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defi nitely changed the philosophy of the company.” The very fi rst kaizen was a little tricky, as Prevost is a unionized environment. The Canadian Workers Union was not kindly disposed towards consultants, nor, it must be said, to the Japanese approach. As VP of Operations with 13 years’ seniority, however, Bolduc put his experience and his relationships with employees to the test, and the workers responded. He personally recruited 20 welders out of over a hundred to be part of the fi rst team. He met the union and gave the leader a seat on the team. He told people they were not conducting a study, but were actually going to change their environment by the end of the kaizen. “They believed in me and we had two or three days’ training before the kaizen started.” Bolduc was there every morning doing the kick-off, and doing the closing meeting at the end of the day. “If they were working during the night to reshuffl e a department I was there to take the decision with them. In fact, I was the last step.” The decision at the end of the fi rst kaizen was momentous, remembers Bolduc, but in some ways, it was easy to make. Twenty people worked single-mindedly on one project for two weeks with the approval of their workmates and managers. How could he say no to their recommendations? “It was an easy decision, but it was also a big one. The fi rst time you change something like that, it’s always a big decision. Since then we have been through the part fabrication plants, the assembly plant, sub-assembly, warehousing, the offi ce, everything, and now in two to three years they will come back at you and say it’s time to change Interview May 07 Businessexcellence 13 Whatever industry you are in, if you are starting a lean initiative in the 21st century, there are plenty of models to follow. Since Toyota developed its eponymous production system in the late 20th century, lean thinking has spread from automotive assembly plants to all varieties of manufacturing, into offi ces, warehouses, transportation. Everywhere there are processes that can be improved, lean has taken root. That was not the case at the beginning of 1995, when Canadian coach maker Prevost Car was looking for ways to improve its productivity. “In 1995 you could not read a book on the Toyota Production System,” says company President and CEO Gaétan Bolduc. “And the foundation of our lean manufacturing approach is the Toyota Production System.” In 1994, Prevost Car had increased its production to one and a half units a day to meet demand for its coaches. With a target to produce two units a day, and no knowledge of alternative production systems, Prevost took the traditional approach, and expanded the factory on three sides. The market continued to expand, and in early 1995 another 25 percent increase in production was required. Another factory expansion, however, was not on the cards. “You’ll have an idea of the weather in the winter near Quebec City in Canada,” says Bolduc. “There’s four or fi ve feet of snow, so you don’t start construction unless your life depends on it.” Having made a signifi cant investment already in factory capacity, there had to be another way to achieve the target. “So we started to increase the pace,” recalls Bolduc, “but parts manufacturing were not able to cope. The assembly line was late, and within a few weeks we were packed with material, but nothing was coming out of the factory.” Bolduc was VP of Operations at the time, and he and the other Vice Presidents looked around for role models. “We met some people at Pratt & Whitney aircraft in Montreal who were using something very different, something we had barely heard about. They were doing kaizen. We went there, met the consultants who were supporting them and saw what the employees were doing and it struck me that this was the tool we needed.” Prevost’s problems, Bolduc recalls, were not related to a lack of competence or a lack of tools, ideas or initiative. What was needed was a system. So in mid-’95 Prevost put together its fi rst kaizen, with the help of a Japanese expert who has been working with the company ever since. “We had used consultants before,” says Bolduc, “and they would present a tool, but when they went away the tool stopped working and you hadn’t changed much.” In this case, he says, the man became more than a consultant, more like a guide. “He’s a living example of that culture. We were seeking a tool, and we found a culture. “At fi rst we were just looking for something to get us out of the hole,” observes Bolduc. “Finally we found a ladder, not just to get out of the hole, but to give us altitude and see the company differently. As we did kaizens, one after the other, we realized that we were changing the culture of the company. We used to be proud of our inventory; today we’re ashamed of it. We don’t want inventory any more. We don’t want piles of parts everywhere. We have “We were seeking a tool, and we found a culture”

everything again. But the fi rst time it’s a very big decision.” Prevost successfully increased its production capacity to 2.5 units a day, but at that time it was outsourcing the production of parts to the extent of 15 to 20 percent. The goal was to bring that production back in-house. “We increased production until 2001 so that we were running at fi ve units a day, in the same plant, with 90 percent of the manufacturing done in the factory,” says Bolduc. Demand has since fallen off, due to world market conditions, so that Prevost is back to producing 2.5 units a day, but outsourcing is restricted now to one or two percent for very specifi c parts. Even when demand is slow, however, Prevost continues to hold kaizens to improve its production system. Do not be misled by the word ‘production’. The system is not limited to production. “We call it the SPP (système de production Prevost),” explains Bolduc, “and it applies to everybody in all departments. Sales has to do kaizens to adapt their job to the production system. Engineering has to do kaizens. Everybody is using kaizens. We have kanbans implemented in the library where we print the documents, so we’re using those principles everywhere in the company.” With 12 years’ experience of doing kaizens, it would be easy to imagine that Prevost Car could now do them in its sleep. It doesn’t work like that. Experienced lean practitioners often talk about picking ‘low-hanging fruit’ when they start an initiative. It’s an eloquent allusion, since it implies that once the low-hanging fruit has been picked, you have to climb further up the tree to fi nd more. “Even though we have more experience now,” says Bolduc, “the kaizens we are doing today are tougher than the fi rst ones we did. The fi rst one was so obvious. We had garbage everywhere. When you’ve been through the fi rst and second and third generations of clean up you start addressing processes and things that are not obvious. I’m quite sure that in four or fi ve years we will have evolved and will fi nd new tougher challenges and those processes will probably be easy, but right now it’s not easy.” A new kaizen or 5S session starts every second week, somewhere in the Prevost organization. Planning what to do next must be a hugely complicated endeavor, you might think. Happily, that does not seem to be the case. Although they planned ahead in the fi rst few years, says Bolduc, they discovered that the people involved in one kaizen will usually tell them where to hit next. But he warns against starting too many all at once. “You don’t want to start too many kaizens, because you need to fi nish and you need to implement before you start a new one. And you need to take into account which resources are going to be affected, who will be the leaders, and who will be the trainers. So the directors will decide what is keeping us from achieving our goals, but after that the kaizens themselves will determine the next ones.” As Bolduc hinted above, one of the prime targets was to reduce inventory. In 1994/95, warehouse inventory, the parts used for production, turned between 2.5 and four times a year. “Today,” he says, “even at the slow Businessexcellence May 07 14