Canadian Manufacturing

Three steps to a productive plant

by Lisa Wichmann   

Manufacturing Kaizen Lean productivity

Boost output and reduce defects with these productivity do's and don'ts

Toronto—Growing up in a restaurant teaches you everything you need to know about lean production. From inventory to food waste and on-time delivery, the daily clash and clamour of a commercial kitchen is a manufacturing microcosm.

So it’s little wonder Pascal Dennis turned into a lean evangelist. From his childhood in a Greek eatery to his stint at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada to his writing of the book Andy & Me (the turnaround story of a troubled auto plant), Toronto-based Dennis has seen it all.

His current role as consultant and author keeps him on the road, offering pointers gleaned from years of factory experience, and sessions with lean masters in Japan. So what does it mean to boost productivity? To answer that question, Dennis first describes what it doesn’t mean.

“Anybody can increase productivity and reduce costs by firing a whole bunch of people, running equipment flat out, and not investing in maintenance. It’ll improve for a couple of years but then you’ll collapse. That’s like playing tennis without a net,” said Dennis, in an interview with


By contrast, playing tennis with a net means balanced success based on good values and treating people with respect, he added.

Step 1: Make a deal
He suggests making a deal with employees: “say ‘you do everything we ask of you and you help us to improve and we’ll do absolutely all we can to ensure prosperity so you’ll have a job here as long as you want’.”

Step two: Get specific
With that culture of fairness—it’s ideal to include profit sharing or other incentives to foster a sense of ownership—good managers focus on getting corporate goals in action on the shop floor.

“Senior managers need to very clearly define their goals and focus on getting the right things done. But the emphasis has to be on deployment…translating those goals into activities at every level in the organization.”

Take for instance a mid-sized window manufacturer with 100 employees. The shop floor has 12 teams of eight or nine people. Every team has a display board with the company’s four focus areas, such as people, quality, delivery and costs, Dennis suggested.

Each focus area has a specific task. For people, it’s reducing sprains and strain injuries. Under quality: reduce lost or missing parts.

“So every front line team has got activities and it’s easy for them to get involved. We call it quick and easy Kaizen. We’ve got bottom up involvement which is focused by good intelligent leadership.”

One common mistake is forgetting the structure, he added. It’s not enough to simply ask staff for ideas in the general sense. “You can’t just say ‘OK y’all, we want you to get involved’.”

Rather, kick off each shift with a stand-up meeting, he suggested. Look at the four critical metrics and spend the last 10 minutes of the meeting talking about improvement ideas. “It’s not complicated but it’s standardized.”

Step three: Go and see

When productivity hitches arise, get a first-hand account of the situation, he added. He recalled working with a family-owned metal fabricating company facing tough competition from overseas. The situation was worsened when defects started showing up in the paint shop.

“All the experts, or so-called experts said ‘well, in order to improve your paint quality you’ve got to spend a gazillion dollars on your paint spray application. Your current technology just won’t do it’.”

Rather than jump on an ill-timed capital investment, the family turned to lean. “They said ‘let’s apply what we’ve learned. Let’s go and see and watch the paint spray application in great detail. Let’s educate ourselves and do rapid experimentation’…Essentially, they went through the problem-solving drill…and identified, one by one, the top three root causes.”

As a result, paint quality was significantly improved, with minimal investment, he recalled, and the company was able to vault over the competition.

Though every shop floor is unique, productivity is underpinned by these foundational concepts, according to Dennis. It’s also about balance or a “three-legged stool.”

The legs could be safety, quality and costs—not just the singular “productivity.” It requires more effort than cutting staff and cranking up the machines to full bore, but the revenue growth, competitive edge and quality boost may just well prove to be worth it.

Lisa Wichmann is editorial director with Have a comment or story about productivity?Email us!

Click here to go back to the Manufacturing Leadership report on productivity.


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