in this area.” We look at that as 100%. Then we say, “Okay. How much good saleable product did you put out?” That’s your productivity. These guys were much closer to 20% than they were to 95%.

Chad Perry:

Yeah, that makes sense though because anytime that you’re working, you want to be adding value to the customer. Ideally that’s 100%, but of course, a business has all this overhead and that’s what the digital transformation is all about is about using tools to get closer to that mythical 100%.

Calvin Williams:

Exactly right, right? As we dug into it and the reasons that were sorting of keeping them from that 100%… I mean, because the reality is if you look at your financials, you’re paying 100%. You’re just not creating output for what you’re paying for really. I guess that’s the way we look at it. What we did is sort of start tracking their downtimes, start tracking how they were using their time and created a Pareto chart. Pareto is the largest factor first and then it kind of lists them in order from biggest to smallest, right? Their biggest two factors were probably three, four, five times bigger than everything else combined.

Chad Perry:

Yeah. I’ve heard that before where it could be… I think one of the last guys we interviewed said, “It could be that 10% of your operation is costing you all the money that you’re losing. If you just get rid of that, whether it’s just bad orders or some sort of junky process that isn’t helping you.”

Calvin Williams:

Right. That’s exactly what it was.

Chad Perry:

That’s right. Yeah. It comes down to using your assets more efficiently and you’ve got those two different kinds of assets. You’ve got your people assets and you’ve got your capital assets or your equipment. It seems like a lot of manufacturing leaders think about, especially in this case that you just mentioned, they think about their capital equipment and they say, “We need to upgrade this to get anymore efficiency.” But most of the efficiencies that we’ve been talking about, and this is also consistent with other people that I’ve spoken with, that you can get more efficiencies out of your business pound for pound, dollar for dollar, euro for euro, than you would by upgrading your equipment and getting some marginally faster machine.

Calvin Williams:

Right. The reality is that even by buying that machine, if you don’t really get to the real losses, they’ll still be there, right? Okay. With the company though, we sort of analyzed their losses and created this Pareto biggest to smallest. We saw that the two biggest factors were creating upwards of 60% of their losses. 60% of their basically direct cost were going toward these two activities. Neither of them made them any money.

Chad Perry:

May I ask what their reaction was when you finally arrived at and presented that information?

Calvin Williams:

Oh, it was an epiphany. It was like… The first thing they wanted to do was run out and buy new equipment. They was like, “Oh, look how much money is there.” I had to kind of dial them back from that and say, “No, let’s not do that. There’s not a lot of non-capital ways you can close the gaps on those two activities. Non-capital intents. No capital at all required. In fact, let’s let your people come up with the answers. Don’t solve it yourself in your ivory tower and run out and impose your solution on them. Let’s engage them and let them come up with a solution.” Right?

Chad Perry:

So many good points there. Yeah.

Calvin Williams:

There not only was a shift in how much better they could be, it was also a culture shift for them in how to get better, right? Improving the way they improved. This Pareto chart because there’s a big nugget in here for that, on this Pareto chart, even though two of them were 60-80% of their losses, just two items were 60-80% of their total losses, there’s probably 10 or 12 other items on the list, right? Rather small in terms of impact. In their minds they were practicing continuous improvement and the way they were doing it was chasing everything every day. They were chasing all 12 of these little items every day and saying, “These other things are sort of structured in and this is the cost of doing of business. We’re going to cherry pick what we can improve and we’re going to just chase after those.”

Calvin Williams:

Essentially what Impruver did was say, “Hey, stop chasing everything every day. Invest your limited continuous improvement resources in this one thing for now. Take the biggest bar on this Pareto chart. Focus on that. Put a team of people together. Have them meet weekly and come up with ideas to drive that one big bar down. Drive it like to the point where it’s not longer the biggest bar.” They started doing that. Within a matter of 12 weeks, they had doubled their output from that factory.

Chad Perry:

Wow.

Calvin Williams:

In 12 weeks. No capital. They literally doubled their productivity just by focusing on the big chunk. Like you mentioned, sometimes they don’t know where they’re losing money. Well, I think they were in that case. I don’t know if they were losing money. In fact, I didn’t get deep into their financials at all.

Chad Perry:

Obviously losing money is a lot worst in terms of long-term, but the fact is there’s a huge opportunity cost and the absolutely value of that is the same.

Calvin Williams:

Yeah. I guess it was just a paradigm shift for them to say, “Let’s not accept this as a cost of doing business. Anything can be improved. If you organize your brain trust around improving in this specific area, it too can be improved.” They learned that and they applied and gained tremendously from it. The structure Impruver endorses is called leadership standard work. Essentially what that is is sort of a layered management structure. It just creates space and opportunity for improvement to happen. A lot of companies want to do continuous improvement. They talk it. They sort of just expect people to start changing the way they work because it could make their lives easier. They provide training. They do these things, but then folks go back to work, reality strikes, and improvement doesn’t happen and they don’t understand why.

Chad Perry:

Especially if they’re using the same tools in the same way doing the same thing over and over again.

Calvin Williams:

Exactly. The same expectations are placed on them, the same constraints, the same realities are affecting their daily decisions and minute by minute decisions, right? What we’ve developed in order to help companies improve and Impruver sort of is a catalyst for this is called leadership standard work. It does three things really. Number one, it helps tie strategy to the daily tactical improvement, because really you should be driving daily small improvements and not just infrequent big improvements that struggle to sustain once reality sets, right? It aligns the daily tactical to the strategy. It helps to ensure that improvement is happening on a more regular cadence and sustaining.

Calvin Williams:

That’s the third piece is to drive sustainment of past improvements that are considered really important and critical for a business’ success. The way it works is most companies do some type of strategy, rather it’s annual strategy or whatever it is.We say, “Hey, meet every 90 days, meet every three months to just do a quick update. How was each strategic imperative going?” We try to limit that to just a few strategic imperatives. You don’t want 20 strategic imperatives. That’s not a priority. That’s not strategic at all, right? Strategy is limiting what you’re going to focus on, not expanding what you’re going to focus on. Then we say, “All right. Which of these is most at risk?” You maybe come up with one or two and say, “All right. These two imperatives are the greatest at risk.”

Calvin Williams:

Those flow into a monthly stirring team community and these management level folks who are just sort of prioritizing resources really. What they would do is they say, “All right. Do we have CI teams going on? How are they doing? Let’s get a five minute update from the CI leaders. All right. This strategic imperative is at risk. Let’s launch a new CI team against that.”What some companies do is say, “We’re going to have three CI teams going at all times. When one finishes, meets their target, we make launch a new one against the most at risk item from the strategy conversation,” right? That’s the stirring meeting is just really prioritizing resources. Information from that flows into a weekly sort of a CI project meeting where you assign a CI leader and they have a target that they’re trying to hit, we want to increase throughput.

Calvin Williams:

We want to implement tact time or whatever it is. Your top task with is your target condition. Essentially you assemble a team, cross functional team, to meet weekly and say, “All right. What did we do last week. What did we learn from it? What are we going to try next week?” That’s essentially the cadence of it. We could tie in the Toyota Kata methodology into that, the five questions target, actual challenges, what are we going to do next, and when can go see kind of framework? Those CI project leaders are sort of developing the continuous improvement thought process for their team and for the organization more broadly.

Calvin Williams:

Daily you have kind of a cross sectional group of people that actually go to gamba, go out and see problems that are being worked on or have been improved just to kind of lay eyes on the process as it’s undergoing the improvement process. That’s sort of the leadership standard work framework that we encourage because it creates space and opportunity for improvement to happen. It’s a commitment of the leadership team to continuous improvement as opposed to just saying, “I’m going to have a guy come in and give a two hour training. I check the box and I’m done.”

Chad Perry:

Yeah. The tool should back up the process. The tool should back up the mindset. The mindset is what’s the most important, and the tool enables you to make sure that you’re holding yourself accountable. We’re going to have to wrap up here in a minute, but how can a manufacturing leader who already has digital tools and already has a little bit of the mindset of what you’re talking about and they want to kind of start down this road, but they’re not necessarily ready to adopt a full on continuous improvement tool yet. What can they do with their existing data stream to move in this direction?

Calvin Williams:

Like you said, if you’ve gotten crystal clear on what you’re trying to accomplish, that’s the biggest and most important thing to start with, right? Because the data piece is sort of a smaller problem really because you could put up a whiteboard and start tracking things every day or Excel or a spreadsheet or something like that. There’s many softwares that allow you to track different things, KPIs, whatever it is. Impruver is just one of them. But tracking the right thing based on what’s most important for the company to accomplish is sort of the thing that’s going to help you either be successful or not in a much bigger way and to what degree of success, right? Just instituting the weekly let’s assign a leader, maybe somebody at the supervisor or even lead level, to drive toward a target condition.

Calvin Williams:

Let’s say it’s a compliance target. We want to become compliant to some standard or even a standard work document or something like that. We want to drive 100% compliance. That’s our target condition. Then that person’s task is to assemble a team, cross functional ideally, to develop and get into that weekly cadence of, “Let’s try something this week. When we meet next week, we’re going to review what we tried one thing at a time, one piece flow or one idea flow. Let’s review what we tried, what we learned from it, and what we’re going to try next week,” and just sort of get into that cadence. Essentially that’s driving continuous improvement. If you implement that and you stick with it, given even time, you will create something comparable to what most people consider to be lean and continuous improvement.

Calvin Williams:

You will have a world-class process in place given enough time of driving that cadence.

Chad Perry:

Hopefully the tools just support that in the way that makes sense for your business.

Calvin Williams:

Exactly. You’ll create pool for tools because at some point, you’re going to have to reduce changeovers to hit your target. It’s like, okay, let me go do [inaudible] At some point, you got to get to one piece flow. At some point, you got to get Kanban systems in order to get to the next stage. Essentially you’re creating pool and kind of setting the timing for those tools to enter the flow of improvement for your company instead of forcing them in right upfront and struggling with it.

Chad Perry:

Let’s end on one final note and that is for manufacturing business owners, leaders, managers who want to take advantage of your services or see what Impruver is all about or in some way get in touch with you, what is the best way for them to do that?

Calvin Williams:

The best way to do it is to go to Impruver.com, I-M-P-R-U-V-E-R.com, and sign up. Once you’ve done that, you’ve gotten the Impruver system and everything that comes with that. That’s instructional videos. You can tap a coach to help you on your journey. You got all the lean tools you need to get going and sustain growth. You’ve pretty much got… If you think what Impruver is is me taking my 20 years experience with some of these great companies, Nestle, Colgate, Tyson, Mars and so forth, Clorox, and boiling it into a automated system that does what a lot of what I was doing manually, you’ve essentially got for 10 bucks a month a seasoned continuous improvement pro at your side.

Chad Perry:

Thank you so much. Again, that website Impruver.com, I-M-P-R-U-V-E-R.com.

Calvin Williams:

Thanks for your time, Chad. I appreciate you having me on.

[General outro omitted.]