Industry Forum

Keith Nicholl1 million parts per month, from brackets to fully functioning coffee machines. An average batch size of just 36 parts and the introduction of 450 new parts per month.

Yet the employees at this fast moving engineering firm still found time to save £435,000 last year.

I went to catch up with Operations Director, Keith Nicholl, to find out how KMF Precision Sheet Metal Ltd. has generated this improvement culture.

In the last 5 years the company have saved £1.6 million as a result of implementing employees’ suggestions.

All 385 employees are eligible to register in the Productivity Share Scheme. Each idea they submit is rapidly assessed and if considered worth investment the employee gets the go ahead to implement it.

Progress is monitored at the weekly Continuous Improvement Review meetings, held for both day and night shifts.

There is an established tariff for savings. A standard amount of money is allocated per hour of time saved and for quality, safety and welfare improvements.

Each employee can make unlimited suggestions and actual savings made over the year are accumulated in a pot. At the end of the year all those who have achieved the minimum savings target (£1500 this year) take a share of the pot.

Since starting 6 years ago the number of employees signing up has increased from 150 to 282 and the savings have gone from £100,000 to £435,000.

Successful entrants have risen from 65 to 176…its tough and so not everyone hits the target.

The savings have contributed to a profitable performance and have allowed KMF to expand their business. In the last 2 years over £2million has been invested in new folding equipment alone as the company supplies new sectors.

What is the secret behind the success?

“It’s a back to basics approach” explains Keith. “Employees get training sessions in 5C, 7 Waste and the Plug Game. This demonstrates the benefits of those tools as well as flow.”

Despite the complexity of the product flow it is the application of lots of simple ideas that has yielded the benefits.

Keith adds, “Lean had been tried before but ideas were rarely implemented. Making the person who suggested the idea responsible for implementing it has made a big difference. The weekly CI Review meetings have never been cancelled and A3 summaries are used to track progress and capture learning as well as instilling a PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) attitude.”

How will you sustain the culture as you expand?

“When I started as Business Improvement Manager 9 years ago, there were two of us leading improvement. Gary Sutton is now the Quality Manager. The CI team who report directly to me is expanding to three.”

Keith now manages engineering, quality, New Product Introduction, design and the CI functions. This includes the set up and layout of new manufacturing areas and will soon add the recruitment and induction function. Add that to the widespread involvement in the Productivity Share Scheme and you can see that the influence of CI is spreading.

However as the product range expands and the company grows it isn’t plain sailing. Keith points out that it is very easy for standards to slip in an environment that is constantly adapting to meet its order book.

“The focus now is to reinforce the back to basics approach through the Team Leaders. If we look after the 5C condition everything else will follow”

Write in if you would like to share your success story with us or to ask Keith a question.

For examples of how Industry Forum helps companies with the back to basics approach visit our case study section.

KPIThere is an overwhelming, and sometimes conflicting, amount of advice about must have key performance indicators. Try these ideas to help you select the most useful for your particular business.

  1. Choose the KPI appropriate for the level you are measuring at

In your organisation you have different groups of employees. They require different information in order for them to carry out their responsibilities.

Research into businesses that have successfully implemented a continuous improvement culture concludes that you must use measures appropriate to each organisational level. In addition these measures must tie in with the organisation’s strategy.

Do the measures you have selected meet the needs of all the different user groups?

  • Shareholders, board and executive members.
  • Operations managers at plant and department levels.
  • Team leaders and team members at cell level.
  • Managers and team members of non manufacturing departments.

And do the measures cover?

  • Meeting daily performance targets and satisfying customer demand.
  • Achieving strategic goals.
  • Tracking the progress of improvement activity.

At the end of this post I have put a few links to articles and publications demonstrating the wide variety of measures you may consider.

  1. Don’t have too many

Just having one key measure will not give you the full picture. Equally having a one size fits all “dashboard” of measures with the complexity of a flight deck attracts limited buy in.

In my days as a fire fighting shift manager, a team of external consultants insisted my colleagues and I needed 96 key measures to manage daily operations. I walked out!

Perhaps if they had helped us to put in just 3 or 4 measures we would not have rejected the idea. And if those measures were selected to help us focus on our biggest problems and eliminate them……..

The key is to create a set of measures that are appropriate for each level of the organisation and tie daily business to the achievement of both strategic and operational targets. The Integration Model, discussed in a previous blog, helps you to do just this.

  1. Test it – could it drive the wrong behaviour?

An associate I recently worked with shocked me with this story. Many schools in the UK are judged on their pupil attendance metric. When it snows there are usually a number of children who can’t get into school and so the pupil attendance figure drops.

However if the school is officially shut for the day (often using Health and Safety as a reason) then the pupil attendance figure does not drop!

Is this metric driving the right behaviour by the schools? What is the knock on effect on working parents?

The same associate recommends this approach when defining your KPIs. As a team, brainstorm all the ways in which you can improve the KPI. Then examine if any of these could drive unwanted behaviours and try to mitigate this.

You may need to use 2 measures to ensure a balanced approach. You can achieve excellent Delivery Schedule Adherence by keeping high levels of finished goods, but this drives up costs associated with inventory. So measure Stock Turns as well.

How have you selected the best KPIs? What horror stories have you found?

Interesting Links



Do you find that no matter how hard you try you always seem to have some people who refuse to join in with your improvement initiative? How do you deal with them?

Well here is a really useful analogy I learned from my training days with the Nissan, Toyota and Honda master trainers. It works for me every time.

First let’s imagine a team playing on a field.



10% of your team are playing towards goal.

10% are being defensive.

80% are waiting in the midfield to see if they can move towards goal, or if they need to rush back and defend.

This is like your team at work. 10% are striving for improvement and embracing change. 10% are resisting change and new ideas; they defend the status quo. The remaining 80% are waiting to see what happens and then will rush to the end that appears to need them the most.

How do you get everybody to move forwards?

Option 1: Tackle the defenders

You spend a lot of your time working with the people resisting change, trying to persuade them to see your point of view. Maybe you give up and transfer them to another department or even sack them!

But beware! Let us think about the garden newt.


What happens if we cut the tail off the newt? ……………..In  a little while it grows back!

And this will happen if you follow option 1. If you pay a lot of attention to the 10% resisiting change or worse, get rid of them, your midfield watchers will rush to assist those defenders. Result – distrust spreads, more defenders of the status quo, and your initiative loses momentum and fails.

Option 2: Concentrate on the attackers

Pay a lot of attention to the 10% going forwards, work with them, and celebrate their successes. The 80% in midfield will start to rush forwards as well and join the attack. Result – feel good factor, more people attack and the initiative gains momentum.

But what about the tail? The tail actually follows along, it may never move into attack, but it does move forwards from its original position. It may even decrease in size.  However the tail will always be there, you can’t cut it off!

A cautionary tale

One day I forgot about this analogy and I attempted to engage one member of the team who was particularly reticent about joining in with the kaizen event. I asked him to go and take the team photos for me, so we could use them as part of the event story.

15 minutes later he proudly returned, not with a set of photos, but with a trail of other team members who suddenly didn’t want to be photographed or be part of the event! Too late I remembered about the newt’s tail and it took a lot of extra work to get the team back on board.

Have you had similar experiences? Let me know how you move your whole team forwards.




Appointing a project manager for each project has been identified as one of the six basic success factors to improve your ability to get new products to market quicker and cheaper.

In essence the project manager has the authority to run the project on a day to day basis and is responsible for ensuring project success within the tolerances set by the project sponsor.

Projects typically have to be delivered within certain time, cost and quality limits and within the tolerances set on scope, risk and benefits.

To simplify the huge range of information and guidelines for project managers I have created one simple model of core responsibilities. You will see that it combines PRINCE2 project guidelines with Adair’s Action Centred Leadership model, the PDCA cycle and vital leadership skills.

The 4 key responsibilities boil down to:

  1. Manage day to day tasks
  2. Manage information flows
  3. Conduct specific project tasks
  4. Lead the project team




  1. Manage the day to day tasks. These are represented by the Plan, Assign, Monitor, Control cycle. This is a version of Deming’s Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle.

The project manager plans the sequence of tasks to achieve the project objectives and the resources to achieve those plans. Plans in NPI projects typically exist at project, stage and task level and are produced at different times with different levels of scope and detail.

The project manager assigns some of the tasks to others; especially those requiring specialist knowledge e.g. design.

They then monitor the tasks to make sure they are on plan. If not then some form of corrective action plan is made in order to control the project. Continuing problems are escalated.

The control phase also includes the introduction of performance improvement, such as ways to improve cost or reduce lead time.

  1. Manage the information flows. The project manager needs to make the right information available at the right time to the right people, for them to make the right decisions. In our diagram, information flows are represented by the two way orange arrows.
  2. Conduct specific project management tasks. The project manager has the responsibility for; initiating the project, preparing for the gates and closing down the project. Useful guidelines on these tasks can be found in PRINCE2.
  3. Lead the project team. People are crucial to the success of a project; it will not succeed simply by having excellent strategies, guidelines, standards and rules. The project manager needs to balance the project, the team and the individual. Adair’s Action Centred Leadership model is a useful structure to help gain this balance.

To do it well the project manager needs the ability to:

  • Delegate to individuals and cross functional teams.
  • Motivate individuals and cross functional teams.
  • Manage people through periods of change and when assigning project tasks.
  • Adapt their leadership style to meet the needs of the team in a variety of situations.
  • Communicate effectively.

As you will realise there is a lot of detail behind each of these 4 key responsibilities, but hopefully these give you a balanced overview of the project managers’ role. Let me know if there are any other core responsibilities that you would include.


improvement methodology


Whether you have chosen TPM, lean, EFQM, 6 Sigma or another method, you need to ensure it supports the achievement of your operational targets and your strategic goals.

But each organisation has finite resources in terms of the people, time and money that can be dedicated to achieve these. Typically we find that 99% of a managers’ time is spent dealing with items on the operational side, leaving the strategic decisions and improvement programme as bolt on or additional activities.

The secret to balancing all of these demands is to not overburden the organisation with numerous different plans and to ensure that there is no conflict between managing daily business, achieving the vital few stretch goals and introducing an improvement programme.

To do this you need to carefully consider and then merge the review systems used to manage these aspects of your business. This then gives you the framework to position your chosen improvement methodology and maximise the benefits.

At Industry Forum we developed what we call the Integration Model that has helped organisations to do just this. Click here for an overview of the Integration Model.

Central to the Integration Model are:

  • Having performance measures for both operational and strategic management in one place
  • An effective steering and governance system

Operational and strategic performance measures in one place

The best way of doing this is to set up visual communication boards within the organisation and use them for reporting daily, weekly and monthly progress. We usually place these at plant, area and team level. The plant board is often called the Obeya and is developed over time to incorporate these key features:

  • The annual plan and daily performance measures, X-Matrix and SQCD in this example
  • Current performance vs. targets for both sets of information
  • Demonstrated links between the annual policy targets and daily measures
  • Action plans for gaps between actual and target performance
  • A method to limit the number of open actions

This Obeya schematic shows the maximum number of corrective actions and activity trackers, A3s, allowed to be open at any one time.



The link between operational and strategic targets and the number of ongoing actions are critical. If there is no link or there are too many open actions then your resources will be swamped and few goals will be achieved.

Effective steering and governance

This encompasses the rules that state who meets, when, at what frequency, what they do at each meeting and what the expected outputs are. In order to eliminate duplication and other forms of waste your steering and governance system should be designed to use joint resources, people and physical report formats.

Now that the operational and strategic goals are linked you are in an excellent position to embed your chosen improvement methodology. Do this by using direct references to the tools and techniques to be deployed on the plans and action trackers on the visual management boards.

Planning, deployment and review of your improvement programme becomes part of the daily, weekly and monthly reporting structure. Conducting specific improvement activities becomes the way to achieve operational and strategic targets.

Have you benefited from using a system like this? Let me know how you have got on.


Today’s managers are under tremendous pressure to meet delivery targets with less and less resource, let alone meet the changing demands of the customer. Shorter deadlines, smaller delivery quantities, tighter quality standards and all of that cheaper please!

Who needs the added pressure of lean improvement programmes or a Kaizen event? Releasing people from their day job and equipment from production is a tough ask when the customer is breathing down your neck. Unfortunately continuous improvement activities, just like training activities, are usually the first casualties in a pressured environment.

However, while your brilliant trouble shooting may have saved the next delivery, has it really helped you longer term? Ask yourself “Did we really solve the problem or will it come back to hit us again?”

To break out of fire-fighting mode you have to bite the bullet and start to solve the recurring issues. Don’t think of continuous improvement as a cosy training session, used cleverly it will make it easier for you to hit your daily targets and make all those improvements required to boost your competitiveness.

I’m not pretending it’s easy to make a start. As a shift manager I was very proud of my trouble shooting ability, but in hindsight I realise how limiting that was. However, with some basic preparation and a plan ready to go you can break the fire-fighting cycle.

  1. Collect some figures on what is stopping you achieving your daily targets.
  2. Analyse them to find out what the biggest problem is. This analysis may be by cash, downtime or quality.
  3. Break the biggest problem down into smaller categories.
  4. Find out what the most appropriate improvement tools or techniques are to resolve your problem. You may have an internal improvement team to help you or you can find an external specialist who can work with you to deploy the techniques you need.

Now you are ready for when you get a slight lull in the fire-fighting, or if worst comes to worst it’s a few extra hours!

  1. Display the figures and analysis on a board in the workplace area with the biggest problem. Handwritten is fine.
  2. Brief the whole area team round the board.
  3. Select a small team and deploy the tool or technique. At the start of your improvement journey the tools and techniques are easy to pick up and deploy. Have a go, learn by doing and next time you use the tool you will be more experienced.
  4. Show your results on the board and keep briefing the wider team. You can show results not only in the original analysis format but with before and after pictures, graphs and monetary savings. Different people will be looking at your results; you need to show them in different ways. The finance department love money – they want to see savings on the bottom line! Your team are probably more interested in how much easier the job has become without all the problems and hassle.
  5. When you have reduced the first problem pick the next biggest and keep going!

It takes time and perseverance but if you keep plugging away you will break out of the fire-fighting mode and release time for more improvement. Achieving daily targets becomes possible as you tackle each of the problems that exist now. Once stable you can concentrate on making those improvements you need to be competitive.

This is how I did it, but let me know how you have broken out of the fire-fighting cycle

Do your team leaders need to lead, manage and motivate their team as well as improve the quality, cost and delivery performance of their area? If so, do they have the necessary team leadership skills?

Golden Team LeaderTeam leader training is a very popular request from clients and courses are usually bespoke to the client’s needs. However over the years a clear pattern has emerged in the core topics chosen to start the team leader’s journey for leading in a lean environment.

These are a mix of continuous improvement techniques and key interpersonal skills. They are designed to work together to give the team leader the ability to change behaviours and improve performance. They are also the foundation on which to build a sustainable improvement culture.

  1. Quality, Cost and Delivery Data Analysis to assess performance
  2. Eliminating waste using 7 Waste
  3. Effective communication, whether sending or receiving this is an essential core skill
  4. Visual Management of performance and workplace conditions
  5. Effective team working techniques
  6. 5S to organise the workplace
  7. Managing people through change
  8. Standardised Work to analyse work and capture current best methods
  9. Delegation
  10. Motivation

The most effective way to train people in these techniques is learning by doing. A short theory session followed by practical deployment in the workplace ensures the team leader learns about what they are aiming to achieve and the whole team see the benefits.

Bear in mind that for some of the interpersonal skills role playing simulations can be a safer way to practise and build confidence before launching yourself on the team!

As I said, this is just the start of the journey in a lean environment and no doubt you are already thinking of other essential techniques and skills that the team leader needs, probably Problem Solving, Time Management and Health and Safety are near the top of your list.

To get a good grounding in the 10 skills listed would typically take 3 weeks of training sessions phased over a 3 to 4 month period with ongoing practical deployment.

My advice is to discuss your specific needs with your training provider and tailor the content of the sessions to meet your own requirements. For more interpersonal skills and how to use them in the workplace read Deploying the 12 Interpersonal Team Leader Skills.

Let us know what skills you would need in your environment or which skills you have found most useful to you.

If you want to understand more about lean techniques visit our Lean Transformation page or contact the Industry Forum team today.

There are over 200 Computerised Maintenance Management Systems on the market and these asset management applications are changing all the time.

The danger of just buying a system off the shelf without considering what your business really requires is shown by the results of a survey (A.T. Kearney 1993). Out of 3300 CMMS users, 80% of CMMS did not meet the expectations of the user. This was despite 74% reporting improved equipment history, 58% improved maintenance productivity, 58% improved stores and inventory control and 45% controlled and reduced maintenance costs!

Use these 10 tips to help you select the best option for your business.

1. Establish why you need a maintenance system and what you want from it

A useful start point is to map what you have now and assess how effective it is. Mark up any problem areas as well as areas you would like to be strengthened now and in the future.




Be as prepared as possible before you start your search for a supplier. List what you want in terms of:

  • Maintenance planning functions
  • Asset and inventory management
  • Analysis and reporting

2. Define who will use the system and their requirements

Decide who is going to use the system as well as who will implement it. It is vital to get user buy in so involve as many of the stakeholders as possible and agree the primary goals of the system. You may want to:

  • Speed up the analysis of Emergency Work Orders to prevent reoccurrence of identical or similar failures.
  • Reduce the amount of time required to collect and analyse maintenance data.
  • Improve the management of the maintenance budget.
  • Improve the issuing of work orders.

3. Define budget and timescales

Understand the budget available to you and the savings you expect to make as a result of introducing the CMMS. What is your target Return On Investment?

4. Search for suitable suppliers

Armed with your requirements you can now assess the different suppliers and applications available to find the best fit for your functionality requirements and value for money.

Comparison websites and reports are widely available and most vendors offer demonstrations or free trials of their product.

Then ask these 6 questions.

5. Is the application user friendly?

It must be simple to use for every level of user. From data entry and raising requests to planning work and running reports.

Look for; a range of data entry devices, drop down options, diagrams and pictures.

6.Will it interface with your existing business management systems?

This is vital. To make the system as effective as possible it must improve information flows across the whole business and eliminate wasteful activities. If it doesn’t then you will probably make these worse.

 7. Is full training is available for all user levels.

Key to achieving your ROI is that everyone uses and adopts the system.

8. Is the supplier stable?

This system is going to be in use for some years, you need a partner. Check their history, case studies, experience and references.

9. Is there ongoing customer support?

Can the supplier offer prompt issue resolution for the whole time your plant is operating?

10. What about future developments?

Over time you will need to expand your CMMS and make improvements to it as you review its ongoing use. Ensure the supplier can show their competence here.

Let us know your top tips for selecting the best CMMS system.

man with keysWe all know how easy it is to get bogged down creating detailed guidelines, slavishly following stepped structures and learning new terminology. Over the years I have deployed many lean and Total Productive Maintenance techniques across a wide range of businesses.

Recently it occurred to me that instead of creating ever more complicated explanations it’s sometimes better to get back to basics. Can we describe what we want to do in very simple terms?

Light bulb moment – all of our successful improvement methodologies are based on just 4 key principles! Understanding these allows us to move forward and ensure our lean implementation is successful.

  1. Think of the task you are improving as a process.
  2. Eliminate what does NOT add value.
  3. Pursue your implementation with unrelenting rigour and discipline.
  4. Involve everybody in the implementation programme.

1. Think of the task you are improving as a process

It doesn’t matter if you are machining a piece of metal or writing code for a program. What you are doing is transforming something from one form into another. This could be metal pipe into an exhaust, ideas into a computer programme, or telephone enquiries into quotes.

Once we can identify the inputs to our process then we can observe it, capture it and improve it.

2. Eliminate what does NOT add value

When we observe our process, anything that doesn’t help convert our inputs closer to the required output does not add value to our process.

I started by learning to identify and eliminate the 7 Wastes, then someone added an 8th waste. Later I learned about the 16 Losses in TPM and all the phrases we use to describe waste in transactional processes like disconnects, threats and back flows.

It doesn’t matter what you call it, but it is vital that you eliminate it.

3. Pursue elimination with unrelenting rigour and discipline

Easy to say, much, much harder to do.

I don’t think there is any substitute for leading by example and personally ensuring that everybody is doing their bit.

Always follow up the improvements your team make. Ensure physical changes are completed and behavioural changes become daily habits. This will prevent the hard won improvements fading away.

Once you’ve embedded that improvement you need to do it all again. And again. Improvement is infinite and better is not good enough!

All of the well known improvement programmes, like the Toyota Production System, are an accumulation of small steps in learning built up over time. They started with simple waste elimination tools that gradually became more specialised as the waste became harder to eliminate.

Dogged perseverance is the name of the game.

4. Involve everybody in the improvement programme

Not only do you get more ideas by involving more people but you spread the word more effectively. The benefits of working in teams is a subject in its own right, but this quote sums it up for me

“A single arrow is easily broken, but not ten in a bundle”.

My recommendation

If the technique you are using has become overcomplicated look back at these four basic principles. At least one of them will explain the aspect you are trying to understand. Start with the simple and then build on it as you learn.

Let me know about your experiences in mastering improvement techniques.

Check if your New Product Introduction process features these 6 basic success factors.

Before you start buying expensive design software or other automated tools to speed up your NPI process, have you examined your process procedures?

Having studied and helped a variety of manufacturers, from build to print suppliers to innovators who launch to market, I have found that these 6 factors are an essential base for any robust NPI process and will result in reduced lead times and spend.

1. Use a gated process

A gated process consists of sets of tasks, called stages, and review gates. See the Guide to NPI Terminology.

At the end of each stage the project review board MUST formally review progress and decide if the project is still worth investing in.

They need to establish:

  • Will the customer be satisfied?
  • Will it make us money?

I’ve found that companies who don’t have a clear gated process are more likely to deliver late, allow costs to spiral and develop a firefighting regime.

2.Ensure the gates have “teeth”

This is a great phrase that has been borrowed from the work done by Robert G Cooper. If the answers are NO to the questions above then be brave and either terminate or redefine the project and concentrate your precious resources on more promising ones.

3. Use cross-functional teams

It’s worrying how many times I find that people and functions involved in a project have limited contact with other project members. Even though each individual believes they are working hard for a successful outcome, in reality they could bring in a better product, quicker and cheaper by working in cross-functional teams.

4. Appoint a project manager

Having 1 person in charge of the day to day running of the project is more likely to result in project success (on time and in budget), but additional benefits are gained if the project manager also has strong team leadership skills. This is something I have found in organisations making improvements to established NPI processes. They improve the communication flows and engage and motivate individuals, which contribute to a better new product and improved project results.

Although smaller companies may find it difficult to appoint a full time project manager, there are other options. Whichever option you choose, ensure that their role and responsibilities are well defined.

5. Have a clear set of rules for running your NPI process

At the beginning these are the key elements you need to be clear on.

  • How you will identify, assess and control risk to the project.
  • A system for delegating authority to the different project team members.
  • A system to escalate issues outside the levels of authority they have.
  • A system to formally manage changes to the project.

The more developed your NPI process becomes the more detailed these rules will become.

6. Set up a system to improve your process

Formally manage the capture of solutions to issues that occur during each run of the process as well as team observations for improvements. Ensure these points are turned into actions for the next project to create a true Lessons Learned system.

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