Different types of change often result in different outcomes. Episodic and infrequent change may cause resistance and fear within an organization. Continuous and frequent change, however, has the potential to create an environment of innovation and learning. In effect, frequent change initiatives can form a stable foundation for success. That’s the story of FastCap, LLC, a manufacturing and product development company located in Ferndale, Wash. FastCap is an exemplar of the continuous change model. Spurred by the leadership of Paul Akers, company founder and CEO, FastCap has become an innovative proponent of continuous change and improvement—not only in its own operations but in teaching others the benefits and methods of creating a culture of change. By following FastCap’s model, any organization can begin to create a safe environment for change and innovation.
FASTCAP HISTORYIn 1997, Akers was building some cabinets when he had an idea for a self-adhesive screw cap cover. He turned that idea into the FastCap and began to market the creation at an international woodworking fair. Orders rolled in. Akers developed more products and established his company, running operations out of his home. As his business grew, Akers fought to manage his inventory and processes effectively. When it was suggested that he hire consultants to teach him about the Toyota Production System (TPS) and Lean, Akers jumped at the chance. After taking the risk to implement these new processes and ideas, he made it his mission to manufacture products and run the company based on Lean concepts. Today, FastCap is a source of inspiration and information for many other organizations interested in Lean. Leaders from companies in industries such as healthcare, education, and manufacturing visit FastCap to learn the concepts of a Lean system. Akers offers consulting advice to others seeking to create environments of change. He produces hundreds of informative videos available to the public at Fastcap.com and has published a book titled 2-Second Lean: How to Grow People and Build a Lean Culture. Click to enlarge
LEAN THINKING AT FASTCAPThe underlying theme of Akers’s model for change is simplicity. Successful implementation requires an organizational culture that nurtures and rewards constant innovation, and employees must feel safe and encouraged to enact change. Several key principles drive the change philosophy at FastCap to create that environment. Eliminate Waste Continuous improvement at FastCap is more a mind-set than a process. FastCap employees are taught to always be on the lookout for creating change through eliminating waste. By learning to identify waste, employees can then visualize how simply eliminating that waste leads to improvement. To reinforce the mind-set of continuous improvement, every employee at FastCap, including Akers, begins the day making what Akers calls a “2-second improvement.” Put simply, a 2-second improvement is any change in a process that makes the work safer, faster, and/or higher quality. The improvements reduce movement and frequently improve the clarity of communication. Focusing on small yet meaningful changes makes the idea of change less intimidating. Setting the standard at an easily attainable level enables employees to experience success and reduces resistance. Employees are empowered because the greatest ideas often come from those who know the processes best and will be most affected by the changes. And as the creators of the change, they are far more likely to embrace it. Standard Work Standard work is a set of simple process steps that have been refined to eliminate or reduce nonvalue-added activities (waste) and that are employed by all within an organization. The concept of standard work could apply to processes as varied as how forms should be completed and processed, the format of an e-mail, or the assembly of a widget. At FastCap, there are simple eight-step instructions for standard processes with pictures and descriptions of all steps (see Figure 1 for an example). With consistent processes, it’s easy for a new employee to follow the documented steps, identify problems, and avoid mistakes. There’s little variation between the work outputs regardless of the individuals performing a particular task. This leads to increased quality and uniformity. Respect for People Respect for the individual is at the core of all successful change. To maintain a culture of continuous improvement, everyone involved must be (and feel) respected. Employees must respect their managers and peers. Businesses must respect their customers and suppliers. Most important, managers must respect employees. Employee buy-in is essential. Those at the lowest levels of an organization are usually the ones being asked to carry out change on a daily basis. The employees who are asked to implement a particular change need to feel respected by those issuing the request or instructions. Otherwise, even if the employees agree with the need for it, the change won’t be sustainable. For change to happen continuously, those implementing it must feel passionate. Passion comes from feeling personally invested. People are personally invested when they feel respected and when their own ideas are the basis for change.
LEAN PRACTICES AT FASTCAPAkers has implemented a number of practices and feedback loops at FastCap to ensure that the business continues to run according to his model of change and improvement. 3-S: Sweep, Sort, and Standardize The first two hours of every day are set aside for nonproduction activities. The first hour involves improving and cleaning the facility. During this time, all employees sweep, sort, and standardize (3-S) their work areas. Most 2-second improvements are made during the 3-S time. Sweeping, or cleaning, the facility is where employees learn to always leave an area better than they found it. Sorting allows employees to organize all value-adding tools and helps them understand that waste also can be organized. Sorting waste isn’t the goal. By exposing where waste exists, employees find it easier to reduce that waste. Standardizing gives employees time to create standard eight-step processes. The rationale behind taking this first hour of the day to 3-S is that it saves much more than an hour of time throughout the day because of the development of more efficient processes and cleaner work areas. The focus during production time can then remain solely on production. Akers states that the return for this time investment is worth the estimated opportunity cost of the time. FastCap’s order cycle time is an example of the kind of improvement brought about from more efficient work. The time it used to take between receiving an order via fax and having the completed order on the truck ready to be shipped was inconsistent and often days behind schedule. Since the implementation of Lean, the cycle time for the majority of orders has been cut to just two hours. Employees don’t view the improvements made each day at FastCap as a requirement but rather as an opportunity to make their workplace better as they see fit. Ninety percent of employee-initiated improvements don’t require permission from superiors. Instead, employees follow a set of guidelines to determine whether an improvement is worth pursuing. The guidelines prompt employees to ask: Will this improvement make my workplace, the end product, or this task:
- Of higher quality?
THE PARADOX OF CHANGE AND STABILITYOrganizations pursue change to enhance their competitive positions and adaptability in volatile markets. Simultaneously, they seek to reduce uncertainty and, therefore, strive for stability. Stability also increases both confidence and competence. As described by Patricia Klarner and Sebastian Raisch, this need for simultaneous change and stability creates an organizational paradox (“Move to the Beat Rhythms of Change and Firm Performance,” Academy of Management Journal, February 2013). Through the implementation of its continuous change model (see Figure 2), FastCap has been able to overcome this paradox to build a sustainable enterprise that incorporates change and stability simultaneously. By encouraging continuous change, it has become the norm. In effect, change is the stable state. It’s practiced every day by everyone in the company. Change is no longer the enemy of stability—it’s the catalyst. Paul Akers and FastCap have demonstrated the possibilities for any organization with the right leadership and mind-set. With strong leadership and support from top management, Lean practices can open employees’ minds, freeing them from the fear of change. Setting aside time each day to standardize processes and make small improvements, establishing a culture of open communication, and lowering the barriers between employees at all levels of the organization can lead to great returns.