The executive view: practical insights of a lean transformation

February 17, 2021 | General, Leadership and Organizational Development, Lean Management, Staufen Academy

The executive view

Interview with Stefan Ott, Shareholder and CEO of Mitras Composites Systems GmbH

Staufen: What advantages and opportunities has the Lean Management training offered you to advance yourself and your company?

Stefan Ott: We generate more value and make every effort to avoid waste, as understood with the term “Lean”. We have demonstrably improved our products and processes. We have been able to change our organizational structure and leadership concepts, while aligning our thought principles and methods in the direction of “Lean”. In some ways, we at Mitras Composites Systems GmbH had already been working in accordance with Lean principles before we introduced Lean, yet today we are much more conscious of our actions in this regard.

We are already in the middle of the implementation process in our organization with respect to Lean. We are turning quite a few small dials and are doing what we can to have all departments on board. For us, the Lean journey is a topic that relates to the entire company. Everyone must be integrated in the process.

My own training in Lean has helped me on a personal level to internalize the Lean philosophy and to better understand and implement the Lean methods.

Staufen: You have been implementing Lean measures in our company for quite a few years. How were they implemented at the start? Has Lean been lived from the beginning?

Stefan Ott: We started our Lean journey as far back as in 2014 by offering Lean Six Sigma training to a select group of employees. Yet, it wasn’t long until we discovered that Six Sigma really didn’t make sense for us, because we only run smaller batch sizes of no more than 1,500 units in the Mitras Composites product program. We saw no benefit in Six Sigma, which is why it was never truly accepted in our company. So, only two years after its introduction, we discontinued Six Sigma and made the decision to start all over: In 2016, we then introduced Lean. The initial steps of this introduction were the most difficult, because on the one hand we had already been burnt by our experience with Six Sigma. On the other hand, introducing Lean has nothing to do with the implementation of new tools, but instead with initiating a culture change within the company, which is in fact a long-term endeavor.

Staufen: What has your Lean journey looked like so far? How did it start?

Stefan Ott: As CEO, I really wanted to introduce Lean into our organization: I am very passionate about Lean and I try to spread it throughout the company and win others over.

We can break our Lean journey down into the following steps:

  1. In the first step, I familiarized my leadership team with the Lean philosophy and convinced them of it, and eventually I obtained a commitment from them to introduce Lean. The leadership team supported me in the following steps of the launch, which was very important.
  2. In the second step, at two staff meetings, we informed our employees about our plans to introduce Lean throughout the company. We prepared for the change in small teams, explaining what Lean is all about in internal training sessions. In this step, we also ensured our employees that the objective definitely had nothing to do with staff cuts. We explained again and again that our goal as a company was to grow and we could only do this with each and every one of the employees.
  3. As a third step, we started with an initial pilot project in toolmaking, where we converted our set-up processes to Lean. We quickly recognized everything we could achieve with Lean and as such, we were even able to convince those in our company with the greatest doubts.
  4. The introduction of Lean was continued one step at a time with the implementation of “5 S” as the basis, Shop Floor Management, the use of A3 solution sheets and value stream analyses.

Staufen: How did your employees respond to the changes and the introduction of Lean?

Stefan Ott: Up until now, our Lean journey so far has been characterized by a great deal of persuasion: Change is difficult and cannot simply be directed from the top. Not everyone was enthusiastic about our new endeavor: Some of the executives joined in immediately, others just sat back and took a wait-and-see approach. And then there were others who were totally against the change. We attempted to persuade them as well.

We also experienced the “trail of tears”. Sometimes we fell down while implementing Lean, but we always got right back up again. We had to completely reorganize our company, one step at a time. What was critical was that all of our executives were involved and that they exemplified Lean. Because, what is essential when implementing Lean is not simply how Lean tools are applied, but that a change takes place in people’s minds.

Staufen: How did you come to register for an executive training program at Staufen? What was the objective you wanted to achieve with the training?

Stefan Ott: I wanted to further qualify myself as a means to further develop our leadership culture and advance our company. To achieve this, what was important to me was how I would be able to connect Lean Management with our strategy. I also wanted to understand the role I had to assume as CEO in implementing Lean within the company in order to be able to guarantee its successful implementation. What was clear to me was that our Lean journey can only be successful if I, as the CEO, set an example for Lean.

Staufen: How did you achieve these objectives?

Stefan Ott: The real breakthrough in our lean journey came at the end of 2019 when we held a workshop at our company on the topic of “Hoshin Kanri as company-wide strategy development”. I was absolutely thrilled with this workshop. We had already defined a vision and strategy for our company in the past. However, just as in many other companies, all we did was just “simply develop” the strategy. Developing a strategy is easy, but implementing it is crucial! Hoshin Kanri is a fantastic tool for successful strategy implementation.

In November 2019, we worked with our executive team, our works council and our staff from the commercial area to rethink our vision over the course of several workshop days. As CEO, I held back, because it was important to me that we developed a strategy together that we could all stand by. Our Staufen consultant supported us extremely well through all of it. We developed our annual targets and improvement projects from the vision and strategy, and this year, we are working on achieving them; 50% of the workforce is involved in getting there.

Staufen: How do you recognize that your objectives were achieved?

Stefan Ott: We achieved our objectives. The great thing about Lean and Hoshin Kanri is that there is something you can do when you realize during the year that an objective is getting away from you. Lean has become a part of everyday life in our company; it has become embedded in the minds of our employees. Lean is not simply a project; it will stay with us throughout our entire professional lives.

Staufen: How do you currently ensure that Lean Leadership is well received by employees? How has your behavior and that of your staff and executive team changed over time?

Stefan Ott: I use feedback meetings to check this. My employees tell me that our processes are increasingly intertwined. I also recognize an open error culture. You can feel this in conversations and in in our day-to-day: Problems and mistakes are now addressed openly for the sake of improvement and are no longer seen as personal attacks.

What’s more, we have set up Hoshin Kanri boards and report monthly on all relevant projects. We do this in order to illustrate to everyone openly what it is that we are working on. Every morning and sometimes also in the afternoon, we have Shop Floor Management meetings with all departments concerned, at which we evaluate OEE figures.

Staufen: What cost/benefit calculation can be made to evaluate the benefit of the training for your own company?

Stefan Ott: Lean management and leadership has definitely paid off for our company. We see this in our final figures. We changed our corporate culture so that we would be able to adapt to changing conditions. If we want to shape the future, we need a culture of openness, transparency and error acceptance. All this is possible with Lean Management. Competitors might copy technology, but they certainly cannot copy culture. The corporate culture makes the difference and gives your staff more certainty.

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