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“The six sites are primarily independent,
but we’re working toward being ‘one Os-
ter,’” Headdy said. “I guarantee that the
other sites have been there, done that
with similar problems — or they will.”
Champions for lean
Headdy firmly believes in having some-
one at each facility to “champion” lean,
someone who lives it each day, partic-
ularly since he can’t be at every plant
every day. The manufacturer’s Puerto
Rico plant was the last of its six facilities
to begin the lean journey, and has been
involved for less than a year.
“We have different levels of maturity
between the plants,” Headdy said. “But
even with language barriers at our Mex-
ico and Puerto Rico sites, people can
understand and comprehend the visual
colors, like our red and green metric
charts indicating how we are performing
at any given moment.”
While Headdy says that company lead-
ership supported lean from the start,
some employees were skeptical. Still,
he believes the best part of the compa-
ny’s lean transformation has been the
engagement of the people.
“In the beginning, most people don’t like
it. It takes patience and coaching. But
once you get a leader, everyone figures
out that they can really use this,” he
said. “We want the people who are doing
the work to come up with the ideas. This
is about engaging employees. It may
take a little longer at the operator level to
understand and accept the changes. But
now they feel like they have a voice.”
Headdy says employees understood that
accepting lean was expected. Company
leaders cultivated a sense of trust with
employees by explaining the “whys”
of lean, sharing financial information,
quote times and metrics. AJ Oster made
it clear that the lean journey was never
about a particular person’s performance,
but rather the bigger picture of the com-
pany and all who contributed to its daily
“We’re all here to make a living for our
families, and what’s good for the compa-
ny is good for us,” Headdy said.
Bob James, the Carol Stream facility
vice president and general manager, said
each of the company’s six facilities was
focused on continuous improvement, but
that its OpX efforts had improved daily
focus, aligned all employees, improved
communication and cost savings.
“It’s offered continuous education
for employees on areas they weren’t
involved in previously, and empowered
everyone to make decisions with that
additional education,” James said.
AJ Oster’s lean success has produced
some impressive company metrics, as
well. Results from projects across the six
divisions include: Order entry errors have
improved by 30 percent; overtime reduction
has improved by 35 percent; quotation
time has improved by 30 percent; aged
inventory has experienced a 26 percent im-
provement; inventory turns have improved
8 percent; and the company’s on-time
performance has improved by 7 percent.
Eager to share important lessons from
its lean journey, Headdy said the most
important takeaways are to get a lean
coach; communicate; train and change
management; establish benchmarking;
start with a pilot site or area; make it
yours; have patience; stay the course;
and involve employees at all levels.
“It’s not a magic bullet. Visibility, pa-
tience and persistence are key. You start
slowly,” Headdy said. “Once it gains
some steam at the pilot site, you pur-
posely invite additional employees to the
meetings. Eventually, they figure out that
lean is not a foreign language.”
The first step in this “make it yours” approach, said Joe Headdy, the company’s director of OpX
(operational excellence), was to make the company’s problems visible. So members of management
placed whiteboards around the plants to facilitate transparency and engagement at all levels.
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