Behind every successful lean transformation is a team and a good coach. Michael Galler, Vice President Operations of the Rittal subsidiary in China, likens this to tennis: “to become a top player, you need a good coach. together with Staufen China as an expert in lean management, the company initiated a far-reaching change process. successfully: Rittal achieved a cultural change and improved all important KPIs.
Vice President Operations,
Rittal Electro-Mechanical Technology (Shanghai) Co., Ltd
In the worldwide network of the Rittal Group, standardized audits identify deviations or anomalies in the production process. At the Chinese subsidiary, it became apparent in the mid-2010s that there was unused potential in production. Michael Galler, who had already taken over de facto management of the plant in 2016, initiated the early stages of Lean Transformation. This included a Lean Management training program at Staufen China in 2016/17. The first independently initiated measures brought about positive change, but not yet to the desired extent.
As of 2018, Staufen China has therefore been commissioned to provide support. The decisive factor to bring in external consultants was a company visit from the headquarters in Germany. Carsten Röttchen, Managing Director of Production at Rittal, pointed out the tennis coach analogy in a conversation with Michael Galler. Staufen was chosen because “we did not want consultants who would not assume responsibility and were only strong in theory. We wanted a partner who would stand by our side during the practical implementation,” says Rittal Manager Galler.
Together with the Staufen team led by Jacee Cai, Senior Expert at Staufen China, the Lean project managers developed a concept and divided the project into two blocks: Rittal was responsible for the implementation of the sub-projects in the first block, while the other block was carried out under the direction of Staufen: Shop Floor Management (SFM) and Hancho, qualification of the team leader level. The most urgent need for action was in the area of Shop Floor Management.
Mid-2019, the SFM pilot officially launched with the goal of strengthening the perception of leadership tasks by implementing SFM and, in particular, focusing on leadership behaviors. At the same time, it was important to develop internal resources for sustainability and continuous improvement. During the eight-month pilot phase, a total of ten SFM information centers were established with three cascades and eleven managers were trained and coached in the following areas: regular communication, process confirmation, problem solving, and employee qualification.
Excellence is not a skill, it is an attitude
The changes initiated by Michael Galler back in 2016 proved to be ideal in the course of project implementation. They included internally defined guiding principles, which were jointly developed by the entire workforce and today act as the company’s compass. These guiding principles strengthen cooperative and binding collaboration and are emblematic of the self-imposed obligation to continuously optimize one’s own work:
- Think like a business owner!
- Excellence is not a skill, it is an attitude
- Great entrepreneurial achievements are not accomplished by a single person, but by a team
- Communication strengthens us
- You do not need superpowers – focused thinking will lead you to success!
- Not just ideas matter but rather how the ideas are implemented
- Continuous improvement is a continuous journey
- Investing in your own development and growth is not selfish, it is self-care
Openly communicate the reasons for necessary changes
According to production expert Galler, the newfound cultural orientation and workforce’s willingness to embrace change are largely responsible for successful project implementation: “During a transformation, you have to leave your comfort zone. And the more people can do that and feel comfortable in their new role, the more will be willing to follow along. We benefited from an affirmative atmosphere right from the start.”
The positive initial momentum stemmed not only from the guiding principles, but also from a very open and transparent communication policy between consultants, managers and staff. As a result, the reasons for the necessary change and a positive transformation were identified together with Staufen. A conscious decision was made not to look for people to blame. So the focus was not on whether someone was doing something wrong, but on improving a process or action. Especially when reorganizing the shop floor, a defensive attitude can quickly develop within the workforce if the success, goals and reasons for change are not openly communicated.
Success in China is spreading throughout the Rittal Group
At Rittal, there was a clear, common approach that was supported by the entire group of managers and thus also carried through each department into the entire company. At the same time, the project managers were careful not to push for too much at once. Instead, an iterative process with smaller and more manageable projects was chosen. The time frame was also deliberately flexible to prevent too rigid constraints.
At the headquarters in Germany, the progress of the project was closely monitored. As the Project Manager, Michael Galler regularly communicated the progress and was met with a high degree of approval for the far-reaching changes: “We received broad support and were not put under any pressure. I never had a budgeting problem either. At the same time, a great deal of explaining took place and we had to orient ourselves to the specifications of the global Rittal system so that the overall system would not implode.” Word quickly spread at Rittal about the work in China – and it became a leading example. Before the COVID-19 pandemic restricted people’s movement, Michael Galler was on the road at least once a month and presented the changes at the Chinese subsidiary to the Group around the world. Over the course of the pandemic, communication shifted to digital channels, and exchange between the individual subsidiaries has even increased as a result.
All key performance indicators have improved
Key figures prove how successful SFM changes and the underlying Lean Transformation have been. In the global Rittal system, there are 13 KPI target markers, of which the Chinese subsidiary achieved significant improvements in twelve and at least slight improvements in one. For example, lead time improved by 10 percent, old inventory was reduced by 50 percent, and customer complaints dropped by 15 percent. Delivery reliability was at an excellent level before, but has now been increased to well over 99 percent. The fact that the transformation has been very well received and supported by the workforce is also reflected in the number of sick days, which have fallen by 30 percent and occupational safety (number of serious and minor accidents or close calls) has improved significantly.
Despite these excellent results, the Lean Transformation project is not yet complete for Michael Galler. On the contrary: “It is a continuous process that has to be anchored in the company so that even without input from me or other senior executives, Lean Management stays alive.” It is a bit like tennis, where the coach is not allowed to verbally coach from off the court during a match. A successful match plan must be developed before the first serve.