James Felsted commercial plant manager at Bosch Rexroth39s Charlotte NC plant captures ideas from its Shark Tank program on a System CIP board

Bosch Takes 'Shark Tank' Approach to Continuous Improvement

June 2, 2015
Bosch Rexroth's Charlotte plant takes a dip into the continuous improvement pool.

Managers at the Bosch Rexroth plant in Charlotte, N.C., describe their quarterly continuous improvement competition as Shark Tank style, but the mood is closer to a dolphin swim meet. "We're trying to foster collaboration," says James Feldsted, commercial plant manager at the site.

At a morning workshop, Bosch plant leaders generate and develop CIP ideas tied into the company's long-term strategy. Come afternoon, they pitch those ideas to a panel comprised of senior plant leaders and the local lean project coordinator. That's where the Shark Tank comparison comes in. The panelists are like the investors on the show, asking questions and considering their options. By day's end, the group agrees on which pitches they'll go forward with, and which ones are "out."

The ideas that make the cut are typically small enough to execute within a 90-day cycle and lead to a "tangible improvement on our performance metrics," says Feldsted.

Felsted says the Shark Tank approach came from Bosch's corporate executives.

"They started to use this model to determine where they would add resources to initiate sales growth projects," says Felsted. "A lot of business units would approach them and ask for additional head count and money for projects. And the only way for them to allocate the resources correctly was to ask those managers to prove the worth of their endeavor, like an entrepreneur has to do when they pitch a business idea to an investor."

The plant has a particular logistics hurdle: The warehouse is not on site but three miles away. One of the program's successes has been a deliverability project that shortens lead time by prioritizing orders through a new scheduling system and establishing a kanban system "so we always have enough material on hand to fill customer orders," says Felsted.

"We're already seeing a big improvement" in lead time, says Felsted. "We're starting to hit the customer demand of shipping in a one-day turnaround period."

Another challenge is that the plant, which produces linear motion technology, is not highly automated because the products tend to be customized and lot sizes fairly small. At the first "tank," attendees proposed digitizing print production orders and customer-specific drawings and sending them electronically to the production floor, saving time and labor. A co-op student is working on the digitization.

That idea actually began in another engagement program, Bright Ideas, where associates place their best suggestions in fluorescent green pouches fastened on a continuous improvement board. They're required to shepherd the idea through to completion. Successful ideas are tied to performance bonuses, rewards points and recognition luncheons.

Last year, the Charlotte plant averaged 1.5 ideas per associate. With Bosch tracking employee-generated ideas per plant, they're hoping to boost that to four by the end of this year. "One of the objectives was to foster a culture of inclusion," says Felsted. "We very much want the associates to feel engaged and included in the business results."

About the Author

Laura Putre | Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

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Senior Editor Laura Putre manages IW contributors and covers leadership as it applies to executive best practices, corporate culture, corporate responsibility, growth strategies, managing and training talent, and strategic planning.

A former newspaper journalist, Laura has written for Slate, The Root, the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian and many other publications.

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