The Manufacture 2030 team caught up with Toni Whitehead of SA Partners about her work and asked her to provide you with some insight into the benefits and challenges of adopting lean within your operations.

1. How did your career path lead you to your current role?

 My early career was in the Ministry of Defence where I did a number of roles relating to procurement and supply chain management. Through successive promotions I eventually moved into transformational change/change management – leading and implementing a number of strategic initiatives within the MoD and Industry.  During these years I also successfully completed a Masters in Lean Supply Chain Management.

 In my mid 40s I took a 4 year career break and did a full time PhD at Cardiff, sponsored by the Welsh Govt investigating strategic supply chains in Wales. Here I was supervised by Prof Peter Hines, who jointly established the Lean Enterprise Research Centre at Cardiff University (with Dan Jones - Author MTCTW and Lean Thinking).  Peter was also Chairman of SA Partners – which I joined after completing the PhD.  I have been with the business for over seven years. 

 2. What has been a career highlight for you so far?

One was definitely putting into practice the things I was learning on my Masters – I studied part-time over three years, and I was able to align it with the work I was doing. At the time I was working in a large, cross-functional team, which brought together people from very different backgrounds – including military, working in a hierarchical structure as part of a newly formed integrated project team.  Getting us all to work in a concerted effort was a real challenge. I really enjoyed seeing what worked and did not work in practice in my working environment – and more importantly how we could adapt ‘models’ to fit and help us improve. 

3. What’s the most impressive results you’ve seen as a result of a company adopting lean?

We worked with Vale Clydach in Swansea, a well-established refinery that is over 100 years old. From the outside the business was very traditional, but they recognised that they needed to change in order to meet the demands of a changing market, and of their recent owners, a Brazilian firm. We worked with them not just to bring in lean techniques and processes, but to bring about real behavioural change, and provide them with training which would eventually make them self-sufficient.

In 2014, just six years after we started working together, they were awarded the Shingo Silver Medallion in recognition of their work. They were the first process-based company in Europe to receive the award, and for a few days after they did they were in shock! It really was a great achievement for them. They had achieved a 20% reduction in costs per tonne manufactured, but more importantly have effectively adopted the culture of CI, embedding lean thinking and improvement into everything they do.

They now host visits for other companies to come and see how it’s done.

4. For businesses looking to reduce their resource use by using lean, what’s the one pitfall you would guard them against?

It’s not about the tools – it’s about strategy, leadership, behaviours, etc. The system has to work. Lean Tools and Techniques are only one small part of the system of successful continuous improvement. It is really important to us to secure the buy in from the start – when we work with clients.  We expect the improvement work to be supported in full by the leadership or management within the organisation – it’s so important to have that at the outset.

So make sure that your leaders – whether that’s functional leaders or senior management – understand ‘why’ change is needed, what lean is, and are bought in to be sponsors and communicators of it within the business. They need to demonstrate commitment for real change to happen, and to be effective. We expect all leaders to walk the factory floor: for senior management that could be just twice a year, where for an area leader it would be once a week. Everyone needs to know exactly what they’re aiming for, what their role is and how that aligns to the strategy of the business.

5. Is there ever a bad time or situation to adopt lean?

Lean should be a system of continuous improvement and all companies have a starting point from which to progress – so no, there’s never a bad time.  We can all improve. 

To find out more about Manufacture 2030 and how M2030 bee can help to improve the resource efficiency of your operations, email for further information or to request a demo.