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As one of Canada’s largest suppliers of outdoor equipment, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) always looks for continuous improvements and this is what brought the company to begin its Lean journey with Lean Sensei this year. In this issue, we have Doug Wong, the Controller as well as the Lean facilitator at MEC, talk about the Lean journey in the organization. Doug has achieved Lean Sensei’s Blackbelt Takumi Certification and is actively involved in Lean activities at MEC.

Lean Sensei:      Why did MEC decide to “Go Lean”? What was the catalyst for deciding to embark on this journey?

DW:       Continuous improvement training has been part of Operations Department’s onboarding program for some years now.  With the strategy shift we embarked on a few years ago, we recognize continuous improvement company-wide is an important aspect to the successful execution of our strategy.    In order to serve our members (customers) well, we need to ensure that our processes, systems and infrastructure are capable of streamlining our supply chain and supporting our high level of service.

The impetus for Lean centred around the implementation of our new ERP system.  This project affords us the opportunity to re-examine all our key processes and re-work them as necessary.  Lean fits the bill as the methodology and cultural shift mechanism for what we want to do.

Lean Sensei:      What was the tipping point that convinced you Lean was the way to go?

DW:       Our review of why past attempts to improve processes failed revealed 1) a lack of a consistent methodology for solving process problems and 2) our underestimation of the required effort to change and sustain new behaviours in order for the changes to stick.  Having been exposed to Lean thinking and applications convinced me that the philosophy behind it and its intuitive and practical approach makes it the methodology of choice.

Lean Sensei:      What significant changes have you seen since MEC started implementing Lean?

DW:       The organization is a newcomer to Lean.  What’s been encouraging to date is the level of engagement in (Lean) process thinking and use of the Lean toolkit for problem solving.  The enthusiasm amongst Greenbelt graduates has been wonderfully infectious.

MEC Greenbelt participants

MEC Greenbelt participants

Lean Sensei:      How did MEC hear about Lean Sensei? What do you like most about Lean Sensei’s approach to Lean transformation?

DW:       I had some exposure to Lean through the MBA program some years back.  In anticipation of the eventual need to look at processes as part of our strategy execution, I researched lean training online and Lean Sensei’s name came up.  Coincidentally, through my contacts I received some positive feedback on Lean Sensei and its approach to Lean training.  I decided to jump in with both feet and joined the Greenbelt program.

Prior to my participation in Lean Sensei’s programs, I had attended a few other process mapping workshops.  What I like most about Lean Sensei is the hands-on approach, in addition to the in-class concepts training.  The hands-on component really helped reinforce the learning and allowed me to apply the learnings immediately back at work.

Lean Sensei:      What are some highlights since MEC has started to “go Lean?” (e.g. morale, team cohesiveness, cycle times, ROI)?

DW:      Though we just started on our journey this year, the language of Lean is taking shape nicely at Head Office.  There are more attempts to collaborate and problem solve across functions.  Lean participants confidently apply their newfound knowledge and more importantly they educate others on the Lean methodology .  All the lead subject matter experts participating in the ERP Project are equipped with Lean skills to support the necessary process changes and the change management aspect of this mission critical project.

Lean Sensei:      What were the major hurdles you encountered when it came to implementing Lean? How did you overcome them?

DW:       As mentioned before, we just started on our Lean journey this year.  It’s been challenging at times to sustain the effort to educate the organization on Lean simply because of other priorities, projects, and resource availability.  Some departments just don’t have the bandwidth to get involved as much as they had wanted to.  We are formulating plans to provide dedicated resources to this important area.  Another challenge is focusing on the improvement effort.  The kaizens we conducted this year covered an array of large and small opportunities, frontline and back office, operational and tactical areas.  To focus our effort a bit more, we are putting together plans to align improvement opportunities with strategic priorities.

Lean Sensei:      What is your vision for Lean at MEC?

DW:       I like to think about Lean in the same way that we pursue our sustainability agenda – embed it in all aspects of our business so that it becomes second nature to us.

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Lean Sensei:      As a company at the beginner to intermediate level of Lean, what is your advice on sustainment?

 DW:       My experience to date suggests these important areas to focus on, in order to sustain the effort

  1. continue to educate the organization on Lean
  2. help the organization stay curious (about Lean) with visual management
  3. develop and sustain programs to help Lean practitioners apply and improve their skills and be the ambassadors for Lean throughout the organization
  4. work to secure sponsorship at the senior leadership level.

Lean Sensei:      What role do executive members of the organization play in implementing the Lean strategy?

DW:       Senior leadership has been instrumental in the adoption of Lean and in our pursuit of a continuous improvement culture.   The team has been supportive in providing the resources for sending 26 participants to the Greenbelt program this year, as well as securing the resources for several kaizens we’ve hosted throughout the year.  The team has also provided the stage for us to talk about Lean at the quarterly CEO presentations and in other forums.  Continuous improvement and Lean have also been highlighted in the latest strategy update document and communicated to the Board.  Overall, it’s been a productive first year in our Lean journey at all levels – operationally, tactically, and strategically.

Return to Lean Sensei’s Newsletter Q4 2015 Issue