In order to improve its efficiency, and the quality of service customers receive, RS Components keeps moving in a Continuous Improvement culture
‘Continuous Improvement’ is often referred to by the Japanese term ‘kaizen’, which means ‘change for the better’. Continuous improvement (CI) involves an organisation making a commitment from the top down – involving all employees – to improve numerous processes end-to-end, become more efficient and offer customers a better service.
RS has developed its own CI programme, benchmarked against some of the best around the world, and is pushing hard to embed this culture into every element of its business. “Continuous improvement is hugely important to RS & the Electrocomponents group,” says, Jo Faulkner, Vice President of Continuous Improvement at Electrocomponents. “We are in the process of rolling out CI into everything we do as a business – it’s a journey that not only improves the way we work but it also improves the customers’ experience. We look at things the customers want and need and deploy CI to solve these challenges.”
The basis of RS’s CI programme is the Lean Six Sigma methodology. “Under Lean Six Sigma, we ask people to follow a structured approach to problem solving (DMAIC),” says Faulkner. “This stands for define, measure, analyse, improve and control – it’s an effective process, which when used consistently allows us to look at areas of our business that can be improved, work out how to do that and then take the required actions to improve and ensure these changes stay fixed.”
"When used consistently, Continuous Improvement allows us to look at areas of our business that can be improved, work out how to do that and then take the required action " Jo Faulkner, Vice President of Continuous Improvement for Electrocomponents
However, rolling out CI across an entire organisation is not a quick process, and RS is committing significant investment into training and developing colleagues so they can understand, engage and embed the CI culture. “Employee development is really important to RS and forms part of our wider CI programme,” explains Faulkner. “We have dedicated training in CI that individuals can sign up for, or that they can be put forward for, by their manager & HR as part of their overall learning & development plan.
"There are three levels to this training – Yellow Belt (entry level), Green Belt (intermediate), and the more dedicated – Black Belt (advanced),” she adds. “In addition, we have CI executive training for our leadership teams to ensure they understand the language, some tools and benefits of CI and can ask the right questions of their teams to help drive the improvement process. More recently we have embarked upon our own Lean Academy and in December 2019 the organisation received Lean Competency System (LCS) accreditation, a lean competency framework developed at Cardiff University.”
Since the global training was revamped in 2018, RS has put over 260 people through the Yellow Belt training, 40 colleagues have completed Green Belt, 9 are Black Belt trained and 10 global supply chain colleagues are going through their LCS Lean certification. With changes in training, this has also had a positive impact around engagement and execution, seeing the number of CI projects over the past 3 years increase year on year, by 45%. 570 CI activities were completed between April 2018 and March 2019, delivering significant savings across the business. Faulkner reports that the Electrocomponents group (including RS, Allied Electronics and IESA) have already completed 300 CI activities since April 2019 and as of January 2020, over 400 CI projects are active across all functions and countries in the group.
"CI is a continual journey, it needs to be led from the top and owned by all. There is always room to improve and work closer with customers and suppliers to deliver a win/win for all parties " Jo Faulkner, Vice President of Continuous Improvement for Electrocomponents
Says Faulkner, "CI is a continual journey, it needs to be led from the top and owned by all. There is always room to improve and work closer with customers and suppliers to deliver a win/win for all parties. CI requires a mind-shift in the organisation, getting people to celebrate problems as opportunities to make things better for our customers, suppliers and employees. Creating this learning culture ensures we are never short of opportunities to drive the business forward and improve our service to our customers, better partner with our suppliers and in turn ensure we make amazing happen with our colleagues."
But what do these CI projects look like in practice? Faulkner shares a recent example where a CI approach has helped both RS and its customers. “We had a situation where the team identified that many orders were being placed outside of typical working hours in both our EMEA and APAC markets. The CI project team built an IT solution in SAP to enable the time order was placed to be considered when creating delivery promise dates to our customers. An updateable table now exists to allow us to manage each distribution centres' cut-off time for new orders, each day. A robust approval process was created to ensure there were strict controls on who is accountable for changing those cut-off times, protecting our customers' experience. Our 'On time, to promise' (OTTP) score has raised to 96% which has equated to more than 20,000 more order lines every month being delivered to our customers when they expect them to arrive."
Faulkner continues, "Another recent great CI improvement project was focused around packaging. We listened to what our customers want - environmentally friendly, re-usable yet still protecting items, a team trialled and successfully launched clam shell packaging. This has delivered what thet customer wants - a win/win!"