Black Belt graduate Peter O’Regan gives his story in our latest Alumni interview series

We posed a few questions to Peter O’Regan, Technical, Research & Development Manager, Marinochem and his insights give us some valuable pointers for all alumni.

To start you might just fill us in on how you came to undertake your Lean Sigma education with us.

Our company had previously been part of a Finnish headquartered multinational and continuous improvement projects had tended to be rolled out across all sites having been piloted elsewhere. When the ownership changed to a traditional, family-owned, UK company in 2013/2014 there was a need to take this type of work in-house and so we began to take small steps in improving our knowledge. A number of staff took green belt courses and we received IDA funding for lean product development and design thinking training. The next, obvious, step was for someone to undertake a higher level of training and I was only too happy to grasp that opportunity. A former classmate of mine had already completed the course and couldn’t speak highly enough of it. I had come across Mark in the South West Lean Forum and was quite happy that the course would be of a very high quality – my own experience ultimately confirmed this.

Since graduating from your Lean Sigma Course how have you applied Continuous Improvement and what was most beneficial?

Given that the majority of the workforce in our company has been here for some time we had concerns that change might be difficult to push through. As an “easy introduction” to the concept of continuous improvement, informal one-to-one interviews were carried out with all employees in order to see where easy wins might have been achievable in order to get some buy-in to the process. These ideas were put up on a Microsoft Teams channel where everyone could see them and where all progress made was inputted. Actions were thus, transparently, tracked to completion with clear justifications being given for any changes to the original suggestion (same objective being achieved but in a different way, systems changes making the change request redundant etc.). Having shown clear progress in these smaller projects then people were more interested in becoming involved in larger scale change projects and we have moved forward on a number of very useful, data-driven, projects since then. COVID significantly impacted the speed with which the larger programme has been rolled out, but we are now gaining pace again and hope to roll out Lean Sigma training to many more employees before the end of the year.

What areas have you found to be most difficult to deal with in your Continuous Improvement journey?

The natural tendency of the Lean Sigma practitioner charged with implementing a process improvement, once the data has been analysed and the need for change clarified, is to move quickly to find a solution. You will, however, have to bring a clear majority of people along with you if you are to have any hope of success. There is inevitable frustration when a change that you clearly see the need for may not be accepted as necessary by others. You will need to slow down and listen to people’s concerns – the majority of which will be genuine, and which may be based on a fear of change, a misunderstanding of what you are trying to achieve etc. It’s better to slow down and make steady progress then to charge headlong into an immovable obstacle.

Have you seen any significant change in the application of Lean Sigma over the last 3 to 5 years?

The concepts, certainly in our customer and supplier base, are becoming more accepted by smaller companies. When our company first started on this journey it was, typically, the US multinationals who drove Lean Sigma implementation whereas I can now see smaller, Irish-owned, companies taking the ideas on board, having seen the benefits during site visits etc.

 If you were to reinforce one key point you have taken from the classes you attended what would it be?

The need for change must be accepted at the top in order for the process to begin at all, but, without the involvement of those at the coalface then a lot of effort will be wasted with no progress being made. The Lean Sigma champion must be as much a storyteller as a technical expert – convincing those, without whose cooperation the change will fail, that it is necessary in the first place.

 Is there anything extra you feel would be beneficial to the readers?

Try to observe Lean Sigma implementation in as many companies as possible. There’s never just one way to do something and you’ll often find a methodology which is ideally suited to your particular circumstance, or from which you can gain good ideas. Through various forums, industry open-days, customer/supplier visits etc. I have been lucky enough to visit many companies both in Ireland and abroad and I can’t remember a single occasion when I have come away without picking up at least one useful idea.

Thanks to Peter for sharing his journey.  Check out our May Alumni Event recording on YouTube where MBB graduate and award winner Brian Hayes, Quality & Continuous Improvement at MOOG and BB graduate and award winner Shane Buckley, Biologics Transport Validation at LEO Pharma, share their experience in using data for continuous improvement.

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