Recently I was asked if I could write a blog piece on the newest member on the MEE team, Bruce Ennis – our Lean Guru. This being my first blog post for our newsletter and me not being much of a storyteller, I reluctantly said OKAY. Secretly, I was thinking how am I going to capture Bruce’s experience and the essence of what has made Bruce so successful in the LEAN world over the past 30 years. What do you say about a guy who has worked with Fortune 500 companies like Boeing and Dupont, been asked to speak to global industry leaders about the benefits of Lean and how the methodology is shaping manufacturing cultures in the 21st century? Do I talk to him about his role as North American Quality Leader for a $2B multi-national, or perhaps I discuss his path to become a Lean Six Sigma Master Blackbelt? Maybe I’ll ask him about his recent involvement with MEE. So much experience to fit into a small blog article…
I got my chance to catch up with Bruce and talk life, Lean and MEE over dinner at the famous turn of the century Halkirk Hotel, in Halkirk, Alberta. He just happened to be conducting a MEE Cluster pilot industry assessment workshop with CAPE Manufacturing. Aside from the amazing meal and hospitality, we talked about the current state of manufacturing in Western Canada, the future of MEE industry assessments, and his involvement with the MEE Cluster. We also discussed the vision for Lean manufacturing in Alberta, what role the cluster will need to take in building that literacy and helping manufacturers transition to Industry 4.0. Below are the highlights of my interview with him.
Q: Bruce, your expertise is in making businesses run more efficiently with higher quality and fewer defects. You’ve also told me 90% of your work today is in Lean. For those unfamiliar with “Lean”, what is it, and why are so many businesses eager to embrace it?
A: Lean is a business methodology that originated in Japan just after World War II. Japanese businesses began making products that were simply better than their competition. The improvement was so dramatic that many Western organizations went bankrupt, unable to compete with this new way of doing business.
I would describe Lean as a business strategy that is focused on the fanatical elimination of waste. To a Lean company, waste isn’t just what you throw into a trash bin. Waste also includes defects – making errors, doing things twice, poorly designed work areas that make work a struggle, delays …and many others.
Here’s the REAL reason Lean is in such demand today: When you eliminate the “eight wastes of Lean” you get faster… a lot faster. The mind-blowing part (counter intuitive to many) is that when you embrace Lean your business not only gets faster – the quality improves too. Getting rid of waste reduces complexity. When you simplify a business and get rid of all the inefficiencies you become faster, and quality improves. The result? A stronger, more profitable business with delighted customers.
Q: You’ve implemented process improvement programs across North America. What do you see as the state of business processes in Western Canada?
A: I don’t see a lot of difference between the USA and Canada. If I had to choose, I’d say the US is ahead by a bit. I went to Japan in 2015 on a study mission. I was humbled by how much further along businesses there are. In both the USA and Canada businesses must realize that if they don’t get with the times, their business will be unable to compete. They will go bankrupt.
Q: What role does LEAN have in bringing our manufacturers into the world of Industry 4.0?
A: Industry 4.0 is definitely the future. Advanced analytics, machine learning, robotics, 3-D printing – all these things will be necessary to compete in the 21st century. The role Lean plays in this is crucial. Without a foundation of rock-solid processes – smooth, predictable processes, Industry 4.0 will fail. The prevailing wisdom in business going back more than 50 years (Leavitt Diamond Model) is that the foundation for organizational success is to focus on People first, Process second and Technology last, in that order. Spending money on 4.0 technologies before optimizing your people and processes would be ill-advised.
Q: Bruce, where do you see the future of industry assessment with the MEE Cluster?
A: I think the Industry Assessment Program is a brilliant idea. Building an easy-to-use program that businesses use to instantly understand the health of their processes is a great idea. Western Canada must realize that the status quo is no longer good enough. The Industry Assessment Program will help guide local businesses through the process of becoming world class – so they can succeed both locally and internationally. It has a very bright future.
Q: Bruce, what part does LEAN manufacturing and best practices have in bringing the “Alberta Advantage” to the manufacturing world?
A: I feel there is an overall lack of urgency amongst local business leaders regarding the importance of fine-tuning their operational processes. For many years, Alberta businesses flourished without necessarily being “world class”. As the world gets smaller, and Lean businesses from around the world begin knocking on the doors of Alberta consumers, being “Lean” locally will allow us to maintain our Alberta Advantage.
Q: How important of a role do you see the MEE Cluster play in building literacy in Western Canada?
A: It’s significant. The MEE Cluster has the funding and the bandwidth to build a “one-stop” shop for Western Canadian manufacturers to radically improve their processes – and when they’re ready for it, to begin the migration to Industry 4.0. This includes a library and repository of knowledge industry leaders can turn to. The launching of MEE makes me optimistic for the future of Alberta businesses. It’s exciting!