3 Proven Strategies for Turning Around a Struggling Plant


By Eric Stoop
November 20, 2018

Struggling Plant

Experts say that the cost of quality totals roughly 10% in the average organization, with some companies facing quality costs of up to 40%.

If your plant is on the middle to upper end of these estimates, it’s likely company leadership considers your plant in need of immediate intervention.

But what quality management solutions do you have if you’re trying to turn around a struggling plant, especially if problems are complex and habits deeply ingrained? If you’re not sure where to start, you might consider whether one of these three proven strategies could help you achieve the substantial change you need.

Implement Layered Process Audits

Layered process audits (LPAs) are a high-frequency auditing strategy focused on daily verification that people are following standardized processes. High-frequency audits are a recognized best practice for making big quality improvements, and the results of LPAs in particular can be especially dramatic.

What makes LPAs more effective than product inspections is that they identify process errors before they cause defects—meaning there are far fewer defects to detect and correct. Every layer of management participates at a frequency corresponding to their level in the company, providing fresh ideas, coaching opportunities and a visible reminder of management’s quality commitment.

Many automotive manufacturers are already conducting LPAs as a condition of working with companies like GM and Fiat Chrysler, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting results. The sheer volume of audits can be difficult to track and follow-up on if you’re using a paper system, resulting in low completion rates and pencil-whipped data. An automated LPA platform solves many of these issues by:

  • Reducing admin time by as much as 85% with streamlined scheduling and email notifications
  • Making it easy to complete mobile audits and assign corrective actions during audits
  • Generating instant reports like Pareto charts you can use to identify the most critical quality issues

Learn how one automotive manufacturer cut defects 53% in six months with LPAs

Conduct a Kaizen Blitz

A Kaizen blitz or Kaizen event is a multi-day Lean project focused on rapid improvement of a specific process. What makes Kaizen events powerful is that they harness collective creativity for fast decision-making, helping overcome the inertia that tends to slow down projects in many organizations.

The dramatic improvement achieved with a Kaizen event can also provide critical momentum and enthusiasm to move other quality projects forward. Essential elements of a Kaizen blitz include:

  • Short duration: The average workshop lasts about three to five days, though depending on the scale of your Kaizen event, your team may take as long as 10 days.
  • Exclusive focus: Participants should be exempt from their normal duties, including email.
  • Data-driven: The solution implemented should be based on data analysis and testing ideas—not the dominant opinions of the loudest voices in the room.
  • Immediate approval: A Kaizen blitz requires a sponsor with the power to approve your validated solution and remove any barriers to implementation after the event.

It’s important to note that a Kaizen event is not a substitute for a long-term strategy like total quality management. If high defects are causing an issue, you might use a Kaizen blitz to analyze defect data and the root cause of customer complaints. Manufacturers have also used Kaizen events for LPA implementation or 5S projects.

Create a Culture of Quality

This strategy is more of a long-term approach, and clearly if it were easy everyone would be doing it. But the truth is, there are simple steps you can take to build the foundation for a quality culture, including:

  • Communicating key metrics: Update your team monthly on a short, streamlined list of metrics (no more than about 10). People will start looking for that report, and they will feel like they have an ability to change results.
  • Reducing bureaucratic barriers: If you want to incentivize creative problem-solving, cut the red tape and give managers the budget and power to approve new improvement projects.
  • Recognizing quality heroes: If someone goes above and beyond to improve quality, share those results with the organization and reward the person.
  • Uncovering the voice of the customer: Connecting your team with the organization’s larger impact helps people feel invested in their work, so they’re less likely to just treat it as a day job.
  • Unleashing the competitive spirit: Rather than focusing on how many millions you want to save this year, communicate that the goal is to blow the competition away.

Richard Nave of The Luminous Group warns that you can’t treat LPAs and other quality initiatives as one-off projects. because that attitude hurts your chances of success. “If you want people to believe in this, they’ve got to believe that everybody is committed to it and being consistent with it,” he says.

Driving a quality turnaround can be a huge undertaking, complete with various challenges and setbacks. But if you’re committed to the process—and you have buy-in from leadership—it is an achievable goal. The strategies discussed here range from the short-term to the long-term, any of which can be a starting point for your own plant’s inspiring story of quality transformation.

Eric Stoop
Eric Stoop