A conversation with Ken Friesen, one of Canadian collision repair’s most renowned lean practitioners.
Almost six years ago exactly, Ken Friesen changed everything at Concours Collision Centres. The way he puts it, he blew everything up and started reinventing. Since then he’s developed a continent-wide reputation for being creative and relentlessly persistent when it comes to reducing waste in his Calgary operations.
Collision Repair recently had a chance to sit down with Ken to pick his brain on his views regarding what’s effective and what isn’t when it comes to process improvement.
What can people do if they want to embrace lean
concepts in their businesses today?
Everybody at this point is really caught up in the tools of lean—the reorganization, what’s become known as the 5S principles. People are starting to get that part put together and are starting to create some flow in their facilities.
Is any of this stuff bad? No, it’s great. The tools are important. But what’s happening is that these people are getting these tools into the facility, getting a semblance of organization, and they think they’re done.
Well, that’s just the very basic start of what lean is all about.
The whole principle of lean is that it’s something you do, not something that’s done.
Lean is about the process of ongoing improvement. So when we put the tools in place it’s just to give yourself some type of stable process to build on. Once you have that, you can start looking at where the variations are in the system and see a little more clearly where you need to go to improve.
Are lean seminars and conferences
of value, in your opinion?
Any type of learning you can get is good. If you really want to be a lean practitioner, and you want to improve your business, anything you can possibly take in is going to be of value.
Are there any books on lean that you’d recommend collision repairers look into?
One of the best books to help somebody get an idea about process improvement and process change is not really about lean at all. It’s about something called TOC—the Theory of Constraints—written by a fellow by the name of Eliyahu M. Goldratt. He wrote The Goal, which is one of the best sources I’ve found for understanding what process improvement can do and about creating some flow in your facility.
One of the most recent books I’ve read is called Toyota Kata by Mike Rother. I just last week was in Detroit at Michigan University for three days. Rother had a one-day seminar there and a two-day workshop at a company called Detroit Diesel—an amazing, huge company. We went in there and we learned about Kata.
This concept is what he wrote about. It’s about creating a culture—and a whole structure of thinking—about continual improvement. The main thing about this Toyota Kata is that it helps you to think your way through a whole problem and how you do things.
Can you tell us a bit about your own journey through process improvement?
We began six years ago—November 15, 2004.
We spent the first week process mapping and understanding the current-state process, and then designing the future-state process.
It was all board room work—really understanding where we were and where we were going.
By the end of the first week we had mapped out what the future-state was going to look like and by Friday afternoon we were down on the floor creating a workflow process—in other words moving the shop around, reorganizing things and creating this whole new process that we had designed in the earlier part of the week.
Now I will say that these were the tools; we started by putting these in place.
Over the second week we actually tried to make these tools work.
It was a bumpy road, but we got a few things working and cars started to flow through the facility.
We had a couple of guys in who were helping us to do this. They left at the end of the second week, and it was up to us from that point on.
It was a struggle for quite a few months trying to understand how these tools actually work. We burned all the bridges behind us. We literally changed the end-to-end process—from the moment the customer walks in the doors to the moment he comes back and picks the car up, we changed that entire process.
I would not recommend that for most people, but I had the right people to help me.
We started out putting the tools together, and then trying to understand how those tools work and how they fit together, and that’s when we started to realize that this stuff was giving us information.
What else was important to moving
beyond that beginning phase?
We had the consistency to what we did every day to just follow the process—to follow the rules just like a sports game. Now we could see: “the cars keep backing up in reassembly,” or “at the spray booth the cars aren’t able to flow through properly.”
So we could then go in and look at that specific area, make a specific improvement, and then watch it to see if it actually helped throughout the entire operation.
That’s where a lot of people get hung up. They’re running around in their facilities making improvements all over the place, not knowing if it actually helps get one more car a day through the facility.
When you get the lean tools in place, you’ve got that consistency. Now you can actually make those changes and see if it is allowing you to make more money or put more cars out of your facility. Because really at the end of the day, that’s what lean’s all about.