Nov 13, 2009
Keep the Change
One Wisconsin firm used FVTC’s Lean Performance Center to save more than $500,000 per year—and get all of its 2,400 employees on the same page.
About two years ago, School Specialty, a Greenville-based educational resource provider, decided it was time to “go lean.” With the help of a newly installed enterprise-wide business system, the company was ready to take full advantage of lean operational principles (which strive to boost bottom-line results through ongoing improvements to quality control, cost reduction, and operational efficiency). But it soon became apparent that the firm also needed to bring its 2,400 employees, or associates, up to speed if it was to fully realize the benefits of going lean.
“We worked with an outside consulting firm to help with the lean initiative rollout,” says Michael Killoren, School Specialty vice president. “We quickly realized, however, that we needed to provide training to help our associates understand the basic processes and principles of what we were trying to do, and to create a general level of ‘lean literacy’ throughout the organization.”
School Specialty is an educational resources industry leader, with 15 U.S. locations and two in Canada. It generates roughly $1 billion in annual sales to U.S. and Canadian pre-K-12 schools by providing everything from paper and pencils to desks and chairs to science curriculum programs and other specialized instructional materials. As such, it can take any number of approaches to lean training. But according to Killoren, the idea that made the most sense was to work with an organization that could address the unique needs of adult learners.
Enter Fox Valley Technical College’s Lean Performance Center (LPC). “We developed two courses for School Specialty,” says Cindy Wetzel, an LPC instructor. “One was an online E-lean course. The other was an on-site Lean/Six Sigma Green Belt training course.”
The LPC also secured a State of Wisconsin Workforce Advancement Training grant to support development of the new courses. More than 220 School Specialty associates have already taken the E-lean training course.
The LPC helped design a number of other on-site activities, including rapid improvement events, for School Specialty. “We looked at overseas freight and the associated costs, and discovered that customers from Alaska and Hawaii weren’t being charged the right amount for shipping,” says Wetzel.
“The Green Belt training brings some of the decision-making to the work floor,” she adds. “When you put change strategies in the hands of people who do the work, you get tremendous buy-in and outstanding results.”
Killoren is pleased with the results. “Teaming up with the LPC turned out to be a great deal for us,” he says. “They gave us the training program we needed, and it felt good to support them and the local community.”