Building innovative thinking in supply chain leadership

Australia’s largest workwear provider, Workwear Group, partnered with Vative to implement Continuous Improvement initiatives – transforming organisational culture for the better across multiple domains. Here’s how it happened.

Workwear Group (WWG) is Australia’s largest workwear provider, believing strongly that pride in what people do starts with what they wear. WWG began its operation supplying the Australian contingent with garments during WWII. Since then, they’ve grown to serve more than one million customers worldwide, and shipping to more than 30 countries. WWG now falls under the banner of ASX-listed company Wesfarmers: one of Australia’s largest listed companies with a diverse, cross-industry portfolio. WWG’s stable of household name brands includes Hard Yakka, King Gee, NNT and Workwear Group Uniforms.

In 2019, WWG identified a need to improve productivity through automation. The idea was great but had a common flaw that many similar organisations face; namely that if the process is flawed, automation only creates more flaws – and at a faster rate. WWG quickly realized this and realized it should consider applying Lean – a methodology and tool kit to eliminate waste by reducing process time and increasing flow – first. 

WWG sent its Continuous Improvement Manager, Scott Simpson, to attend one of Vative’s Lean Practitioner three-day workshops. These workshops are focused on Lean philosophy and implementation. They educate leaders on how to practically implement Lean tools and methodologies to achieve substantial and sustainable productivity gains. Scott saw the value in his training and, upon completion, was certain that a Lean mindset was the key to driving a cultural transformation long yearned for. Scott knew that Vative could resolve a large share of WWG’s issues with measurable outcomes, and after collaborative discussions, they came up with a solution that combined Lean and leadership coaching, in an organisation-wide initiative, tailored to meet the needs of each department. 

The leadership team at WWG were excited, but were cognisant of the fact that true change requires top-to-bottom organisational buy-in. As Adam Brown, Operations Manager at WWG says: “Lean is not a one-person journey, you need 100 per cent buy-in from the top-down. If we don’t experience it, understand it, and believe it, we’re not going to convince our people.” 

Adam organised a meeting on the shop floor, which included everyone in the organisation, and presented this initiative for change. He ended the meeting by delivering a compelling message for the entire shop floor: “You get to make this a better place to work.” People were excited for change and doubly so because they were the ones that were going to implement it. Adam made it clear that their voices would be heard, and everyone was on the same level – regardless of hierarchy. It was a team effort, with game-changing outcomes.

One of the exercises during Lean training involves a mock production line using Lego pieces. It’s a fun activity where teams get to compete with one another to assemble Legos as quickly as possible, demonstrating how quickly productivity can be increased once Lean is implemented. What happened during this activity was the first milestone in WWG’s cultural transformation. Vative’s Parth Bommakanti, who was facilitating at the time, noticed a natural tendency for team members to support each other, even if they were on opposing teams. If one team was way ahead, someone would join the team that was falling behind to help them catch up. Parth smiled and knew the team was ready for change. They were all in it together and were all accountable in making WWG a better place to work.

Now that the foundations were set and the WWG team was aligned, the next step was to create an end-to-end Value Stream Map (VSM). Vative, along with the team at WWG, dedicated 2.5 days of their time to understand where the waste and bottlenecks in the organisation were. A VSM is an invaluable tool for analysing the current state of an organisation in order to create a desired future state. As a result, their efforts highlighted key areas in the organisation that needed improvement. These opportunities for improvement were formed into projects, which were then disseminated throughout the shop floor to teams and individuals. The operation was coached by WWG’s management team, who themselves were being coached, once a week, by Vative’s Godwin Rapinett. 

WWG’s shop floor contains between 140,000 and 160,000 cartons full of stock, so organisation and efficiency is essential.

This exercise highlighted one crucial area that needed improvement – the shop floor. The shop floor contains between 140,000 to 160,000 cartons full of stock. Naturally, they were under constant pressure to meet targets. The pressure needed to be eased, but that seemed impossible when items were being misplaced, clutter was building up and employees were getting frustrated as their jobs were progressively becoming more difficult to complete. These common pain points proved that there was an immediate need for 5S (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardise, and Sustain) implementation. The 5S philosophy is geared towards keeping workplaces neat, orderly, decluttered and, most importantly, instilling a mindset that sustains these benefits. 

Over six months, 5S was rolled out and the shop floor was transformed. Everyone got involved, from all levels of the organisation. “This ensured everyone was on the same level and no one was singled out to feel less or more important than another”, Godwin says. 

Clutter was thrown out or placed into holding bays, where items were disposed of if they were not used within a set period. Areas and items that lay within those areas were colour coded and ‘owned’ by teams that were responsible for that area. Rosters were then developed to uphold cleanliness and orderliness, which became part of daily workflows. All key items were clearly labelled, and shadow boards were developed to ensure everything had a set place. Positive change was in the air. It was a wonderfully orchestrated team effort, that yielded tangible results, in a short amount of time. Through Godwin’s coaching, Adam showed fantastic leadership in maintaining motivation and keeping the team aligned. He was consistent and asked the same questions, driven by data. His approach was repeatable, measurable, and predictable and thus set a clear standard.

Another fantastic initiative was the introduction of idea boards. Anyone on the shop floor could create a post-it note with their idea to improve the workplace, then pin it on the board. The Continuous Improvement team would then consider these ideas during their daily meetings and implement the ones that were most suitable. The progress around these actioned ideas was clearly visible on these boards, allowing people to feel proud of their contribution.

The desired future state of the organisation has now become its present state. All of the initiatives that were implemented in 2019 are continuing to this day. In fact, in the Continuous Improvement environment created at WWG, it’s only gotten much better. There’s a clear mindset that encourages growth and contribution. Leaders are on the front line, where they conduct daily waste walks to identify improvement opportunities. They interact with the front line and have a great relationship with their teams. The people at WWG feel valued and know that any contribution they make towards change is taken seriously.

With the help of the team at Vative and its Continuous Improvement initiatives, WWG not only has become a better place to work – but is set on a forward path toward ongoing Continuous Improvement.

For more information on Vative, click here.


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