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Become lean: build a dry stone wall

Eurest | General |  19 November 2013


Building a dry stone wall is an art form, a three-dimensional jigsaw with masonry pieces that’s been practised for over three millennia. The waller starts with a pile of variously-shaped stones and ends with a uniform, structurally-sound, wall, and one of the very first things you are taught as a dry stone waller is “once you’ve picked up a piece, use it”. For failure to do so will mean you spend large chunks of your day picking up, and then putting back, pieces of rock and not actually building the wall. And after all, you’re being paid to build a wall, not examine a pile.

Toyota adopted a similar principle when they came up with the idea of “Lean manufacturing”, by saying that expending resources on any activity that doesn’t add value to the end-customer is wasteful. Or to put it another way, if a customer isn’t willing to pay for something, then why spend your time/energy doing it? Lean, as it became known, introduced a number of practices now commonplace around the world, such as “just-in-time” where parts arrive at a workstation in the factory only at the moment they’re needed.

At Eurest we’ve also adopted Lean as a principle and our clients are seeing the benefits. So when we win a tender we have a specially-trained Lean team that looks at all aspects of the operation and removes any waste that doesn’t add value. This might mean reorganising

the way things were done under the previous supplier and finding that it can be done with fewer people. Or that we can improve a process and save 20 hours a week. This enables us to deliver to the SLAs that we’ve agreed with the customer, but at a lower cost than we originally envisaged.

Mark Fawell is our organisational Jack Sprat and explains what we do with those improvements: “If we stop doing things that are wasteful, then we can invest that time doing something else which the customer does see value in. And if we’re saving money then we can reinvest so that the customer gets what they’ve agreed to, but at a lower cost than they were expecting. Either way, the customer benefits.”

And this is not just a one-off exercise because frontline staff are also being trained in Lean principles so that they can continue to identify potential benefits. “It’s about challenging the way people do business on a day-to-day basis” says Mark, “so rather than just sitting back and delivering what’s been agreed, we will constantly look at how to improve.”

“We use Lean in line with our continuous improvement programme, Operational Excellence. Over the next year, 1,000 sites will adopt Lean principles; driving out waste whilst maintaining standards and improving costs.” Another winning recipe.

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