Leading people to better processes

Grace Tatigian

“You manage things, but lead people.”

Ric Ptak has almost 40 years of experience in manufacturing. He began his career as a journeyman cabinetmaker then transitioned into leadership as plant manager of a large millwork shop with 75 employees. Ptak became a Duha Centre of Excellence (DCOE) certified Master Black Belt Trainer while working with FPInnovations, as an Industry Advisor for the past 11 years. He has introduced numerous manufacturers to DCOE’s array of tools for identifying and eliminating waste, and identifying and acting on opportunities for continuous – and sustainable – improvement. His guiding purpose is to help client companies reduce costs and maximize profit – while creating a safer, more productive, and more engaging, and collaborative work environment.

“I’m passionate about instilling these values and improving the culture for businesses that are looking to grow,” he explained. “Because ultimately, it comes down to changing the culture in an organization.”

Ptak pointed out that sometimes, the mindset in our industry can be a little bit old school, people living by the old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. But if you don’t fix it, it can’t grow. But how does he get companies on the right path to growth?

“You have to figure out what’s going wrong. Just because you’ve always done something this way, doesn’t mean that’s the best way to do it,” he explained. “People think they’ll become more efficient with a new machine, but often that’s not enough. You need to measure everything to understand what isn’t working for you and learn how to meet your goals.”

That’s exactly how you can establish your key performance indicators and then communicate this to your team. This can also help to establish new standards and create more efficient processes. His services range from inexpensive Opportunity Identification Assessments – that pinpoint your most costly pain points, along with best opportunities to make improvements that can be implemented rapidly and are most likely to show measurable results – to training in all key aspects of CI, including Value Stream Mapping, SWOT Analysis, Kaizen (brainstorming and problem-solving exercises), Key Performance Indicator Tracking, Visual Management Systems, Huddle Systems, and Mentoring and Leadership. He can also help with equipment selection and plant floor layouts to improve workflow.

“Sometimes when production is inefficient and there are bottlenecks, it becomes an ‘us vs them’ mentality,” explained Ptak. “The sales team might be doing really well, but production can’t keep it, creating long wait times for customers. You can look at that as a problem, or as an opportunity.”

The hardest part is making sure that everyone is on board with cultural changes. If you run into a foreman who’s resistant to change, you won’t be able to move forward. Ptak was adamant that it has to be a team effort.

“It’s important for everyone to understand that it’s not about the people, it’s about the process,” stated Ptak. “You can have an incredibly hardworking team, but if they don’t have an effective process to follow, they’re not going to be efficient.”

So getting companies to transition to a lean manufacturing process starts with taking stock of what is currently happening in the business.

“Some people don’t measure anything, so they have no idea,” explained Ptak. “They just go in every day and hope for the best. They might reach the end of their quarter, realize they didn’t hit their targets, and have no idea why. It’s like going into the playoffs with no ref and no scoreboard. How are you supposed to know who won?”

Ptak explained that there are many ways to collect data and break down the numbers to help all members of the team stay on track.

“If you want to make two million in a year, you need to break it down by the month, by the day, and sometimes by the hour. You need to say ‘alright if we want to make two million in a year, we need to make twenty boxes in a day’,” said Ptak, giving an example. “So are we selling that many kitchens? Can the engineering team keep up? what about design? It’s about finding the bottlenecks and smoothing out the process.”

Ptak recommends daily huddle board meetings to cover the four most essential parts of the lean manufacturing process: production, safety, quality, and costs. If something goes wrong with any of those, it will impact the other three, throwing off the whole process.

“Checking in every day helps you to establish what your problems are,” said Ptak. “If you arrive at the end of the quarter and you didn’t meet your target, you’re not going to remember it was because in January some materials were on backorder and the CNC went down a couple of times in February. You need to discuss yesterday’s issues now.”

Ptak encourages his clients to find two to three issues that they want to fix within the company, and often those new processes will be applicable in other areas as well. A full, black-belt level transformation can take between 12 to 18 months.

“It’s similar to implementing a new health and safety program,” he explained. “It’s a very rigorous and documented process, but it’s worth it.

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