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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

“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” relationship for both companies.” For those who have not yet decided to follow lean, there is still time, says Bolduc, but if they do decide to do it, they’d better make sure they’re ready. “If you empower your people to take decisions, you must let them take the decisions; don’t turn around. If you turn around it will become another fl avor of the day. We’re not talking about the fl avor of the day here; we’re talking about a change of culture, and it includes all management levels. One of the tough things you go through is how to manage your managers. They lose power. They’re no longer taking decisions on their own, the employees are steering with them following rigid principles. For those who are not ready, if the head of the company is not ready and if the managers are not ready, it will not succeed. If they are ready, they will be surprised at the results.” Interview May 07 Businessexcellence 15 pace of 2.5 units a day, we are running at between 16 and 24 turns. One of our smaller manufacturing plants is running at 26 turns and has been up to 46 turns.” Prevost chooses to communicate its gains in this simple way, rather than crude dollar fi gures, to make them more meaningful to employees, whose eyes glaze over in incomprehension when asked to grapple with fi gures comprising a series of zeros. When you compare it to the milk in their fridge being replaced every week, rather than four times a year, he says, they understand it much better. “One thing we’ve learned is to use language the employees can understand.” So with inventory, it’s turns; parts travel in feet, and part movement is tracked on a spaghetti chart. Space saving has been another great advantage generated by the kaizen program. Capacity has doubled since the factory expansion of 1994, without the need for further expansion. This has had a spin off benefi t in the cost of heating, a substantial burden in the minus 40 degree Canadian winter. “Each time there is a new kaizen done, they never ask for more space,” observes Bolduc. A few months after Prevost had started its kaizen culture in 1995, the company was acquired by a joint venture between Swedish auto manufacturer Volvo and UK owned Henlys Group plc. Fortunately for everyone, the joint venture agreed to let Prevost continue its improvement program without interference, and it has since developed into an excellent example for the Volvo Bus division. Henlys disappeared in 2004, so Volvo bought the remaining shares, and Prevost is now 100 percent owned by Volvo. “We run a parallel culture,” says Bolduc, “but we can see that in fi ve or six years both cultures are going to come together. It’s a rewarding