Building manufacturing excellence: Following a proven framework

Manufacturing excellence encompasses the continuous pursuit of improvement in all areas of the enterprise.


Author: Tim Odokeychuk, president, AME Australia

It involves learning to adapt to market needs, innovating the business and operating model, and eliminating unnecessary effort, burden, and unevenness across the value chain.

This pursuit is a crucial aspect of any enterprise’s success, requiring the entire team to adopt a comprehensive approach that encompasses both technical and cultural advancement to yield resilience and sustainable growth.

For decades, the Association for Manufacturing Excellence has been supporting its members in that pursuit by sharing better practices across its network of manufacturers – covering 18 sectors across our ANZ region – which runs from family-owned SMEs to multi-National firms – all of whom have incredible success to share and lessons learned.

Globally, we have been fortunate to have been exposed to such an array of companies striving to be their best – so leveraging these insights to excellence for our Members’ benefit was a natural step in our journey and has led the Association to develop what we call the AME Lean Sensei framework.

First released in 2016, the AME Lean Sensei has enabled our members to take stock of where they are on their excellence journey and inform them on where their greatest opportunities for improvement (and investment) can be found.

The framework provides a structured roadmap that encompass five levels of maturity that organisations can use to gauge their performance and identify areas for improvement.

My intent is that those reading this article can gain a basic appreciation for what these levels of maturity are and can understand how this framework may be leveraged in your organisation to guide you along your pathway.

Let’s take a closer look together.

Level 1: Beginning the excellence journey

At this initial level, organisations are starting to embrace lean principles and methodologies. They have recognised the importance of waste reduction, process efficiency, and employee involvement. However, their implementation may
be fragmented and lacking a unified approach. The focus is primarily on isolated improvement projects, rather than a holistic transformation of the entire organisation.

To advance to the next level, organisations need to establish a strong foundation by creating a shared vision for the transformation and developing a culture of excellence throughout the organisation. They must invest in training and practice to equip employees with the necessary skills and knowledge to actively participate in continuous improvement initiatives.

Level 2: Building a foundation for excellence

At this stage, emphasis is on creating stability and consistency in operations, as well as fostering a mindset of problem solving.

The organisation has begun to integrate lean principles into their core business processes. They are beginning to establish cross-functional teams, implementing visual management tools, and standardised work processes.

To progress further, organisations must focus on streamlining value streams, reducing lead times, and implementing pull systems. They are empowering employees to identify and eliminate waste, promote effective communication across departments, ensure the daily/weekly/ monthly ‘must-do’ activities are completed while developing a robust measurement system to track key performance indicators (KPIs) related to safety, people development, cost-effectiveness, quality, and customer satisfaction.

Level 3: Advancing excellence competency

At level 3, organisations have developed a deep understanding of lean principles and methodologies. They have achieved significant improvements in their processes, quality, and overall performance.

Continuous improvement is ingrained in the organisational culture, and employees at all levels actively participate in problem-solving and kaizen activities.

To advance to the next level, organisations need to focus on further expanding their lean knowledge and capabilities. They should encourage a broader adoption of lean across all functions of the business and develop a system for benchmarking and sharing best practices.

It is crucial to foster a spirit of innovation and empower employees to experiment with new ideas and technologies that can enhance productivity and competitiveness.

Level 4: Sustaining excellence

Organisations at level 4 have attained a high level of maturity in lean thinking and methods. These principles are deeply ingrained in their DNA, and the entire organisation is aligned towards a common goal of continuous improvement.

They have developed a robust management system that enables them to sustain their gains and respond to changing market dynamics.

To reach level 5, organisations must focus on nurturing leadership excellence. They need leaders who can inspire and motivate employees, create a culture of trust and transparency, and drive the organisation towards continuous learning and innovation.

Additionally, organisations should seek opportunities for collaboration and partnership with other industry leaders to gain insights and stay at the forefront of manufacturing practices.

Level 5: Evolving enterprise excellence

At the pinnacle of the AME Lean Sensei maturity framework, organisations have attained a sustained level of enterprise excellence. These organisations have successfully integrated lean principles beyond their own operations and into their supplier and customer architecture.

Ultimately, they are recognised as industry leaders and benchmarks for manufacturing best practice.

To continue evolving their approach to enterprise excellence, organisations must continuously challenge themselves to explore new frontiers and adapt to emerging trends in technologies, seeking to anticipate unmet market needs (or new markets themselves).

With the capacity gained from a stable and capable enterprise, they can invest in growth activities and maintain their competitive edge in an ever-evolving landscape.

The pursuit of excellence – Practicality, Persistence and Patience

Screenshot 2023 08 02 at 1.43.50 pm | bellpeople

Those reading this article know that an excellence journey is a step-by- step endeavour.

Knowing where or how to progress on your own pathway can be an overwhelming challenge for Leaders attempting to go it alone.

A great way to get started is to just understand where you are today.

That’s where the AME Lean Sensei assessment tool covering 65 elements of effective business practice (ranging from the development and deployment of Management Systems, People Centric Leadership, Improvement Methods) links leaders to resources such as videos, articles, books, and ideas where you need it the most.

As a regular practice, every year we invite our members to submit a detailed self-assessment grading their progress from a previous baseline to their current level of maturity and performance.

This evidence-based approach allows our members to dive deeply into areas of focus in their organisation and challenge their leaders and process owners to demonstrate and together celebrate their efforts to develop excellence maturity.

This process also prepares the assessment participants to share their story across other areas of the organisation so that best practices are rapidly understood and easily adopted through a ‘community of practice’.

Many of our members openly showcase their progress and welcome peer review because of the value and insight it gives them in return. One of the best ways to test our knowledge and continue our learning towards mastery is to teach or share.

Whether it be through any of our AME activities – such as our executive roundtable, site tours, conferences or networking functions – Leaders can take the opportunity to share their aspirations and efforts in a safe environment and ‘borrow with pride’ from other members who’ve overcome similar challenges or can help see the next step from a different perspective.

Those keen to challenge themselves further can opt for an onsite AME Excellence Award assessment where, over the years our 100-plus certified assessors have helped validate and challenge Members to improve and further augment their efforts and even leverage unique insights to overcome strategic barriers.

We invite you to connect with our community and take advantage of our collective knowledge across our Membership while leveraging the AME Lean Sensei framework along your own pathway to excellence.




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