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Operations: Handy & Harman's Business System Approach to Operational Excellence

Sept. 4, 2014
Handy & Harman builds better processes by developing a team of problem-solvers.

As anyone who has ever tried it can tell you, successfully implementing lean across a manufacturing facility is challenging.

The same holds true for introducing World Class Manufacturing (employed by Chrysler, for instance) or any other operational excellence system.

It's an effort that's not for the faint of heart, although the rewards are plentiful.

The challenge is compounded when it comes to translating operational excellence across multiple manufacturing sites or business units with little commonality in customers, markets or raw materials.

Such is the case at Handy & Harman Ltd., a White Plains, N.Y.-based company with a global presence, six business units and 18 manufacturing plants. How do you improve?

The best thing I can do is teach people to be problem-solvers

— Eric Lussier, vice president, operational excellence

Handy & Harman's response was to take a business system approach to sharing best practices. Implementation began in 2008 and remains ongoing -- and growing -- 

Eric Lussier, vice president, operational excellence at Handy & Harman Ltd., shared insights into the workings of the company's business system during the 2014 IndustryWeek Best Plants conference.

"The best thing I can do is teach people to be problem-solvers" is a point Lussier made early on and repeatedly. And, indeed, a review of the Handy & Harman Business System illustrates the company's focus on developing tools to build problem-solving skills.

The Handy & Harman model includes:

• A full-time business system champion at each manufacturing location to help drive the culture and sustain the changes.
• Weeklong lean leadership training for all salaried personnel.
• A common visual management format that shows problem-solving efforts.
• Assessment against a lean standard.
• Model cells.
• Lean learning kaizens (typical length is one week) that are led by a sensei and the local lean champion.
• Coaching and mentoring.

The final bullet point cannot be emphasized enough, Lussier said.

The vice president of operational excellence shared several examples of Handy & Harman's use of visual management principles to illustrate how the company promotes problem-solving. On the shop floor, +QDIP (Quality, Delivery, Inventory, Productivity, Safety) charts show key performance indicators and use the requisite red and green colors to visibly indicate results that either measure up or do not.

That said, employees' jobs are not to make scoreboard metrics "green," Lussier explained. The goal is to build a workforce of people with a strong problem-solving capability. As such, their focus -- and the focus of the +QDIP boards -- is on measuring processes.

"Businesses are composed of processes," he said. "Processes can be measured, and what gets measured gets done."

The +QDIP board, as well as strategy deployment charts Handy & Harman uses, are meant to bring visibility to the processes and drive the development of counter­measures when problems arise.

A "results only" philosophy dooms process integrity, sustainability and repeatability, Lussier said. That's why Harman & Handy puts so much emphasis on the drivers of its processes -- its people.

"Talented people are your strongest asset," Lussier emphasized to the IW Best Plants audience.

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