RS Components’ Richard Jeffers shares his six key principles to outstanding working practices in a manufacturing shop floor

Shop floor excellence is a difficult concept to describe – and even harder to implement. But when you see it in action the simplicity and efficiency is amazing.

You know you are in an excellent organisation because the whole team, from the site leader downwards, is focused on enhancing the business. From my discussions with highly effective site leaders, I believe there are six key areas that bring shop floor excellence to life:

1. Leadership
Without the dedication of the site leader and a compelling vision, consistently communicated at all levels, no one lower down in the organisation will ever truly believe in the mission. Without leaders who are committed to shop floor excellence, you won’t achieve great things.

2. Routine accountability habits
Accountability conversations are the foundation of success. They must become habitual at all levels. Routine, short, focused, accountability meetings must take place at the machine, in the department and across the site. They should focus on reviewing deviations from standards, and ensuring agreed actions are taken to restore processes to the standard.

“Without leaders committed to shop floor excellence, you won’t achieve great things”Richard Jeffers, Technical Director Northern Europe, RS Components

Implicit in this is a consistent drive to identify, apply and improve standard conditions, processes and practices – with the aim of identifying “one best way” of working at every stage.

Routine accountability habits are not confined to structured meetings. Leaders at all levels should spend the bulk of their time in the environment where the work is done – the gemba, as the Japanese call it. Time away from the shop floor is a distraction from where you, as a leader, truly add value.

3. Standardised work
To ensure that time on the shop floor is structured and adds value, leaders at all levels should work in a standardised framework.

This protects them from external pulls on their time that distract from routine accountability habits. By having a framework of standard work, leaders always have time for coaching, problem-solving and supporting others to remove blockers. Site leaders will be spending more than 50% of their time in standard work: for front-line managers, this will be 80% or more.

4. Excellent visual controls
Visual triggers and controls should be everywhere. At every workstation, you should be able to see at a glance if the machine or process is in standard or non-standard conditions and what action has been initiated for non-standard conditions.

The visual triggers will range from tags on machines to graphs, charts and marking on gauges. Every time a problem is analysed, the team should aim to enhance their visual controls

5. Understanding of the issues
At every level, everyone should be aware of the top issues in their area. For the operator this will be machine losses; for the front-line manager, the line; for the site leader it will be the whole production site.

In all cases, there should be a clear line of sight, with site losses being translated to more detailed shop floor KPIs at the machine.

“Shop floor excellence is the magic that brings a process-driven approach to continuous improvement”Richard Jeffers, Technical Director Northern Europe, RS Components

6. Standards and restoration of basic conditions
For all processes, the team will have a consistent view of the standard settings and ways of working. Where these are not yet established, there will be a visible, resourced plan to restore the basic conditions of the area and establish standards.

This restoration activity is likely to use a range of lean manufacturing tools, such as 5S (sort, set, sweep, standardise, sustain) and autonomous maintenance.

Shop floor excellence is, fundamentally, about using leadership to change behaviours. It’s the magic that brings a process-driven approach to continuous improvement – it makes it live and breathe and help deliver great things. In writing this, I am indebted to a former colleague of mine, Pat Thurston, for being the first person to really show me what good looks like.