SVP Interview: Inside the Talon Lean Transformation

Every organization that practices Lean is on a unique journey of Lean transformation to provide more value to the customer. What makes the journey unique is the starting point.

The starting point could be cost reduction, seeking a competitive advantage, or the need to change now to survive through productivity enhancements, quality improvements, or lead-time reduction.

In this Q&A with Senior Vice President Brian Shoenfeld, learn how our company started the Lean journey, the growth we have seen from practicing Lean, and what’s next on our journey.

Question: What About Lean Resonated With You to Start the Lean Journey?

Brian Shoenfeld: Simply put, Lean is a better way to operate. It’s also a realistic practice to achieve major productivity gains. We are a 70-year-old company with a lot of opportunity to improve as part of our natural evolution.

What resonated for me was the emphasis on providing value to the customer in everything you do, starting with fostering a healthy company culture that is built on respect with a commitment to continuous improvement. Also, because Lean requires complete leadership engagement to be successful, our leadership team knew that we needed to embrace the principles for Lean to transform our company.

As a medication management equipment vendor, we provide products that impact healthcare operations. When we realized that Lean can also be applied to the workflows that our products fit within in our customer’s operations, our goal became to find the right solution for hospitals to optimize their workflows.

As our company began studying Lean, we wanted to ensure that we were recommending solutions that were best for the hospital to deliver care to patients, not a solution that is best for any single stakeholder in the operation.

What we were surprised to discover when viewing our product offerings from a Lean perspective is that several products optimize Pharmacy operations in a vacuum, but have a negative impact on Nursing operations. In fact, it became apparent that nurses were spending less time at the bedside specifically because of these products.

Question: What Were the First Steps to Begin a Lean Transformation?

Brian Shoenfeld: The first steps we took in the Lean transformation included field trips to Lean manufacturers, learning the intricacies of practicing Lean from industry leaders, and finding expert coaches to learn from.

Then, looking at our organization from a Lean perspective, we started reviewing every operation we do and asking ourselves: “does the customer value this operation?” It quickly became clear that we have a lot of opportunity to improve our customer experience and the value that we provide to our customers.

It was energizing to see solutions become readily apparent as problems related to team structure or process deficiencies became easy to spot. In essence, we started learning how to see.

The next step we took was understanding the importance of discipline, especially from leadership, to achieve continuous improvement. In Lean, leaders cannot expect sustained results unless they have a disciplined and structured approach to follow through and continue to evaluate progress. We learned that Lean is a journey of engagement at all levels in the organization that will fail if it becomes a set-and-forget process.

The next task was to categorize our various products into product families and identify value streams. We identified products with common demand, parts, and workcenter operations. We then conducted Value Stream Maps. This all laid the foundation for us to begin transforming our operations to improve quality, efficiency, and flexibility.

The foundation is still being set. Once the foundation is set, we will focus on growing our people to enable the continual improvement all of our processes. Toyota, a well-known pioneer of Lean, has this philosophy, as told by a Toyota executive: “Brilliant process management is our strategy. We get brilliant results from average people managing brilliant processes. We observe that our competitors often get average (or worse) results from brilliant people managing broken processes.”

Question: When Did You Start Seeing the Results From This Transformation?

Brian Shoenfeld: Statistically, our paint shop achieved a 300 percent productivity boost with managerial guidance. Then, on their own, they realized a 500 percent improvement using their own creativity to improve their processes. Likewise in our assembly area, in just a few months we accomplished a 50% time reduction to assemble one of our products that we have been manufacturing for years. The challenge now for these areas is to continue the improvement culture, spread continuous improvement to other product lines, and to never become content with our current state.

The paint shop is the most dramatic example of Lean-inspired transformation in our company. However, we are steadily seeing improvements in all areas of our business. We are striving to create more throughput in our organization by optimizing how material and information is passed through every department.

Because we are just starting on our journey, we are just seeing the initial results. Our challenge now is to try and keep up with all of the opportunities to improve that are being uncovered. It will take a few years to see the company-wide transformative results.

Question: What’s Next for Talon on the Lean Journey?

Brian Shoenfeld: Internally, we are continuing to learn about Lean at all levels of our organization, from the president’s office all the way to individual contributors by providing training and ongoing coaching on Lean applications.

The current books making the rounds throughout Talon are “2-Second Lean” by Paul Akers, “The Work of Management” by Jim Lancaster, and “Real Numbers” by Jean Cunningham and Orest Fiume.

We are also cross-training our production teams to enable level-loading of the work and to grow flexibility of our workforce. We’re reorganizing our operations and floor layout, training, coaching, and beginning our daily improvement culture.

This will all lead to production cells for specific product families striving for one-piece flow. And, as always, we also want to continue to eliminate waste throughout the organization and not just in production.

As we continue to grow our capabilities, we are staying focused on a key element of what started the Lean journey: being customer-centric by constantly learning about how we can provide value to the customer and then relentlessly enhancing that value.

Overall, I appreciate the opportunity to share the Talon transformation story. I know there are other similar stories from individuals and companies who are on the Lean journey. Please contact me directly to share your story and hear more about our story so that we can learn from each other to grow our capabilities.

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